The plight of more than 700,000 people displaced by conflict in Ivory Coast has been "largely neglected", Swiss human rights expert Walter Kälin tells swissinfo.
But the UN representative for the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), who is due to meet international donors in Geneva on Tuesday, is optimistic that a solution to the crisis can be found.
Kälin recently spent seven days in the West African state, which has been divided between the rebel-held north and government-controlled south since civil war broke out in 2002, forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
Around 10,000 French and UN peacekeepers monitor a buffer zone between the two sides. Earlier this year violent anti-UN protests broke out after international mediators said the mandate of the country's parliament should not be extended.
swissinfo: While you were in Ivory Coast you called on the authorities, humanitarian organisations and international donors to implement a plan of action to help IDPs. What has been the response?
Walter Kälin: I have not had an immediate response but we are working on this. On Tuesday I am meeting donors in Geneva and I have also been in touch with the UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland. I am quite optimistic that something will happen.
swissinfo: You say IDPs are falling prey to racketeering and corruption, assassination, torture and sexual violence. Is the situation worse in the north or south?
W.K.: There are regions, especially in the southwest, where everyone agrees that the situation is really bad. I visited one small village where a substantial number of IDPs who had found refuge were living under difficult conditions and were not being assisted by the international community. The day after I left, that village was attacked and one person was killed and two wounded.
swissinfo: There has been a fair amount of anti-UN feeling in Ivory Coast. A UN bus was attacked last week. How were you received by the authorities?
W.K.: There have been acts of violence, especially in January, but I must say I was very well received by all the authorities, by the ministers, by President Gbagbo and also by the New Forces in the north. They all listened to me and signalled a clear intention to do more for those that have been displaced. They did agree with me that many of the IDPs have been neglected in the past.
swissinfo: So does this mean there is renewed hope for the hundreds of thousands of IDPs in Ivory Coast?
W.K.: I think that on all sides there is a lot of goodwill. But of course this goodwill now has to be translated into action, and this is the crucial next step.
One has to recognise that this government is not very strong and that up to now organisations like the UN refugee agency have been focusing on refugees, mainly from Liberia. So for both the government and for many of the humanitarian agencies, dealing with the IDPs represents quite a challenge.
swissinfo: You have called on both the government and the UN mission in Ivory Coast to assume their responsibilities. Has the UN been failing people in the country?
W.K.: Yes, I would say that the UN has been neglecting IDPs to a large extent and I made this clear to them. To be fair to them, donor appeals have been very seriously underfunded. That's where the problem starts – lack of funds, lack of projects, lack of an overall approach – and I did encourage the UN to organise a donor mission to Ivory Coast so they can see where the problems are.
swissinfo: Rebel leader Guillaume Soro has taken up his seat in the national unity government. Does this indicate that the country is heading towards a period of increased stability?
W.K.: The situation is clearly very volatile and it's difficult to predict what is going to happen. It is absolutely necessary that all the politicians involved behave responsibly. If this happens, then there's a real chance that Ivory Coast can get out of the crisis it is in.
swissinfo-interview: Adam Beaumont
Walter Kälin is a professor of constitutional and international public law at Bern University.
From 1991-1992 he was the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.
Since 2003 he has been a member of the UN Human Rights Committee.
In 2004 he was appointed as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons.
On Friday Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny warned that Ivory Coast could miss an October 31 deadline for elections.
Speaking after briefing the UN Security Council in New York, Banny said the peace process was back on track but said more UN peacekeepers were needed to ensure further progress.
Among positive signs for the peace process, Banny cited a landmark meeting in February between President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro.
Last month UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Swiss diplomat Gérard Stoudmann as his envoy for the election process.
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