Côte d'Ivoire | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Cote d'Ivoire's political rights rating declined from 5 to 6, its civil liberties rating from 4 to 6, and its status from Partly Free to Not Free, due to an outbreak of hostilities between government and rebel troops, in which there were numerous killings of civilians, increased repression of the press, and attacks on foreigners and specific ethnic groups.


Cote d'Ivoire appeared to emerge from its prolonged political crisis in August 2002 when the country's main political parties agreed to participate in a government of national unity. But when the government of President Laurent Gbagbo attempted to demobilize and retire some 700 soldiers in September, unprecedented violence erupted in the country. By December, much of the nation was engulfed. In what appeared to be either a coup attempt or mutiny, former military ruler General Robert Guei was killed. Many soldiers either retreated to the largely Muslim north, or returned from neighboring Burkina Faso, where they had fled during the country's previous periods of unrest. An insurgent group calling itself the Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire emerged in the north. The group called for Gbagbo to step down and for new elections to replace the flawed 2000 polls. The insurgents quickly seized control of more than half of the country. West African leaders had brokered a shaky cease-fire amid growing fears that the crisis would affect the entire region. However, fighting erupted in the west of the country as two more groups declared their intention to oust the Gbagbo government. The Ivorian Popular Movement for the Great West and the Movement for Justice and Peace, however, did not appear to be formed from professional troops. Witnesses reported that civilians had joined them, including mercenaries from the troubled border regions of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Six West African countries agreed to provide 2,000 peacekeeping troops.

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 Guei seized power in December and stood for election in 2000. When initial results showed he was losing to 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 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. However, the conflict is not strictly rooted in a north-south, Muslim-Christian divide.

By the end of 2002, the fighting had left at least 400 people dead across the country and more than 250,000 displaced. Human rights violations escalated dramatically, including attacks on the press as well as members of northern ethnic groups, Muslims, and expatriate Africans. Cote d'Ivoire's main opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, fled into exile in Gabon.

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 the country. France evacuated Western foreigners from besieged towns during the year and boosted its military presence to 2,500 soldiers with an expanded mandate to help maintain stability in the country. 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. A sharp rise in the price of cocoa was expected to help the economy in 2002 and 2003, but massive instability countered the projected gains.

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. In a 1995 election, President Henri Konan Bedie was declared the winner with 95 percent of the vote. The election was neither free nor fair and was boycotted by all of the major opposition parties. Alassane 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 five 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 four went to the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire, and five went to the Rally of Republicans (RDR). Twenty-four seats went to smaller parties and independents, and two seats in Ouattara's district went unfilled.

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. Prison conditions are harsh.

Respect for human rights deteriorated considerably in 2002. In November the New York-based Human Rights Watch reported that government forces had committed abuses against civilians because of their nationality, ethnicity, religion, or for their support of a particular political party. Raids targeted entire neighborhoods in which homes were razed. In the town of Daloa, men in military uniform reportedly killed dozens of civilians, including Muslims and African foreigners. Human Rights Watch said human rights defenders in Cote d'Ivoire lived in fear and many had gone into hiding. The organization also reported abuses by the Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire, saying there were reports of unlawful killings and detentions in the north. A mass grave containing more than 100 bodies was discovered in the western village of Monoko-Zohi. Witnesses said men in military uniforms driving government vehicles carried out the killings after accusing civilians of feeding rebel troops.

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. Press freedom suffered in 2002 with attacks on journalists and publishing houses. A number of local and foreign journalists were assaulted by mobs or security forces, or were detained. A French freelance producer was held without explanation for six days. In September, security forces beat Mamadou Keita, of the opposition newspaper Le Patriote. A group of some 50 people ransacked and looted the offices of the private Mayama media group, publisher of three pro-opposition publications. The government jammed the broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corp., Radio France Internationale, and Africa No. 1.

Freedom from discrimination is guaranteed but is 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. Up to 20,000 Africans returned to their respective countries during the year because of the violence.

Religious freedom is guaranteed but is not respected in practice. The government openly favors Christianity. Muslims have been targeted in the past few years of political unrest and face discrimination. 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, educational 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.

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.