Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed potentially arbitrary or unlawful killings. In May media reported a late-night altercation between two gendarmes and a group of young persons in the town of Gonate, in which one of the gendarmes shot and killed Abdoulaye Fofana, age 20. Authorities arrested the two gendarmes shortly after the incident, and the commander of the National Gendarmerie stated that a military tribunal had opened an investigation into the killing. The commander also visited the victim’s family to offer condolences.
Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses, including killings, perpetrated by members of the security services.
In March the government prosecuted Amade Oueremi, a militia leader during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, for killings and other crimes allegedly committed in 2011 in the city of Duekoue. International organizations estimate that militias killed 300 to 800 persons in one day. During the crisis, Oueremi fought alongside forces loyal to President Ouattara against forces loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo. After a 20-day trial, the court convicted Oueremi of crimes against humanity, murder, looting, and rape; sentenced him to life imprisonment; and ordered he pay a substantial amount to his victims.
On June 17, former president Gbagbo returned to the country at government expense following his March 31 acquittal by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity in the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis (which resulted in approximately 3,000 deaths and 500,000 displaced persons). Gbagbo met with President Ouattara in a cordial, if symbolic, meeting on July 27. Many private citizens, members of the government, opposition leaders, and religious leaders stated Gbagbo’s return was a necessary step for national reconciliation. Groups representing victims of violence committed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis asserted the government’s willingness to allow Gbagbo back in the country without legal accountability for his alleged role in that violence constituted acquiescence in impunity by the government.
In contrast with 2020, there were no reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The government did not provide information regarding reports of abuse within prisons, or mechanisms to prevent or punish such abuses. Human rights organizations reported that detainees and prisoners were subject to violence and abuse, including beatings and extortion, by members of the security forces and prison officials and that the perpetrators of these acts went unpunished. Human rights organizations reported mistreatment of detainees between arrest and being booked into prison. Human rights organizations reported that some prisoners arrested for crimes allegedly committed during the presidential electoral period in 2020 were subject to abuse by security forces during their arrest and incarceration in 2020, including being denied medicine for chronic conditions, beatings, and electric shocks.
Prison authorities acknowledged abuse might happen and go unreported, since prisoners fear reprisals.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Military police and the military tribunal investigated and prosecuted abuses.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and unhealthy due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, insufficient and low-quality food, understaffing, and lack of proper medical care.
Physical Conditions: The government acknowledged prison overpopulation was a problem and that existing facilities, originally built to hold no more than 8,000 prisoners, were insufficient to hold the total prison population of more than 23,000 as of mid-August. In at least one prison, the inmates reportedly slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.
Prisons generally held men and women in separate prison wings. The government reported that juveniles were generally held separately from adults, except girls were sometimes held with women due to a lack of cell space. The children of female inmates sometimes lived with their mothers in prison. Additionally, prisons sometimes held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Human rights organizations reported that prisons did not provide special care for prisoners with disabilities. Some human rights organizations reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active sometimes enjoyed slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.
Human rights organizations received reports of prisoner deaths due to malnutrition. The government reported that, as of mid-August, 156 prisoners had died in prison. The government did not provide further details on the causes of death but noted none resulted from prisoner-on-prisoner violence. A human rights organization reported that a prisoner arrested in October 2020 died in March after a severe deterioration in his health and transfer from prison to a local hospital.
Human rights organizations reported prisoners in some prisons did not get enough food to meet daily caloric needs. Human rights organizations reported that wealthier prisoners could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes, while poorer inmates did not receive sufficient food on a regular basis. Families routinely supplemented the rations of relatives in prison if they had the means. Under certain circumstances the government allowed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide prisoners with food and nonfood items, including items to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as masks, isolation tents, and hygiene kits.
According to the government, each prison facility had a medical clinic staffed with a nurse, doctor, or both available 24 hours a day. A human rights organization reported, however, that only the country’s main prison had a doctor, while medical care in smaller prisons was provided by nurses, some without the necessary qualifications. The organization further reported prisoners did not always have access to these medical professionals. Some human rights organizations reported that no medical staff worked in some prisons at night. Inmates were required to inform prison guards if they needed medical attention, and guards escorted prisoners to the prison clinic. Inmates with severe medical conditions were transferred to outside hospitals. A human rights organization reported that guards did not always remain within earshot of prison cells at night, making it difficult for prisoners to inform them in the event of medical emergencies. Each prison clinic had a supply of pharmaceuticals, although human rights organizations reported that clinics often lacked necessary medicines, particularly for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, endemic diseases such as malaria, and other conditions like scabies and diarrhea. In these cases, inmates’ families had to acquire the medication from an outside pharmacy.
Human rights organizations observed that prisoners sometimes slept without mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, remained problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages were common. Overcrowding and lack of personal protective equipment, such as masks, prevented prisoners from adhering to physical distancing measures to protect against COVID-19.
Within detention facilities unsanitary conditions persisted, including detainees living near toilets.
Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) was not readily available.
Administration: Inmates may submit complaints of abuse to prison directors; however, the government did not provide information on such complaints. The government reported as of August no confirmed cases in which prison officials committed physical abuse against inmates under their supervision. Human rights organizations, however, reported alleged physical abuse and extortion of prisoners by prison officials and that many prison guards were poorly trained. Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days, although visitation restrictions and prohibitions implemented at some prisons due to COVID-19 affected this practice. Human rights organizations observed that, in detention centers operated by the DST, requests for access to prisoners by their lawyers and families were typically not formally refused but instead made virtually impossible by bureaucratic requirements.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted some local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons, but access to detention centers run by the DST was more restricted. Some of these organizations reported having access to prisons only when they formally requested such access in advance.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both reportedly occurred. Human rights organizations reported that authorities arbitrarily detained persons, often without charge. Many of these detainees remained in custody briefly at either police or gendarmerie stations before being released or transferred to prisons, but others were detained at these initial holding locations for lengthy periods. The limit of 48 hours’ detention without charge by police was sometimes not enforced. Although detainees have the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention, most detainees were unaware of this right. Public defenders were often overwhelmed by their workloads.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law allows the state to detain a suspect for up to 48 hours without charge, subject to renewal only once for an additional 48 hours. The law specifies a maximum of 18 months of pretrial detention for misdemeanor charges, subject to judicial review every six months, and 24 months for felony charges, subject to judicial review every eight months.
Police occasionally arrested individuals and held them without charge beyond the legal limit. While the law provides for informing detainees promptly of the charges against them, human rights organizations reported that this did not always occur, especially in cases concerning state security or involving the DST. A bail system exists but was used solely at the discretion of the trial judge. Authorities generally allowed detainees access to lawyers, but in national security cases, authorities sometimes did not allow access to lawyers and family members. The government sometimes provided lawyers to those who could not afford them, but other suspects had no lawyer unless they retained one themselves. Public defenders occasionally refused to accept indigent client cases they were asked to take because they reportedly had difficulty being reimbursed by the government as prescribed by law. Human rights organizations reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law does not permit arbitrary arrest, but authorities reportedly made such arrests occasionally.
In April a group of armed individuals attacked a military post in Abidjan. The attack was repelled, and security forces killed four of the attackers. In the aftermath of the attack, authorities arrested Guei Gerard and Aka Affia, a married couple. The public prosecutor alleged the couple admitted in statements to authorities they had sheltered some of the attackers prior to the attack. Human rights organizations stated the couple was arrested on April 24, transferred to the country’s main prison on April 28, then to a military facility, and eventually back to the initial holding prison, where according to human rights organizations they remained without charge as of October.
Pretrial Detention: According to the government, more than 7,300 inmates were in pretrial detention as of mid-August, slightly more than 30 percent of the total inmate population. Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. In some cases, the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and authorities’ lack of training or knowledge of legal updates contributed to lengthy pretrial detention. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in absentia, with judicial authorities sometimes claiming the presence of the accused at their trial was not necessary, and at other times, not providing sufficient notice and time to arrange transportation to the trial.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government did not always respect judicial independence. Some human rights organizations reported interference by the executive branch in the judiciary and the government’s refusal to implement several court decisions. The judiciary was subject to corruption and outside influence. Since former president Laurent Gbagbo’s return to the country in June, the government has not enforced his 2018 conviction in absentia for alleged theft of funds from a state-controlled bank during the postelectoral crisis of 2010-11. The conviction resulted in a 20-year sentence.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary sometimes did not enforce this right. Although the law provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), the government did not always respect these requirements. The government reported standing criminal tribunals continued to significantly reduce the number of outstanding cases. Still, human rights organizations reported that a long backlog of cases remained the norm.
Although the judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys for those who cannot afford them, only limited free legal assistance was available. The government had a small legal defense fund to pay members of the bar who agreed to represent the indigent. Nonetheless, obtaining representation in rural areas was often impractical because most lawyers were based in the country’s two largest cities. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although the government sometimes pursued rapid trials that did not respect such rights. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Lack of a witness protection mechanism was a problem. Defendants cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess guilt, although there were reports they sometimes were required to do so. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try absent defendants who do not have a valid excuse for their absence, and courts have done so occasionally in high-profile cases. Those convicted had access to appeals courts, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts.
Military tribunals follow a different procedural code from civilian criminal courts. Human rights organizations did not report any trials of civilians by military tribunals.
The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities, although the government reported an approximately 50 percent increase in the number of magistrates. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Decisions made by traditional institutions were not legally binding, but they were largely adhered to, given the institutions’ credibility at the local level.
Human rights organizations and political parties asserted that the government used the judicial system to marginalize various opposition figures. In May the government prosecuted Guillaume Soro, a prominent opposition figure living abroad in self-exile, and 19 of his supporters, some abroad, for acts committed in 2019. The government contended Soro and his supporters attempted to foment a coup. Charges included conspiracy, attempted attack on the authority of the state, and disseminating false news. At the end of the 34-day trial, the court found all 20 defendants guilty. Soro and an aide received sentences of life imprisonment; two of Soro’s aides also in exile received 20-year prison sentences. The remaining defendants received lesser sentences, and three defendants were released for time served. Additionally, the court ordered the dissolution of Soro’s political movement for “subversive acts” and imposed a substantial fine on the defendants. Soro’s lawyers appealed both his sentence and the dissolution of his movement. As of late August, the appeals remained pending.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The government denied there were political prisoners, although it arrested multiple members of opposition parties at the end of 2019 and during 2020 on various criminal charges. Many of these persons were either released or prosecuted during the year. The government also released numerous persons arrested for crimes allegedly committed during the 2020 presidential electoral period. In December 2020 and in January, the government provisionally released several members of the opposition charged with sedition and terrorism in connection with their November 2020 professed establishment of a National Transitional Council (see section 3, Recent Elections). In January the government also released five members of Guillaume Soro’s political movement arrested in August 2020 in connection with protests against President Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term.
In May the public prosecutor announced that judges responsible for investigating persons detained for alleged crimes, some involving violence, committed during the presidential electoral period had ordered the provisional release of 100 of these detainees. Included in this group was Pulcherie Edith Gbalet, a civil society organization leader, and three of her colleagues, provisionally released in April. In August 2020, Gbalet and the three colleagues were arrested and charged with inciting riots in connection with their calls for demonstrations against President Ouattara’s candidacy, as well as with disturbing public order, calling for insurrection, violence and assault, and destruction of public and private property. The government cited the accused’s social media posts calling for protests, but no further evidence, to substantiate the charges. After her release, the government informed Gbalet that she would be tried, but as of October no trial date had been set. The government did not pursue charges against her three colleagues.
In early August President Ouattara announced in a televised speech the provisional release of an additional 69 persons detained for crimes allegedly committed during the presidential electoral period. He also announced the pardon of nine persons convicted of crimes committed during this period. As of late August, 37 individuals accused of committing crimes during the presidential electoral period remained in pretrial detention.
Officials reportedly granted prisoners who were members of opposition parties the same protections as other prisoners, including access by international human rights organizations. In December 2020 the government allowed one opposition member imprisoned on charges of sedition and terrorism to travel internationally for medical treatment while in pretrial detention. The opposition member was released provisionally in January.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
Misuse of International Law Enforcement Tools: There were credible reports the country attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against a specific individual located outside the country.
In August, Malian authorities executed an international arrest warrant issued by an Abidjan court in November 2020 and arrested Sess Soukou Mohamed (aka Ben Souk), an Ivoirian, in Bamako. The warrant was for “subversive acts.” A member of Guillaume Soro’s political movement, Mohamed had been convicted in absentia along with Soro by a court in June for plotting a coup (see section 1.e., Denial of Fair Public Trial). As of September, Mohamed remained incarcerated in Mali.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. The law requires warrants for security personnel to conduct searches, the prosecutor’s agreement to retain any evidence seized in a search, and the presence of witnesses in a search, which may take place at any time.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged frequently in corrupt practices with impunity. Human rights organizations reported official corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and security forces, but they noted victims of such corruption often did not report it or assist in investigations because they believed the government would not act or they feared retaliation. Civil society groups and government officials reported the High Authority for Good Government (HABG), the government’s anticorruption authority, was not empowered to act independently or to take decisive action. The HABG can investigate alleged corruption but lacks the mandate to prosecute; it must refer cases to the public prosecutor. In July the government created a special unit within the Abidjan public prosecutor’s office dedicated to investigating complex economic and financial crimes, including those involving government officials.
Corruption: As of August, the government reported it had initiated three proceedings against magistrates for suspected influence peddling and abuse of power.
In June authorities arrested the director general of the Land Management Agency for alleged embezzlement and money laundering. In July the government announced it had launched audits of approximately 40 state-owned enterprises and suspended at least seven officials of state-owned enterprises pending the outcome of audits. Also in July the HABG announced that 473 persons were either under investigation, indicted, or sentenced for corrupt acts, such as money laundering and embezzlement of public funds. Human rights organizations reported government authorities awarded many contracts to persons or businesses without following procurement rules and often with little notice. In August 2020 the government’s public procurement regulatory authority launched an audit program to investigate more than 200 sole-source public procurements that occurred between 2014 and 2017. Although the regulatory authority completed the audits it did not release them.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Several international and domestic human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials met with some of those groups, sometimes at very senior levels. While the government was somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, depending on the topic or case, it was at other times defensive regarding more sensitive topics.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is responsible for implementing the government’s policy on human rights. The National Council for Human Rights, an advisory body that consults on, evaluates, and creates proposals to promote and defend human rights, is partially dependent on funding from the government, and human rights organizations questioned its independence and effectiveness. The human rights council had 31 regional commissions and seven thematically focused departments. The civilian-controlled Special Investigative Cell within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights investigates persons suspected of human rights abuses committed during the postelectoral crisis of 2010-11.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men and women and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law provides for a rebuttable presumption of consent in marital rape cases. The court may impose a life sentence in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is younger than age 18. The law does not specifically address domestic violence and intimate partner violence or mandate special penalties for these acts. Authorities did not enforce these laws effectively.
Human rights organizations reported family members and community leaders often informally mediated rape accusations without victim input and dissuaded victims from reporting to police to avoid bringing shame or other negative consequences to the family, particularly if the perpetrator was related. Families often accepted payment as compensation. Police reportedly often had a blame-the-victim mentality. Media and NGOs reported that rape of schoolgirls by teachers was a problem, but the government did not provide information on charges filed.
Although rape victims were not legally required to have a certified, postrape medical examination to press charges, human rights organizations reported that the certificate and other documentation (such as a victim’s psychological evaluation or a crime scene report) were frequently treated as essential to successful prosecutions. At a cost of 50,000 CFA francs ($91), the certified examination was prohibitively expensive for most rape victims. Police often did not know to refer rape victims to a medical practitioner for an examination, while many medical practitioners were not trained how to examine victims for signs of sexual and gender-based violence or prepare the certificate. Human rights organizations reported that the only government-run victim shelter in the country (located in Abidjan) had limited beds and would not house victims for more than three days.
In April media reported on the alleged assault and rape of a woman in Abidjan. The alleged assailant and the victim initially met and corresponded online. When they met in person, police reported the accused served the victim a drugged drink, raped her, and stole her belongings. The victim was transported to a local hospital the next day where she died shortly thereafter, apparently due to an overdose from the drug the accused allegedly gave her. Authorities arrested the accused a week later and announced he had confessed to drugging and raping the victim. After the victim’s death, the case gained increasing social media attention, and at least 30 women came forward to report the accused had raped them under similar circumstances.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. Double penalties apply to medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a problem. The most recent 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that the rate of FGM/C nationwide was 37 percent, with prevalence varying by region.
In June media reported on the genital cutting of eight adolescent girls in Zouan Hounien, a village in the western part of the country. Authorities arrested the alleged assailant and referred the victims to a government-run social center.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices that are illegal, such as dowry deaths (the killing of brides over dowry disputes), levirate (forcing a widow to marry her dead husband’s brother), and sororate (forcing a woman to marry her dead sister’s husband). Human rights organizations stated these cases were rare. The government did not provide information regarding the prevalence or rate of prosecution for such violence or forced activity.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of one to three years’ imprisonment and fines. Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
As a result of FGM/C, scarring was common. Scarring could lead to obstructed labor during childbirth, an obstetric complication that was a common cause of maternal deaths, especially in the absence of Caesarean section capability (see the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C) subsection for additional information).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2010-19, 44 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated 82 percent of all women had the autonomy to decide whether to use contraception. Barriers to modern methods of contraception included cost (the government only partially subsidized the cost of some methods of contraception), distance to points of purchase such as pharmacies and clinics, and low or unreliable stocks of certain types of contraception. Other barriers to use included misinformation, and conflicting moral and religious beliefs, including providers opposed to providing modern methods of contraception to adolescent girls.
According to the WHO, 74 percent of births in 2010-19 were attended by skilled health personnel. Barriers to births attended by skilled health personnel included distance to modern health facilities, cost of prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, and low provider capacity. Government policy required emergency health-care services to be available and free to all, but care was not available in all regions, particularly rural areas, and was often expensive. According to WHO estimates, in 2010-18, the adolescent birth rate was 123 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.
Health services for survivors of sexual violence existed, but costs of such services were often prohibitive for victims, authorities often did not know to refer victims to medical practitioners, and many medical practitioners were not trained in treatment of survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not always available as part of the clinical management of rape cases.
According to the WHO, UNICEF, the UNFPA, the World Bank, and the UN Population Division, in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available), the maternal mortality rate was 617 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 658 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate chiefly related to lack of access to quality care. Additionally, local NGOs reported women often had to pay for prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, which dissuaded them from using modern facilities and increased the likelihood of maternal mortality.
Stigma surrounding menstruation and lack of access to menstruation hygiene caused some girls not to attend school during menstruation. The Ministry of Education authorized pregnant adolescent girls to attend school, but not all schools adhered to this policy. Additionally, pregnant adolescent girls faced stigma that sometimes caused them to stop their studies.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men in labor law, although there were restrictions on women’s employment (see section 7.d., Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation). The law establishes the right of widows to inherit property upon the deaths of their husbands equally with any children. Human rights organizations reported many religious and traditional authorities rejected laws intended to reduce gender-related inequality in household decision making.