Freedom in the World 2002 - Cote d'Ivoire

Polity: Presidential-parliamentary
Population: 16,400,000
GNI/Capita: $1,654
Life Expectancy: 46
Religious Groups: N/A
Ethnic Groups: Baule (23 percent), Bete (18 percent), Senoufou (15 percent), Malinke (11 percent), Agni, foreign Africans, non-Africans (33 percent)
Capital: Yamoussoukro (official)

Political Rights Score: 5
Civil Liberties Score: 4
Status: Partly Free

Ratings Change
Cote d'Ivoire's political rights rating improved from 6 to 5, and its civil liberties rating improved from 5 to 4, due to efforts to bring about political reconciliation, a sharp decline in abuses by security forces, and greater freedom of the press.


The year 2001 began in Cote d'Ivoire as tumultuously as the previous year had ended. A coup attempt was quickly put down in January, but it led to attacks by vigilantes on African immigrants and members of the political opposition when the government of President Laurent Gbagbo accused neighboring countries of complicity in the attempted overthrow. The rest of the year was relatively peaceful as Cote d'Ivoire made efforts to resolve the problems that had contributed to the postelection violence in 2000 that claimed more than 350 lives.

The National Reconciliation Forum, which included about 700 delegates from political parties, nongovernmental organizations, human rights groups, trade associations, and religious groups, met for three months. In December, Gbagbo approved the forum's 14 resolutions, including granting citizenship to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, and reopening an inquiry into a massacre of civilians during the election period. Authorities had barred Ouattara from contesting the presidential and legislative elections in 2000 on the grounds that he was not genuinely Ivorian, an accusation that he denies.

Cote d'Ivoire gained independence from France in 1960, and President Felix Houphouet-Boigny ruled until his death in 1993. Henri Konan Bedie assumed power and won fraudulent elections in 1995. General Robert Guei seized power in December 1999 and stood for election in 2000. When initial results showed he was losing to Laurent Gbagbo, he sacked the electoral commission, detained its officers, and declared himself the winner. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in a popular uprising that toppled him from power. Clashes followed between supporters of Alassane Ouattara's Rally of Republicans (RDR) and Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI). Gbagbo, supported by security forces, refused to call for new polls. The political violence led to a deepening division between the largely Muslim north and mainly Christian south.

Respect for human rights improved during the year as the political atmosphere calmed and political prisoners were freed. Granting Ouattara citizenship should further help ease political tension in the short term, but the gesture does not a guarantee that he will be able to participate in future elections. Impunity for security forces and others involved in the election violence, however, remains a serious problem.

Cote d'Ivoire retains strong political, economic, and military backing from France, which maintains a military garrison near Abidjan, mainly to protect the 20,000 French nationals who live in Cote d'Ivoire. During the Houphouet-Boigny period, Cote d'Ivoire became an African model for economic growth and political stability. A plunge in the 1990s of the world price of cocoa, Cote d'Ivoire's chief export, and later coffee, its fifth largest export, considerably hurt the economy. Political unrest did further damage. Some international donors in 2001 agreed to a gradual resumption of aid.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The people of Cote d'Ivoire have only partially been able to carry out their constitutional right to freely and fairly elect their leaders. President Henri Konan Bedie was declared president with 95 percent of the vote in a 1995 presidential election that was neither free nor fair, and was boycotted by all of the major opposition parties. Ouattara, the opposition's most formidable candidate, was barred from the contest. Demonstrations were banned, and the media were intimidated. Voting in the October 2000 presidential election appeared to be carried out fairly, but only 5 of 19 potential candidates were allowed to contest the vote. Laurent Gbagbo was eventually declared the winner, with 59 percent, compared with 33 percent for Robert Guei.

Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) won 96 seats in the December 2000 legislative elections, while 4 went to the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire, and 5 went to the Rally of Republicans (RDR). Twenty-four seats went to smaller parties and independents, and 2 seats in Ouattara's district went unfilled. Municipal elections were held in March 2001, and the RDR won 64 of 197 mayoral seats across the country.

Cote d'Ivoire does not have an independent judiciary. Judges are political appointees without tenure and are highly susceptible to external interference. In many rural areas, traditional courts still prevail, especially in the handling of minor matters and family law.

A military tribunal in August 2001 found eight gendarmes not guilty of the massacre of 57 people during the postelection violence despite widespread evidence, including testimony gathered by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. The court said there was insufficient evidence. Witnesses refused to testify out of fear. The trial was held on a military base, and witnesses received no protection. The National Reconciliation Forum recommended that the investigation into the massacre be reopened.

Prison conditions are harsh. However, conditions in the country's largest prison, in Abidjan, had improved markedly since 1997, according to a report by Doctors Without Borders. The government in January 2001 pardoned 3,200 prisoners to reduce overcrowding.

Although arbitrary detention, abuse of detainees, and political killings occurred early in the year, human rights violations declined significantly in 2001 compared with 2000. Domestic human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations operate without hindrance and the Gbagbo government allowed international investigators to probe reports of rights violations.

State-owned newspapers and a state-run broadcasting system are usually unreservedly pro-government. Several private radio stations and a cable television service operate, but only the state broadcasting system reaches a national audience. Many journalists were harassed, beaten, and detained in 2000. Conditions improved significantly in 2001, but a battered economy hindered the functioning of the independent media.

Freedom from discrimination is guaranteed but not respected in practice. Human Rights Watch in October accused officials of deliberately encouraging a culture of violent xenophobia in Cote d'Ivoire, whose economy has long attracted workers from neighboring countries. Members of the northern Diola ethnic group were targeted along with African immigrants during the 2000 election violence. Clashes between indigenous groups and migrants from Burkina Faso over land in the southwest have claimed several lives in recent years.

Religious freedom is guaranteed but is not respected in practice. Muslims and mosques were targeted in the 2000 violence. Churches were attacked in retaliation. Muslims, who are predominantly from the north, were seen as siding with foreign migrants and the opposition RDR.

Women suffer widespread discrimination, despite official encouragement for respect for constitutional rights. Equal pay for equal work is offered in the small formal sector, but women have few chances to obtain, or advance in, wage employment. In rural areas that rely on subsistence agriculture, education and job opportunities for women are even scarcer. Female genital mutilation is still practiced, although it has been a crime since 1998. Violence against women is reportedly common.

Child labor and child trafficking are problems. There were up to 15,000 children from Mali alone estimated to be working on Ivorian plantations in 1999. Cote d'Ivoire is drafting new laws on the issue and has set up a group to fight child trafficking and child labor. The group includes representatives from the government, the UN Children's Fund, and women's and children's protection groups, as well as members of parliament.

Union formation and membership are legally protected. Notification and conciliation requirements must be met before legal strikes can be conducted. Collective bargaining agreements are often reached with the participation of government negotiators, who influence wage settlements.

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