Cote d'Ivoire 2019
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Cote d'Ivoire 2019

Authorities restricted the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as political tensions rose ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Security forces used excessive force with impunity against peaceful protesters. Political activists, journalists and human rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested and detained. New laws imposed sweeping restrictions on human rights, including women’s rights.

Background

Political tensions were rising ahead of the 2020 presidential election, including among former allies incumbent President Alassane Ouattara, former President Henri Konan Bédié and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.

On 23 December, as Guillaume Soro was returning to Abidjan to start his campaign for the 2020 presidential election after several months outside the country, prosecutors issued a statement announcing an arrest warrant against him. He was charged with attempts to undermine the authority of the state and territorial integrity. In a separate case he was also charged for misappropriation of public funds, concealment of misappropriated public funds and money laundering. As of December, he had not returned to Côte d’Ivoire.

International scrutiny

In May, under the UN Universal Periodic Review, Côte d’Ivoire received recommendations on torture, prison conditions, impunity, and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Côte d’Ivoire explicitly rejected recommendations aiming to protect LGBTI individuals against violence and to decriminalize libel and insults against the head of state.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in July expressed concerns about impunity, the lack of a definition of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the Criminal Code and the failure to adopt a comprehensive law covering all forms of gender-based violence. Meanwhile, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) spotlighted the prevalence of female genital mutilation and child marriage, as well as the issue of “children in street situations”.

Legal, Constitutional or Institutional Developments

The National Human Rights Council became operational in April when its executive bureau was established. However, concerns remained about the Council's ability to exercise its mandate in full independence. For example, the nomination process of its members is not set out in law, members may be revoked and face criminal charges if they breach secrecy rules, while other revocation criteria remain unclear.

On 26 June, Cote d’Ivoire adopted a new Criminal Code which decriminalized loitering and criminalized slavery, torture, rape and domestic violence. However, some definitions fell short of international standards, particularly for torture, rape and domestic violence. It removed the explicit reference to same-sex relations being aggravated circumstances for the offence of public indecency, but referred to undefined “unnatural acts”, “offending one’s good morals or the moral sensitivity.” The Code retained provisions which violate human rights, including the crimes of offending the head of state, publishing false news, abortion and adultery. It also created additional overly broad offences which may further undermine the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, such as “uttering offensive” online and “publishing data which may undermine public order”.

The marriage law passed on 26 June sets the minimum marriage age to 18 and allows either spouse to manage common property. However, it cites “physical incapacity to consummate the marriage” and “the impossibility to procreate” as grounds for nullification. It requires women to wait 300 days after their marriage has been dissolved before they can remarry.

Freedom of expression 

Journalists, human rights defenders, activists and opposition members continued to face arbitrary arrests, detention and deportations for expressing dissent.

Between 23 and 31 December, at least 17 relatives and supporters of Guillaume Soro were arrested and detained. 13 of them, including five parliamentarians, were charged with ‘publishing false news, undermining public order and the authority of the state’, following a press conference they held on the rerouting of the flight of Guillaume Soro. The brother of Guillaume Soro, Rigobert Soro, was subjected to enforced disappearance for 12 days before being brought to the Prosecutor’s office.

Nathalie Yamb, a member of the opposition party Lider, was deported to Switzerland on 2 December for having participated in “activities undermining national interest”. She was detained for 10 hours, did not have adequate access to a lawyer, was not handed the expulsion order and could not collect her papers and medication. She is Swiss and Cameroonian. 

Journalist Konan Yao Hubert was arrested by officers of the gendarmerie on 4 August, the day after a march he organized. It was a protest in the village of N'da-kouassikro (Djékanou prefecture) against the opening of a gold-mining site. The gendarmes refused to show him a warrant and tried to handcuff him. He reportedly injured a gendarme as he resisted arrest. He was charged with “incitement and disturbance of public order” and “assault and battery of gendarmes on duty”. As of December, he remained in detention in Bouaké.

Five members of the Coalition of the Indignants of Côte d’Ivoire (Coalition des Indignés de Côte d’Ivoire) and one journalist were arrested on 23 July in front of the Independent Election Commission headquarters ahead of a protest. They were questioned without a lawyer and released the next day without charge.

On 1 July, activist Valentin Kouassi was arrested by the police and detained at an unknown location without access to his lawyers following a rally he organized on 23 June in the southern town of Adzopé. He was charged with public disorder, released under judicial supervision, and prohibited from participating in meetings and from expressing his political views in public or on social media.

On 18 February, academic Joël Dadé and Professor Johnson Kouassi, leader of the National Coordination of Lecturers-Researchers and Researchers (Coordination nationale des enseignants chercheurs et chercheurs, CNEC), were arrested in connection with a December 2018 strike at Félix Houphouët-Boigny University. They were charged with disrupting public order, violence and insults. Their cases were dismissed and they were released on 4 March.

Freedom of assembly

Peaceful demonstrations were dispersed with the use of excessive force by security forces. On 4 October, security forces killed one person and injured several others when they opened fire on protesters in Djébonoua against the arrest of an opposition politician.

Detention

Prisons in Côte d’Ivoire remained severely overcrowded and conditions are inhumane, leading to a high number of deaths in custody. As of January 2020, some 21,326 people were detained across 34 prisons in Côte d’Ivoire, with a combined capacity of only 8,639. Over 31% were in pre-trial detention. At the MACA, which has capacity for 1,500 prisoners, 7,782 people were detained, 66% of which were in pretrial detention.

The authorities continued to refuse to grant Amnesty International unfettered access to detention centers, despite multiple requests.

Impunity

Impunity prevailed for the human rights violations and abuses committed during and after the 2010 election by supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo and President Ouattara.

On 15 January, the International Criminal Court acquitted and ordered the release of Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé after the judges found that the Office of the Prosecutor had not presented sufficient evidence to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution appealed the acquittals in September.

In December, Blé Goudé was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison by an Abidjan court on murder, rape and torture charges. Other investigations and judicial proceedings at the national level were delayed due to the 2018 Presidential ordinance granting amnesty for crimes committed during the 2010-2011 election crisis.

On 4 April, human rights organizations petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the amnesty ordinance.