Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Cote d'Ivoire's civil liberties rating declined from 5 to 6 due to a deterioration in security and civil freedoms resulting from ongoing hostilities emanating from an unresolved civil war.
Cote d'Ivoire remained split near the end of 2004, as ethnic and political divisions became more entrenched and the prospect of elections in 2005 looked increasingly uncertain. Members of the political opposition and rebel New Forces suspended their participation in the government during the year. Human rights groups said the killing of civilians continued throughout the year. The government attempted to crush the New Forces with a bombing campaign that killed nine French peacekeepers in November. France responded by destroying the Ivorian airforce, triggering rioting and looting in the commercial capital Abidjan. French citizens and businesses were targeted; thousands of French nationals fled the country.
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 Guei from power. Clashes followed between supporters of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), who claimed electoral victory, and Ouattara's Rally of Republicans (RDR), who called for new elections. Supported by security forces, Gbagbo refused to call for new polls. The political violence, in which hundreds of civilians died, 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 of the election, 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 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, Guei was killed. An insurgent group - the Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire, 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, and African immigrants were targeted.
Gbagbo's government and the New Forces signed a ceasefire brokered by France in January 2003 that provided for a broad-based coalition government that would rule until elections in 2005. New Forces representatives and opposition members began a boycott of the government in September 2003, saying Gbagbo was failing to implement the French-brokered peace deal. They rejoined the government in January 2004 and withdrew again in March after security forces violently suppressed an opposition demonstration in Abidjan. The United Nations said at least 120 people were killed in the political violence that followed. After talks in Ghana, New Forces and political opposition members again rejoined the government.
Several challenges lie ahead, including tackling controversial laws on nationality and eligibility to run for president. Disarmament of an estimated 30,000 fighters did not begin in March 2004 as scheduled. Cote d'Ivoire's relationship with neighboring Burkina Faso remained strained during the year, although Burkina Faso denies supporting Ivorian rebels.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) reported in July that government officials, rebels, businessmen, and members of the security forces were profiting from the civil war. The ICG said profits from cocoa, cotton, and weapons, and informal taxes made resolving the Ivorian conflict a less attractive option than continuing the political stalemate. The World Bank in 2004 suspended aid to Cote d'Ivoire following an accumulation of debt arrears, and the United Nations has hinted at sanctions unless genuine progress is made at ending the civil war.
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 monitoring the ceasefire line across the middle of the country, with some 6,000 more UN troops deployed there as well. Following the death of nine French peacekeepers in a government bombing campaign to crush the New Forces movement, France destroyed the Ivorian airforce, and - with the backing of the African Union - persuaded the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country.
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 FPI of President Laurent Gbagbo won an overwhelming number of seats in the December 2000 legislative election.
Cote d'Ivoire was ranked 133 out of 145 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. According to a July 2004 report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, "the political impasse is exceptionally lucrative for almost everyone except ordinary citizens. Major government figures have been accused of using state monies, especially from the Enron-like maze of interlinked institutions within the cocoa marketing system, for personal enrichment, purchasing weapons, and hiring mercenaries."
Press freedom is generally not respected in practice. State-owned newspapers and a state-run broadcasting system are usually unreservedly pro-government. The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres said in June that the government had tightened its grip on the national radio and television station following the announcement by the information minister of a series of new measures aimed at bringing the news coverage in line with "government interests." Authorities will now be able to exert complete control over state-run news.
Several private radio stations and a cable television service operate, but only the state broadcasting system reaches a national audience. In August 2004, the United Nations launched its own radio station to promote peace and reconciliation in Cote d'Ivoire, despite negative pressure by the ruling party. Dozens of independent newspapers are published, many of which are linked to political parties.
Despite the reconciliation process, most Ivorian media remain partisan and provocative. Some human rights groups have characterized some of the commentary as "incitement to violence." In the north, the circulation of newspapers printed in Abidjan is heavily restricted, and local radio and television stations remain under the tight control of the rebel authorities. There is liberal access to the Internet.
The New York - based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said several journalists were attacked or arrested during opposition demonstrations in March, and several news outlets were censored during and after the protests. Michel Legre, a brother-in-law of the first lady, was formally charged in June 2004 as an accessory in the kidnapping, confinement, and murder of freelance journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer, who was last seen in April 2004. Kieffer, who had both French and Canadian citizenship, was also a commodities consultant specializing in the cocoa and coffee sectors. Gaston Bony, publication director of the weekly newspaper Le Venin and a host at the radio station La Voix de l'Agneby, was provisionally released in July after serving more than four months of a six-month sentence for criminal defamation. A military tribunal in January found a police sergeant guilty of murdering French radio journalist Jean Helene in October 2003. The sergeant was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Helene was shot outside a police sation as he was waiting for opposition figures to be released from custody. In a positive development, Gbagbo in 2004 announced a draft law that would eliminate prison sentences for press offenses.
Religious freedom is guaranteed but is not respected in practice. The government openly favors Christianity, and Muslims have been targeted as a result of worsening economic conditions and growing xenophobia during the past few years of political unrest. The government, which owns most of the educational facilities in the country, inhibits academic freedom by requiring authorization for all political meetings held on college campuses. Security forces reportedly use students as informants at the University of Abidjan.
Human rights groups generally operate freely in Cote d'Ivoire, and a ministry of human rights has been created. Union formation and membership are legally protected, although only a small percentage of the workforce is organized. Workers have the right to bargain collectively.
According to a 2004 UN report, more than 120 people were killed during and after opposition demonstrations in March. The report said suspected opposition supporters were killed as part of a "carefully planned and executed" crackdown by the Ivorian security forces that was sanctioned by the "highest state authorities." The report further stated that people were targeted according to their names and ethnic groups.
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.
The New York - based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that pro-government militias kill, torture, and harass civilians with impunity. Most of the militia members are from Gbagbo's Bete tribe in south-central Cote d'Ivoire. 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.
The United Nations reported that northern rebels were responsible for killings in 2004. Three mass graves containing about 100 bodies total were found near the northern rebel-held town of Korhogo that was the scene of fighting between rival factions in June. In the north, freedom of movement is curtailed and there is forced conscription, including conscription of many child soldiers.
HRW 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 500,000 people have been displaced.
New tough rules that cut the length of time foreigners can work in Cote d'Ivoire were announced in March. A decree stipulates that in order to gain a work permit for a non-national, an employer must indicate how the job will ultimately be transferred to an Ivorian within two years. The Economic Community of West African States criticized the rules, saying they violate existing agreements on freedom to travel and work within the region. Ivorian officials denied that West African workers would be affected.
Child labor and child trafficking are problems, although Cote d'Ivoire has made efforts to stem both practices. Tens of thousands of West African children are believed to be working on Ivorian plantations in hazardous conditions.
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.