COTE D’IVOIRE 2020
Political activists, civil society representatives, journalists and others who expressed dissent were arbitrarily arrested. The government imposed a ban on public protests. Dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured during protests and clashes in the context of contested presidential elections. Impunity for past human rights violations continued.
On 6 August, President Ouattara announced that he would run for re-election. In September, the Constitutional Council accepted his candidacy and rejected 40 other contenders, including former President Laurent Gbagbo and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, in part because they were not on the electoral list. The latter was sentenced in April in his absence to 20 years’ imprisonment on fraud-related charges.
Opposition parties boycotted the 31 October presidential elections and called for civil disobedience, arguing that the 2016 Constitution did not allow the incumbent to run for a third term. However, the President was re-elected. On 2 November, the opposition announced the creation of its Transitional National Council, with the aim of establishing a transitional government. Dozens of opposition members were arrested, including the presidential contender Pascal Affi N’Guessan, who was charged with conspiracy against state authority among other things. He was released under judicial supervision on 30 December.
Freedom of expression
Political activists, journalists and others who expressed dissent were harassed and arbitrarily arrested.
According to Reporters Without Borders, on 4 March Yacouba Gbané and Barthélémy Téhin of Le Temps newspaper were fined XOF5 million (US$9,200) for publishing an article which criticized the authorities’ handling of public affairs. On 31 March, Vamara Coulibaly and Paul Koffi, of Soir Info and Nouveau Réveil newspapers respectively, were fined XOF2.5 million (US$4,600) for “disseminating false information”, after they published a letter from MP Alain Lobognon’s lawyers about their client’s harsh detention conditions.
In August, political activists, civil society representatives and others who had called for demonstrations or attended peaceful protests against the President’s candidacy were arbitrarily arrested. Pulchérie Edith Gbalet, co-ordinator for the pro-democracy NGO Alternatives Citoyennes, was arrested at a hotel in Abidjan with two associates. The charges pending against them included disruption of public order and participation in an insurrectionary movement. Five women from the opposition party GPS (Générations et peuples solidaires) were also arrested while on their way to a peaceful protest. They all remained in detention in MACA prison in Abidjan at the end of the year.
Several opposition figures were put under de facto house arrest in November after they created the Transitional National Council.
On 3 December, two singers, known as Yode and Siro, were found guilty of propagation of false information with tribalist and racist overtones with the intention of rising a community against another, contempt of court and discrediting the judicial institution and its functioning, after a concert during which they questioned the impartiality of the General Prosecutor in the investigation of electoral violence and called for the return of political opponents to the country. They were fined XOF5 million (US$9,200) and given a one-year suspended sentence.
Freedom of assembly
In August, several demonstrations organized by the opposition were repressed.
On 13 August in Yopougon district of Abidjan, police officers apparently had allowed groups of men, some armed with machetes and sticks, to attack protesters.
The Minister of Security and Civil Protection said that between 10 and 14 August, demonstrations had led to five deaths, 104 injuries and 68 arrests of people accused of “disrupting public order, incitement to revolt, violence against law enforcement agents and destroying property”.
On 19 August, the Council of Ministers suspended all public protests. The ban was renewed several times until 15 December. However, electoral campaign meetings were permitted.
Despite the ban, women’s marches went ahead on 21 August and were violently dispersed by youth counter-demonstrators in the cities of Divo in the south, and Bonoua in the south-east of the country.
Violent clashes erupted in August between supporters of the ruling party and opposition supporters. According to official figures, 85 people died and 484 were injured during these clashes before, during and after the elections at the end of October.
Between 21 and 22 August in Divo and Bonoua, violence between supporters of President Ouattara and supporters of opposing parties raged after the women’s marches were dispersed (see above, Freedom of assembly). Seven people were killed and property was destroyed. Between 19 and 21 October, according to the Minister of Security and Civil Protection, at least 16 people were killed and dozens injured in Dabou. During the 10 days following the 31 October election, the National Human Rights Council said there were 55 deaths and 282 injuries and that thousands of people were internally displaced due to violence in areas including the towns of Yamoussoukro, Tehiri, Tiebissou, Bougouanou, Daoukro and Toumodi.
Torture and other ill-treatment
François Ebiba Yapo, a cyber activist, also known as Serge Koffi Le Drone, said that between 7 and 11 May he was tortured in the custody of the Unit to Combat Organized Crime. He said that officers beat him with a machete on the soles of his feet and his back and punched and stamped on his face and stomach. He was charged, in relation to his social media posts, with undermining national defence, disturbing public order, defamation and contempt on social media, among other things. The torture allegations were not investigated.
Right to health
On 29 March, the Platform of Health Unions called on the government to take urgent measures to protect health workers from COVID-19 infection. It said that medical equipment was inadequate and urged the authorities to supply workers with PPE and sterilization tools. From April, the government received medical equipment donations from private and public bodies, including the WHO. On 8 April, the authorities released over 2,000 prisoners to ease congestion and thereby reduce the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
In April, the government withdrew the rights of individuals and NGOs to bring cases to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. One week earlier, the Court had ruled that an Ivorian arrest warrant against Guillaume Soro be suspended and asked the authorities to provisionally release 19 of his relatives and supporters who had been detained since December 2019.
The appeal against the ICC’s 2019 acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo and former Minister Charles Blé Goudé remained pending.
The Supreme Court was yet to rule on a 2019 petition from human rights organizations to cancel a 2018 law granting an amnesty to hundreds of people accused or convicted of crimes committed in 2010 and 2011.