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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Côte d'Ivoire

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Côte d'Ivoire, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4238.html [accessed 18 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
COTE D'IVOIRE

 

 

From independence until 1990, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny and his Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI), the only legal political party, ruled Cote d'Ivoire. The PDCI continued its political dominance in the first multiparty presidential and legislative elections in 1990, winning 165 of the 175 National Assembly seats in elections that were marred by irregularities (see Section 3).

In 1993 Houphouet died and was replaced by his constitutional successor, National Assembly President Henri Konan Bedie. The Constitution calls for Bedie to serve out the rest of Houphouet's term, which ends in October 1995.

Cote d'Ivoire's security forces include the National Police (Surete) and the Gendarmerie, a branch of the armed forces with responsibility for general law enforcement. The armed forces traditionally have accepted the primacy of civilian authority. Security forces, including Special Anti-crime Police Brigade (SAVAC), were responsible for a number of human rights abuses in 1994. The Ivorian economy, largely market based but heavily dependent on the agricultural sector, has performed poorly in recent years, owing to low prices for its principal exports: cocoa, coffee, and tropical woods. High population growth coupled with economic decline resulted in a steady fall of living standards; Gross National Product per capita in 1994 was about $515. The devaluation of the currency, the CFA franc, benefited exports while penalizing consumers. A majority of the population is dependent on smallholder cash crop production. Despite a peaceful, constitutional, presidential succession in December 1993, serious human rights abuses continued in 1994. Members of the security forces carried out many extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects and beat and abused detainees. The Government failed to bring to justice perpetrators of these abuses. Prison conditions are poor and in some instances brutal. Police arrested and detained student leaders without trial following student strikes in May and imprisoned several journalists for criticizing the Government and Chief of State.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no known politically motivated killings by government forces or reported deaths in official custody from unnatural causes. However, as violent crime increased, the security forces frequently resorted to lethal force. Credible reports indicate that SAVAC, in hot pursuit of armed criminals, killed three apparently innocent young men without warning during a raid in June. Best estimates put the number of persons killed by SAVAC and the regular police at 47. The Government prosecuted no SAVAC or police personnel for these killings. Occasionally the Government has punished malefactors in the security forces. In July a police officer who had injured a woman and two children in 1992 was tried, sentenced to 5-years' imprisonment; later that month, another officer was sentenced to 10 years for killing a suspect he was pursuing. However, these are exceptions to the rule; many offenders are not tried.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of officially sanctioned abduction or disappearance.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Police sometimes beat detainees or prisoners in order to punish them or to extract confessions. There were no reports of government officials being tried for these abuses. A jurists' union official reported interviewing prisoners who were beaten to obtain their confessions and who were afraid to press charges against the police officers involved. Television footage and press photographs regularly show criminal detainees with swollen or bruised faces and bodies, a likely indicator of police mistreatment during arrest or detention.

The acting secretary general of the students' union FESCI stated that during his 2-week detention in May police physically abused him, employing beatings and sleep deprivation. A journalist imprisoned by the Republican Guard stated that they beat him during his detention. Police routinely treat non-Ivorian Africans residing in Cote d'Ivoire (who represent a third of the total population) more roughly than Ivorians. During incarceration, neither the FESCI leader nor the other 24 students detained with him were allowed visitors. Although the law prohibits it, police restrict access to some prisoners.

Harsh prison conditions include overcrowding, malnutrition, infectious disease, and infestation by vermin, and are responsible for a high prison death rate. Several journalists released during the year reported that certain white-collar prisoners are accorded special treatment. Officials denied the Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO) and other human rights groups access to the prison in 1994. According to a LIDHO report, conditions at the main prison of Abidjan are especially brutal for women, with violent and nonviolent criminals, as well as minors, housed together. There are no health facilities for women, and a number of women have reportedly given birth at the prison without medical attention. There are reports of women being raped by fellow prisoners and guards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under the Code of Penal Procedure, a public prosecutor may order the detention of a suspect for up to 48 hours without bringing charges. A magistrate may order detention up to 4 months but must also provide the Minister of Justice a written justification for continued detention on a monthly basis. However, the law is often violated. Police have held persons for more than 48 hours without bringing charges. According to a representative of a jurists' union, this practice is common, and often magistrates are not able to verify that those not charged are released. Defendants are not guaranteed the right to a judicial determination of the legality of their detention. A judge may release pretrial detainees on bail if the judge believes that the suspect will not flee. However, according to LIDHO, many prisoners are detained for long periods, sometimes years, awaiting trial. While exact statistics are lacking, pretrial detainees probably make up 10 percent of the prison population.

Detainees, particularly those arrested for opposition to the Government, are not always brought to trial. Following disturbances in Bouake in March, police arrested six students. Only one was tried and sentenced; the others were held in preventive detention, then released in June. In May, according to LIDHO, the authorities arrested 192 students following a confrontation between police and the students' union, FESCI. Police released the students within 48 hours without charging them. Subsequently, security forces detained 25 members of the executive bureau of FESCI without charge for 2 weeks at the Gendarme training school, holding them incommunicado. It released student leaders after the acting secretary general of FESCI apologized to the Government. He later stated publicly that officials had coerced him to apologize. During the year, police arrested other students including two following a march in early November. In September the police detained a journalist for 5 days without charge. There are o accurate statistics on the total number of arbitrary arrests. Exile is not used as a means of political control.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The modern judicial system is headed by a Supreme Court and includes the Court of Appeals and lower courts. The judiciary is theoretically independent of the executive branch in ordinary criminal cases. In practice, the judiciary follows the lead of the executive in national security or political cases.

There is not a clear separation between the judicial and executive branches of government. There are credible reports that those with ties to the opposition are treated more harshly by the judicial system than those with ties to the Government. Judges serve at the pleasure of the executive and are therefore likely to bend to political pressure. One jurist claims that he was transferred out of Abidjan because of his public appeals for a more independent judiciary. Ivorian law establishes the right to a public trial, although key evidence is sometimes given in camera, the presumption of innocence, and the right of defendants to be present at their trials. Those convicted also have the right of appeal, although courts rarely overturn verdicts. Indeed, in the case of a Bouake student who appealed a 1-year sentence in May, the Appeals Court increased it to 2 years. Defendants accused of felonies or capital crimes have the right to legal counsel, and the judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys for indigent defendants. In practice, many defendants cannot afford private counsel and court-appointed attorneys are not readily available. In rural areas, traditional institutions often administer justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes, minor land questions, and family law. Dispute resolution is by extended debate, with no known instances of resort to physical punishment. The formal court system is increasingly superseding these traditional courts.

Military courts do not try civilians. Although there are no appellate courts within the military court system, persons convicted by a military tribunal may petition the Supreme Court to set aside the tribunal's verdict and order a retrial. There were no known political detainees or prisoners in 1994.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Code of Penal Procedure specifies that a police official or investigative magistrate may conduct searches of homes without a judicial warrant if there is reason to believe that there is evidence on the premises concerning a crime. The official must have the prosecutor's agreement to retain any objects seized in the search and is required to have witnesses to the search, which may not take place between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. In practice, police sometimes use a general search warrant without a name or address. On occasion, police have entered homes of non-Ivorian Africans (or rounded them up on the streets), taken them to local police stations, and extorted small amounts of money for alleged minor offenses.

Security forces have reportedly monitored some private telephone conversations, but the extent of the practice is unknown. There is no evidence that private written correspondence is monitored.

In Cote d'Ivoire's multiparty political system, citizens are free to join, or not join, any political party. However, the State has reportedly transferred government employees (e.g., teachers) active in the opposition because of their political activities.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of expression, and nongovernment newspapers frequently criticized government policies, the Government imposes significant restrictions. The two government-owned daily newspapers offer little criticism of government policy, while government-owned radio and television offer none at all. Moreover, while the opposition press, opposition political party leaders, and student groups voice their disapproval of government or presidential actions frequently and sometimes loudly, the Government does not tolerate what it considers insults or attacks on the honor of the country's highest officials. It is a crime, punishable by from 3 months to 2 years in prison, to offend the President, the Prime Minister, foreign chiefs of state or government, or their diplomatic representatives, or to defame institutions of the State. Moreover, a 1991 press law created a new commission to enforce laws against publishing material "undermining the reputation of the nation or defaming insttutions of the State." The Bedie administration used the press law to silence direct criticism of the President and of other government officials. In February a court sentenced a newspaper publisher to 1 year in prison for publishing an article which unflatteringly compared President Bedie to his predecessor; Bedie pardoned the publisher in July.

In March courts sentenced five opposition journalists to 1 year in prison and imposed a fine for printing an article based on a report in a foreign publication which suggested that President Bedie had asked the French Government to finance his predecessor's funeral. Although the authorities never actually confined the journalists, the sentence remains. In May courts sentenced David Gogbe, editor of a weekly newspaper, to 1 year in prison for defamation when he suggested that a high-ranking government official was implicated in a murder. The Government pardoned Gogbe in December. The Government has also used the press law to counter opposition journalists and to stifle investigations into "sensitive" national security issues. The authorities arrested the publisher and a journalist from La Voie, a daily newspaper associated with the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), in April for publishing an article calling for civil disobedience using legal means. The two received sentences of 3 years in prison for disturbing the public order and inciting revolt. The publisher, who is also the second ranking official of the FPI, lost his final appeal to the Ivorian Supreme Court in November. The two were released from prison on December 16 as part of a general Christmas amnesty. In September a journalist from Soir-Info, writing an investigative article on the Republican Guard, was incarcerated for 8 days before police released him. The journalist was not charged until 4 days after his arrest; the charges were later dropped. In December police in Agnibilikrou arrested journalist Frederick Konate Ousmane while he was researching an article on the family origins of President Bedie. Police took Ousmane to the Abidjan headquarters, interrogated him, and released him the following day on orders from Security Minister Kone.

The Government owns both television networks and a major radio station. There are also four nongovernment radio stations and a private television subscription service, Canal Horizon. While the independent stations have complete control over their editorial content, the Government continues to exercise considerable influence over official media program content, news coverage, and other matters, using these media to promote its policies. Much of the news programming is devoted to coverage of the activities of the President, the Government, and the PDCI.

Many prominent Ivorian scholars are active in opposition politics and have not suffered professionally, although some teachers and professors suggest that they have been transferred because of their political activities. The student union reports that the police have used informers at the University of Abidjan to provide data on dissident political activity. In April and May FESCI members accused the police of using student informers to indicate prominent members of FESCI to the police.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but in practice that freedom is restricted when the Government perceives a danger to public order. Opposition parties assert that the Constitution permits private associations to form without registration. The Government rejects this interpretation and requires all organizations to register before commencing activities. There were no reports in the past 3 years of denial of registration. Ivorian law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines. In 1991 the Government banned FESCI for failure to register properly. The ban was never rescinded, although FESCI was allowed to operate openly until May. At that time, the Government again insisted that the organization was banned, arresting several members of its executive bureau (see Section 1.d.).

Permits are required for public meetings and are sometimes denied to the opposition, but never to the ruling PDCI. Police occasionally prohibit gatherings to prevent the expression of controversial views. In February 1992, the Government banned all outdoor public meetings "until further notice"; that ban has not been rescinded, though it is no longer strictly enforced. An "antivandal" law passed by the National Assembly in 1992 holds organizers of a march or demonstration responsible if any of the participants engage in violence. LIDHO and all major opposition parties condemned the law as unduly vague and as one which imposed collective punishment for the crimes of a few. Following the arrest of two opposition journalists, leaders of the Ivorian Popular Front canceled an announced protest march in April, saying they feared arrest under the antivandal law.

c. Freedom of Religion

There are no known impediments to religious expression. There is no dominant religion, and no faith is officially favored. The Government permits the open practice of religion, and there are no restrictions on religious ceremonies or teaching.

Nevertheless, certain segments of the Muslim community feel targeted for discrimination (see also Section 5). An incident in which police arrested 11 persons in a clash at an Abidjan mosque in June especially outraged Muslims. The National Islamic Council reported that the police were performing identification checks during prayer time on Friday and that they used undue force. A Commission of Inquiry, which included representatives of the National Islamic Council, found in August that police had ceased identification checks and used only necessary force in self-defense. Many Muslims also resent what they see as undue interference by the Government in Islamic affairs.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

While the Government does not generally restrict internal travel, uniformed police regularly extort small amounts of money or goods for contrived or minor infractions by motorists or passengers on public conveyances. The Government has made no visible effort to stop this misuse of authority.

Ivorians normally may travel abroad and emigrate freely, and have the right of voluntary repatriation. There are no known cases of revocation of citizenship. However, the Government sometimes restricts foreign travel for political reasons. In 1993 the Government twice refused the president of LIDHO permission to travel to conferences abroad. However, it did not prevent him from traveling to Rwanda and Geneva in 1994 as the United Nations Special Rapporteur. Cote d'Ivoire's refugee and asylum practices are liberal. The Government respects the right to first asylum and does not deny recognition to refugees, either by law or custom. Cote d'Ivoire currently hosts some 350,000 refugees from the Liberian civil war. No cases of involuntary repatriation were reported in 1994.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Whether citizens have the ability to exercise this constitutional right in practice is not yet known. Multiparty elections were first permitted in 1990. While opposition parties ultimately acquiesced in the results, which gave 165 of the 175 National Assembly seats to the PDCI, the elections were flawed. Before the presidential elections, the National Assembly effectively restricted the number of candidates by imposing the stringent requirement that each candidate must pay a large deposit (approximately $80,000), refundable only if the candidate received more than 10 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting. Opposition parties, which became legal only in May 1990, charged that they had inadequate time to prepare for elections held from October through December of the same year. Further, they faced onerous restrictions on holding meetings and demonstrations and unequal access to the state-controlled media. There were numerous complaints by opposition parties of ballot-box stuffing, proceduralirregularities, and polling places that were fictitious or belatedly designated. In the legislative elections, the names of well over 100 duly registered candidates did not appear on the ballot.

Elections are held every 5 years, with the next round scheduled for 1995; the balloting is secret. The President is both Head of State and President of the PDCI. An appointed Prime Minister, who serves at the pleasure of the President, controls day-to-day governmental affairs and economic policy. With 3 seats vacant, the PDCI holds 162 of the 175 seats in the National Assembly, which in practice is subordinate to the executive branch. Two opposition parties, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and the Ivorian Workers' Party (PIT), originally won seats in the National Assembly. A third opposition party, the Rally of Republicans (RDR), broke away in 1994 from the ruling PDCI, taking an additional nine deputies away from the PDCI. While active and vocal, the opposition is not yet well enough represented to act as an effective counterweight to the powerful Presidency and the domination of PDCI. There are no restrictions in law or practice on the participation of women in politics, and they play an active role in Ivorian society and government. Two cabinet ministers are women, but women play a limited role in the National Assembly, holding only 8 of the 175 seats. Women hold 5 of the 36 leadership positions in the Assembly. Two members of the Supreme Court are women. There are no impediments to the exercise of political rights by any one of the over 60 ethnic groups.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

LIDHO, formed in 1987 and recognized by the Government in July 1990, has actively investigated alleged violations of human rights and issued press releases and reports, some critical of the Government.

The Government has been cooperative towards international inquiries into its human rights practices.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, or religion is against the law, but in practice women occupy a clearly subordinate role in society.

Women

In rural areas, ethnic customs dictate that women perform most menial tasks, although farm work by men is also common. Government policy encourages full participation by women in social and economic life, but there is considerable informal resistance among employers in hiring women, whom they consider less dependable by virtue of potential pregnancy. Women are underrepresented in some professions and in the managerial sector as a whole. Women in the formal sector, however, are paid on an equal scale with men. Representatives of women's organizations state that wife beating--while not widespread--does occur and often leads to divorce. Doctors state that they rarely see the victims of such violence. A severe social stigma is attached to such violence; neighbors often intervene in a domestic quarrel to protect a woman who is the object of physical abuse. The courts and police view such domestic violence as a family problem, unless serious bodily harm is inflicted or the victim lodges a complaint, in which case they may initiate criminal proceedings. The Ivorian Association for the Protection of Women has been concerned by the indifference of authorities to female victims of violence and by reports that women who are the subject of rape or domestic violence are often ignored or mistreated when they attempt to bring the violence to the attention of the police. The Government has no clear-cut policy regarding spouse abuse beyond the obvious strictures against violence in the Civil Code. Children The Ministries of Social Affairs and of Health and Social Protection seek to safeguard the welfare of children, and the Government has also encouraged the formation of nongovernmental organizations, such as the Abidjan Legal Center for the Defense of Children. There is a parental preference for educating boys rather than girls, which is noticeable throughout the country but more pronounced in rural areas. According to a 1991 U.N. report, females in Cote d'Ivoire receive only one-third of the schooling of males. Sexual harassment of female students by male teachers is commonplace. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in Cote d'Ivoire but is nevertheless practiced, particularly among the rural population in the north and west. The procedure is usually performed on young girls or at puberty as part of a rite of passage; it is generally done outside modern medical facilities and may be extremely painful and dangerous to health. The Government does not make strong efforts to prevent the practice, and traditional authorities in rural areas continue to uphold it. According to an independent expert in the field, as many as 60 percent of Ivorian women have undergone FGM. The practice is becoming less common as the population becomes urbanized and better educated. People with Disabilities There are no laws mandating accessibility for the disabled. Laws do exist prohibiting the abandonment of the mentally or physically handicapped, as well as enjoining acts of violence directed at them. Traditional practices, beliefs, and superstitions vary, but infanticide in cases of serious birth disabilities is less commonplace. Disabled adults are not the specific targets of abuse, but it is difficult for them to compete with able-bodied workers in the tight job market. The Government supports special schools, associations, and artisans' cooperatives for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the legal right to form unions. For almost 30 years, the government-sponsored labor confederation, the General Union of Workers of Cote d'Ivoire (UGTCI), dominated most union activity. The UGTCI's hold on the labor movement loosened in 1991 when several formerly UGTCI-affiliated unions broke away and became independent. In 1992, 11 formerly independent unions joined together to form the Federation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Cote d'Ivoire (FESCACI). Unions are freely allowed to join these and other groups and international bodies. Registration of a new union requires 3 months under Ivorian law.

The right to strike is provided by the Constitution and by statute. The Labor Code requires a protracted series of negotiations and a 6-day notification period before a strike may take place, effectively making legal strikes difficult to organize. The UGTCI seldom calls strikes. Non-UGTCI unions frequently called strikes in the past.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code grants all Ivorians the right to join unions and to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining agreements are in effect in many major business enterprises and sectors of the civil service. In most cases in which wages are not established in direct negotiations between unions and employers, salaries are set by job categories by the Ministry of Employment and Civil Service. Labor inspectors have the responsibility to enforce a law which prohibits antiunion discrimination.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There were no reports of forced labor, which is prohibited by law. However, the ILO's Committee of Experts in its 1993 annual report questioned a decree that places certain categories of prisoners at the disposal of private enterprises for work assignments without their apparent consent.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

In most instances, the legal minimum working age is 16, and the Ministry of Employment and Civil Service enforces this provision effectively in the civil service and in large multinational companies. Ivorian labor law limits the hours of young workers, defined as those under 18, compared to the regular work force. However, children often work on family farms, and some children routinely act as vendors in the informal sector in cities. There are reliable reports of some use of child labor in informal sector mining and also of children working in "sweatshop" conditions in small workshops. Many children leave the formal school system at an early age; primary education is mandatory but far from universally enforced, particularly in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government administratively determines monthly minimum wage rates, which were last adjusted following devaluation of the CFA franc in January 1994. A slightly higher minimum wage rate applies for construction workers. The Government enforces the minimum wage rates only for salaried workers employed by the Government or registered with the Social Security office. Minimum wages vary according to occupation, with the lowest set at approximately $70 (CFA francs 36,307) per month, which is insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The majority of Ivorians work in agriculture or in the informal sector where the minimum wage does not apply.

Through the Ministry of Employment and the Civil Service, the Government enforces a comprehensive Labor Code governing the terms and conditions of service for wage earners and salaried workers and providing for occupational safety and health standards. Those employed in the formal sector are reasonably protected against unjust compensation, excessive hours, and arbitrary discharge from employment. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours. The law requires overtime payment on a graduated scale for additional hours. The Ivorian Labor Code provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week.

Government labor inspectors can order employers to improve substandard conditions, and a labor court can levy fines if the employer fails to comply. In the large informal sector of the economy, however, involving both urban and rural workers, the Government's occupational health and safety regulations are enforced erratically at best. Ivorian workers in the formal sector have the right, under the Labor Code, to remove themselves from dangerous work without jeopardy to continued employment by utilizing the Ministry of Labor inspection system to document dangerous working conditions. However, workers in the informal sector cannot ordinarily remove themselves from such labor without losing their employment.

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