The signs of an impending tragedy are plain for the world to see. On Feb. 25, Gbagbo's youth minister and close confidant, Charles Blé Goudé, called on "real" Ivoirians to protect their neighborhoods and chase out foreigners, a scarcely veiled threat against northern Ivoirian ethnic groups that tend to support Ouattara and immigrants from neighboring countries, as well as the U.N.-authorized peacekeepers and French troops. Blé Goudé's militia supporters have heeded the call. Some victims have been burned alive or beaten to death, while attackers have looted other victims' shops, destroyed their homes, and told them to leave their neighborhoods -- where many have lived for decades -- or be killed. Since late February, some 700,000 Abidjan residents have been displaced from their homes due to fighting and reprisals.
More generalized violence against Ouattara supporters also continues. On March 3, seven women, armed only with branches and cardboard signs as they chanted anti-Gbagbo slogans with thousands more women, were slaughtered by heavy machine-gun fire. Gbagbo's security forces shot them as they drove by. A horribly graphic video of the event has circulated widely on the Internet. A March 19 statement by Gbagbo's spokesperson called on supporters to "neutralize" all suspect presences, which has only intensified concern about attacks against civilians.
Until recent days, the former rebels of the Forces Nouvelles, loosely allied to Ouattara, had more or less kept quiet. But our researchers have uncovered disturbing evidence that some of them have fallen back to their old ways, engaging in reprisal killings against Gbagbo supporters and summarily executing pro-Gbagbo forces detained in areas of the financial capital, Abidjan, which are now under Forces Nouvelles' control. Guillaume Soro, Ouattara's prime minister and the former Forces Nouvelles commander, has not publicly denounced these acts.
As incendiary threats pour in from both sides, the country is on the brink of a full resumption of armed conflict. As in the past, civilians will almost certainly bear the brunt of the bloodshed. Almost half a million Ivoirians have already been displaced by the violence, including more than 95,000 into neighboring Liberia, threatening regional stability as well.
The international community should not look the other way. Given the pressing dangers faced by the Ivoirian people -- tens of thousands of whose lives are at risk -- the Security Council should consider the full range of options available to protect the population. Ivory Coast deserves nothing less than the type of unified and decisive action the U.N. Security Council has brought to bear on Libya.