2001 Scores

Status: Partly Free
Freedom Rating: 5.5
Civil Liberties: 5
Political Rights: 6

Ratings Change

Cote d'Ivoire's civil liberties rating changed from 4 to 5 because of a crack-down on political opposition members after military ruler General Robert Gueï was swept from power after trying to annul the results of October elections that he had manipulated. Another crackdown on the opposition preceded parliamentary elections in December.

Overview

Political violence wracked Côte d'Ivoire following presidential elections in October and preceding legislative elections in December. General Robert Gueï, who had seized power from President Henri Konan Bédié in December 1999, pledged he would step down if he lost the election in October. However, when initial results showed he was losing, 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.

Côte d'Ivoire gained independence from France in 1960, and President Félix Houphouët-Boigny ruled until his death in 1993. Bédié assumed power and won fraudulent elections in 1995. Tension had been escalating in the lead-up to the presidential polls in October 2000, and General Gueï took the opportunity to seize power after days of army rioting in the commercial capital of Abidjan in December 1999. Côte d'Ivoire retains strong political, economic, and military backing from France, which maintains a military garrison near Abidjan, and French military advisors serve with many units of Côte d'Ivoire's 14,000-strong armed forces.

During the Houphouët-Boigny period, Côte d'Ivoire became an African model for economic growth and political stability. Increasing political and social unrest is a threat to further investment. Also hurting the economy has been a plunge in the world price of cocoa, Côte d'Ivoire's chief export.

Clashes erupted between supporters of Alassane Ouattara of the Republican Rally (RDR) and Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) in 2000. The supreme court had excluded Ouattara from the presidential poll, saying he could not sufficiently prove that he was genuinely Ivorian. His supporters denounced the election and called for a new vote. Gbagbo, supported by the national police, or gendarmes, refused to call for new polls. More than 150 people were killed in the violence, which mainly claimed the lives of Ouattara supporters, most of whom are northern Muslims or from the Diola ethnic group. Similar clashes broke out preceding the legislative election in December, which Ouattara was also barred from contesting. Divisions along political, ethnic, and religious lines have deepened and could lead to further violence. The military is divided, and Gueï, who still commands the loyalty of some troops, remains a potential threat.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The people of Côte d'Ivoire have only partially been able to carry out their constitutional right to freely and fairly elect their leaders. President Bédié was declared president with 95 percent of the vote in a 1995 presidential election that was neither free nor fair. Alassane Ouattara, the opposition's most formidable candidate, was barred from the contest. The 1995 presidential poll was boycotted by all of the major opposition parties. 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. Gbagbo was eventually declared the winner, with 59.4 percent compared with 32.7 percent for Gueï.

Gbagbo's FPI won 96 of the 196 seats in the December 2000 legislative elections, while 77 went to the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI). Independents won 16 seats, and four parties shared the remaining 7. Only 33 percent of the electorate voted. The PDCI, which ruled the country from independence until the December 1999 coup, had held 147 of the 175 seats in the previous parliament, whose membership was increased in 2000 from 175 to 225. The FPI had 13 seats. The RDR boycotted the polls. Elections were not held in most constituencies in the north because of unrest that followed the supreme court's ruling that also barred Ouattara from the legislative election. Voting was to take place in January 2001 in those constituencies.

Côte 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. Many deaths from diseases aggravated by poor diet and inadequate or nonexistent medical attention have been reported in the country's prisons. A large portion of inmates are pretrial detainees who sometimes wait for years for a court date.

Respect for human rights in Côte d'Ivoire deteriorated considerably during the year. Human Rights Watch reported that more than 150 people were killed in post-election violence and hundreds of others were wounded, detained, or tortured, or disappeared. The violations were carried out by members of the local police and gendarmes, as well as civilians. In one incident, the bodies of 57 people were discovered in a field outside Abidjan. 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. Press freedom suffered considerably during the year, with the harassment, beating, and detention of journalists. In February, soldiers raided the offices of the independent Le Jeune Democrate and Le National. Soldiers raided Le National again in March and threatened some journalists with death. In April, Jules Toualy, a reporter with Le Jeune Democrate, was detained by soldiers and tortured, according the international Committee to Protect Journalists. Soldiers detained and beat Joachim Beugré of the private daily Le Jour in September. He and his publisher were reportedly interrogated by Gueï, who pressed them to reveal their sources for an article about his parentage.

Côte d'Ivoire's economy has long attracted workers from neighboring countries. Immigrants constitute up to 40 percent of the total population, and resentment towards them exploded into violence following the October presidential election. Members of the northern Diola ethnic group were targeted along with foreigners. Thousands of migrants from Burkina Faso, Mali, and other countries fled Côte d'Ivoire in the lead-up to the voting. 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 October violence. Churches were attacked in retaliation. Muslims, who are predominantly from the north, were seen as siding with foreign migrants and the opposition RDR. The country's Muslim community itself is divided.

Women suffer widespread discrimination, despite official encouragement for respect for constitutional rights. Women were reportedly beaten and sexually humiliated by the local police and gendarmes in post-election violence. 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 a law that made it a crime was adopted in 1998. Violence against women is reportedly common.

Authorities have sometimes taken harsh action against strikers, although union formation and membership are legally protected. The Federation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Côte d'Ivoire represents several independent unions formed since 1991. 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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