Republic of Côte d'Ivoire

Head of state: General Robert Guei (replaced Henri Konan Bédié in December)
Capital: Yamoussoukro
Population: 15 million
Official language: French
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice

On 24 December a military coup, which began with a mutiny by unpaid soldiers, overthrew the government of President Henri Konan Bédié, who left the country some days later. A National Public Salvation Committee composed of high-ranking soldiers and led by General Robert Guei, former army Chief of Staff, took power. The new head of state invited political parties to nominate potential ministers in a transitional government and promised a democratic presidential election, but did not set any timetable. Earlier in the year, opposition leaders were imprisoned under a law which holds anyone who calls or leads a gathering accountable for any violence that occurs, irrespective of whether they are personally responsible. Student activists were tortured or ill-treated in detention.


Political tension rose at the start of 1999, when it was announced that Alassane Ouattara, leader of the opposition party, the Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR), Republican Assembly, would be a candidate in presidential elections originally scheduled for October 2000. The ruling Parti démocratique de Cõte d'Ivoire (PDCI), Democratic Party of Cõte d'Ivoire, headed by President Henri Konan Bédié, stated that Alassane Ouattara was not eligible to run as head of state since his father was of Burkina Faso nationality. This dispute led to ethnic divisions, as the RDR was mostly identified by the authorities with the Muslim northern part of the country.

In October the Minister of Justice annulled a nationality certificate submitted by Alassane Ouattara on the grounds that it was forged. An arrest warrant was issued against him on charges of fraud and forgery. This arrest warrant was lifted some days after the December military coup.

Until the December 1999 military coup, the first in Cõte d'Ivoire, the country had been ruled since independence by the PDCI. Sporadic periods of unrest had occurred which had been violently curbed by the security forces. The preceding presidential election in October 1995 had been boycotted by the two main opposition parties, the Front populaire ivoirien (FPI), Ivorian Popular Front, and the RDR, and in the ensuing unrest dozens of opposition party supporters, including prisoners of conscience, were held. All were subsequently released, notably after an amnesty granted by President Konan Bédié in December 1998.

RDR leaders imprisoned under unfair law

In November, 16 leaders of the RDR including its Secretary General, Henriette Diabaté, were sentenced to prison terms of one to two years under an anti-riot law passed in 1992. Under this law anyone who calls or leads a gathering is held accountable for any violence that occurs, even if he or she did not personally incite or use violence. The RDR leaders were arrested after a demonstration in October which became violent, but no evidence was produced that the RDR leaders had any personal responsibility for acts of violence. AI considered the 16 to be prisoners of conscience.

Seven members of the local leadership of the RDR in the northern town of Korhogo were arrested in November for public order offences under this same law. All the RDR prisoners were released after the December military coup.

Torture and ill-treatment of students

Scores of student activists belonging to the Fédération estudiantine et scolaire de Cõte d'Ivoire (FESCI), Ivorian Federation of Students and School Pupils, were detained for weeks. Some were arrested during a series of university strikes in May. A number of FESCI leaders, including its Secretary General, Charles Blé Goudé, were detained under the 1992 anti-riot law. All were released without charge in October. Some of the detainees were tortured and ill-treated in Abidjan, at the Police Academy and the Direction de la sécurité du territoire (DST), Internal Security Office. Some students were reportedly handcuffed with their hands behind their backs for 10 days, beaten and forced to drink dirty water. There was no investigation into these allegations.

AI country visit

AI's Secretary General visited Côte d'Ivoire in May and met President Bédié.

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