Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 5
Status: Free
Population: 17,000,000
GNI/Capita: $630
Life Expectancy: 43
Religious Groups: Christian (20-30 percent), Muslim (35-40 percent), indigenous beliefs (25-40 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Akan (42.1 percent), Voltaiques or Gur (17.6 percent), Northern Mandes (16.5 percent), Krous (11 percent), Southern Mandes (10 percent), other (2.8 percent)
Capital: Yamoussoukro (official)

Ratings Change
Cote d'Ivoire's civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5 due to a reduction of hostilities following the signing of a ceasefire.


Overview

The government and rebels signed a ceasefire in January that provided for a broad-based coalition government. The peace process, however, was encountering difficulties toward the end of the year. Press freedom improved and then suffered a setback in 2003 with the murder of a French journalist.

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 with 95 percent of the vote. Alassane Ouattara, the opposition's most formidable candidate, was barred from the contest. Demonstrations were banned, and the media were intimidated.

General Robert Guei seized power in December 1999 and stood for election in October 2000. When initial results showed Guei 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). Supported by security forces, Gbagbo refused to call for new polls. The political violence led to a deepening division between the largely Muslim north and mainly Christian south, although the conflict is not strictly rooted in a north-south, Muslim-Christian divide. Gbagbo was eventually declared the winner, with 59 percent, compared with 33 percent for Guei.

The 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 RDR. Twenty-four seats went to smaller parties and independents, and 2 seats in Ouattara's district went unfilled.

Civil war erupted in September 2002 when the government attempted to demobilize and retire some 700 soldiers. In what appeared to be either a coup attempt or a mutiny, General Guei was killed. An insurgent group calling itself the Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire, which is now part of the rebel New Forces, emerged in the north, calling for Gbagbo to step down and for new elections. The insurgents quickly seized control of more than half of the country. Fighting erupted in the west of the country and two more rebel groups emerged.

President Gbagbo's government and the New Forces signed a ceasefire in January 2003 providing for a broad-based coalition government that would rule until elections in 2005. Violence continued, mainly in the west, but unrest abated considerably. The violent targeting of Muslims as political opponents also diminished. Despite these improvements, Gbagbo appeared to accept the peace accord with reluctance and was preoccupied with his own political survival. In August, authorities detained 18 people on suspicion of planning to assassinate him. Another 13 people were arrested in France that month on suspicion that they were organizing a coup. Meanwhile, the United Nations said there were signs that both sides in the war were re-arming.

By October, the peace process appeared to be unraveling with the withdrawal of New Forces representatives from the government to protest what they said was Gbagbo's reluctance to delegate meaningful authority to their ministers. The New Forces, consisting of one rebel group in the north and two in the west, also put disarmament plans on hold. Authorities detained 11 activists with the opposition RDR in October for several days and questioned them about an alleged plot to assassinate various unnamed politicians and military leaders. A militia group allied with Gbagbo's FPI increasingly raised concern. The government ordered the disbanding of the Grouping of Young Patriots in October after its members attacked French-owned utility companies in Cote d'Ivoire; the group accuses France of siding with rebel forces. The government also banned demonstrations for three months in an effort to avoid possible street violence. Ghana, as chair of the Economic Community of West African States, was leading diplomatic efforts to break the impasse.

Cote d'Ivoire retains strong political, economic, and military backing from France, which has maintained a military garrison near Abidjan for years, mainly to protect French nationals who live in Cote d'Ivoire. Many French, however, fled after the war erupted. Some 4,000 French peacekeepers are in the country, and West African countries have provided 1,300 peacekeepers.

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.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The people of Cote d'Ivoire cannot change their government democratically. The 1995 presidential election was neither free nor fair and was boycotted by all the major opposition parties. 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. The Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) of President Laurent Gbagbo won an overwhelming number of seats in the December 2000 legislative election.

Press freedom is guaranteed but not always respected in practice. 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. Dozens of independent newspapers are published, many of which are linked to political parties. There is liberal access to the Internet.

Press freedom improved and then suffered a setback in 2003. The government allowed Radio France Internationale (RFI), the BBC, and Africa No. 1 to resume their FM broadcasts in February after having suspended them five months previously. The government also invited Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres to Cote d'Ivoire to provide guidance on how to professionalize the press. Gbagbo announced a draft law that would eliminate prison sentences for press offenses.

However, attacks on the press have not ended. A correspondent for the state run Agence Ivoirienne de Presse, Kloueu Gonzreu, was found murdered in western Cote d'Ivoire in March, and a correspondent for RFI, Jean Helene, was shot and killed by a policeman in October. Helene was outside police headquarters in Abidjan waiting to interview political detainees who were about to be released. There has been an anti-French campaign in the pro-Gbagbo media, leading to attacks on French journalists. A former RFI correspondent was forced to leave the country. Opposition newspapers temporarily halted publishing in October after pro-Gbagbo militants attacked newspaper delivery trucks.

Religious freedom is guaranteed but is not respected in practice. The government openly favors Christianity, and Muslims have been targeted in the past few years of political unrest and face discrimination. Attacks on mosques and churches diminished in 2003. The government inhibits political expression by requiring authorization for all meetings held on college campuses. The government owns most educational facilities in the country.

Human rights groups generally operate freely in Cote d'Ivoire, and a ministry of human rights has been created. However, in April, the offices of the Ivorian Movement of Human Rights were ransacked, and employees said they had been threatened in their homes. Union formation and membership are legally protected, although only a small percentage of the workforce is organized. Workers have the right to bargain collectively. Child labor and child trafficking are problems, although Cote d'Ivoire has made efforts to stem both practices. Thousands of West African children are believed to be working on Ivorian plantations, while some 100,000 children were estimated to be working in hazardous conditions on the country's cocoa farms.

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. Security forces generally operate with impunity and prison conditions are harsh. In August, the government released 54 political prisoners.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in November said pro-government militias continue to kill, torture, and harass civilians with impunity. Most of the militia members are from Gbagbo's Bete tribe in south-central Cote d'Ivoire. They have targeted immigrant farmers and members of other ethnic groups. HRW also said there was increasingly lawlessness in the north. It has called on the government to disband militias, set up an international commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses committed during the war, and bring perpetrators to justice. The rights organization has documented massacres of civilians, particularly in the west of the country, where Liberian mercenaries and militias have been used by both sides during the war. The international monitoring group Global Witness said in March that Liberia was the driving force behind the training, arming, and deployment of rebel groups based in the west. HRW said both the government and rebels were responsible for summary executions and sexual violence against women and girls that were rooted in ethnic discrimination occurring in a climate of impunity.

Freedom from discrimination is guaranteed but not respected in practice. Human Rights Watch has accused officials of deliberately encouraging a culture of violent xenophobia in Cote d'Ivoire, whose economy has long attracted workers from neighboring countries. More than one-quarter of the country's population is estimated to be African expatriates. Land-use disputes, aggravated by political tension, often trigger violence against African foreigners. At least 500,000 Africans have returned to their respective countries, mainly Mali and Burkina Faso, because of the civil war and another 750,000 people have been displaced.

Women suffer widespread discrimination, despite official encouragement for respect for constitutional rights. Equal pay for equal work is offered in the small formal business 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, and violence against women is reportedly common.

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