Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred. The DST and other authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, often without charge. They held many of these detainees briefly before releasing them or transferring them to prisons and other detention centers, but they detained others for lengthy periods. Generally, the limit of 48 hours pretrial detention by police was not enforced. Police detained citizens beyond 48 hours before releasing them or presenting them to a judge. There were several incidents of detention in undisclosed and unauthorized facilities.
Although detainees have the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention and to obtain release if found to have been unlawfully detained, this rarely occurred. Most detainees were unaware of this right and had limited access to public defenders.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Police (under the Ministry of Interior and Security) and gendarmerie (under the Ministry of Defense) are responsible for law enforcement. The Coordination Center for Operational Decisions, a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and the Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire (FACI) personnel, assisted police in providing security in some large cities. The FACI (under the Ministry of Defense) is responsible for national defense. The DST (under the Ministry of Interior and Security) has responsibility for countering external threats. The national gendarmerie assumed control from the FACI for security functions on national roadways. FACI forces lacked adequate training and equipment and had a weak command and control structure. Corruption was endemic and impunity, including for allegations of rape and sexual assault, was widespread among the FACI and other security forces, such as police and gendarmerie.
In early January soldiers shot at a vehicle carrying a former rebel aligned with a ruling party minister, killing one person. Also in early January, 230 soldiers and gendarmes accused of misconduct, including desertion and breach of discipline, were removed from the army. Heavy gunfire erupted in January at two military bases in the country’s second-largest city, when soldiers reportedly demanded payment of bonuses and the departure of a security battalion in addition to training and promotions. In May, 2,168 soldiers of 2,211 soldiers, including three military officers, accepted payouts to retire. This was the second group of soldiers retired as part of a plan to cut costs and bring under control a military that launched two mutinies in 2017.
In August the government appointed a leader of a former rebel movement that controlled half of the country during the 2002 rebellion as the governor of Bouake, a central city home to previous unrest.
Dozos (traditional hunters) assumed an informal security role in some village communities, especially in the north and west, but they were less active than in the past and had no legal authority to arrest or detain. The government discouraged the dozos, whom most residents feared, from assuming security roles.
Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged internal abuses perpetrated by the security services.
Security forces failed at times to prevent or respond to societal violence, particularly during intercommunal clashes.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law allows investigative magistrates or the national prosecutor to order the detention of a suspect for 48 hours without bringing charges. Nevertheless, police often arrested individuals and held them without charge beyond the legal limit. In special cases, such as suspected actions against state security or drugs, the national prosecutor can authorize an additional 48-hour period of preventive custody. An investigating magistrate can request pretrial detention for up to four months at a time by submitting a written justification to the national prosecutor. First-time offenders charged with minor offenses may be held for a maximum of five days after their initial hearing before the investigative magistrate. Repeat minor offenders and those accused of felonies may be held for six and 18 months, respectively.
While the law provides for informing detainees promptly of the charges against them, this did not always occur, especially in cases concerning state security and involving the DST. In other cases magistrates could not verify whether detainees who were not charged had been released. A bail system exists but was used solely at the discretion of the trial judge. Authorities generally allowed detainees to have access to lawyers. In cases involving national security, authorities did not allow access to lawyers and family members. For other serious crimes, the government provided lawyers to those who could not afford them, but offenders charged with less serious offenses often had no lawyer. Attorneys often refused to accept indigent client cases they were asked to take because they reportedly had difficulty being reimbursed. Human rights observers reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law. Detained persons outside of Abidjan, where the vast majority of the country’s 600 attorneys reside, had particular difficulty obtaining legal representation.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law does not sanction arbitrary arrest, but authorities used the practice.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. According to government figures, as of September approximately one-third of all prison inmates in the country and almost half of the inmates at Abidjan’s central prison were in pretrial detention including 55 minors, with 20 more minors detained for oversight. In many cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. For example, some persons remained in pretrial detention for up to eight years. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and lack of training contributed to lengthy pretrial detention. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in their absence from court, with prison authorities claiming that their presence was not necessary, and sometimes detainees were not given sufficient notice and time to arrange transportation. Human rights groups reported mistreatment of detainees who were arrested and in custody of the DST before being sent to Abidjan’s main prison.
Amnesty: In August, President Ouattara announced an immediate amnesty for 800 prisoners held in connection with the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, including several former cabinet members, military officers, and Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, rebellion, and insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. In January Michel Gbagbo, son of former president Laurent Gbagbo, was charged with disclosing false information, stemming from comments he made to a news website in 2016, when he said 250 persons were still in prison following the 2010-11 political crisis.
In January a local politician of Lebanese origin, “Sam l’Africain,” was released from Abidjan’s main central prison. He was arrested in March 2017 after proclaiming at a political rally that he, with an Ivoirian wife, was just as Ivoirian as President Ouattara, who has a French wife and had a parent from Burkina Faso. He was sentenced to six months in prison for insult and slander towards “people belonging to an ethnic group,” then fined and sentenced to another five years and revocation of his civic rights for fraud.
Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. A law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offense committed by means of press or by others means of publication.” The law, however, provides “fines ranging from one million to three million CFA francs ($1,800 to $5,400) for anybody found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by others means of publication.” Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents. The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, but the regulation authority allows community radio stations to run political programs if they employ professional journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Journalists with the state-owned media regularly exercise self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government’s officials.
National Security: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 44 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the Ministry of Interior three days before the proposed event. Numerous opposition political groups reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permissions. In some instances public officials stated they could not provide for the safety of opposition groups attempting to organize both public and private meetings.
In May, 21 students protesting poor living conditions were arrested following a clash with police in Abidjan and released after several days. In September stone-throwing students affiliated with a student union clashed with police on the campus of Houphouet-Boigny University in Abidjan as they protested education fees. The students disrupted traffic throughout the city, and police forces fought back using tear gas and sound grenades.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law does not specifically penalize spousal rape. A life sentence can be imposed 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 15. Most rape cases were tried on the lesser charge of “indecent assault,” which carries a prison term of six months to five years.
The government made some efforts to enforce the law, but local and international human rights groups reported rape remained widespread. There were reports of widespread rape and sexual abuse targeting girls and young women. In one such report, 11 young women came forward with allegations of rape in the western part of the country. In one egregious case, a young girl died following an alleged rape.
Relatives, police, and traditional leaders often discouraged female survivors from pursuing a criminal case, with their families, often the survivor’s husband, accepting payment for compensation. Rape victims were no longer required to obtain a medical certificate, which could cost up to 50,000 CFA francs ($90), to move a legal complaint forward. As a practical matter, however, cases rarely proceeded without one since it often served as the primary form of evidence.
The law does not specifically outlaw domestic violence, which was a serious and widespread problem. According to the Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs, more than 36 percent of women reported being victims of physical or psychological abuse at some time. Victims seldom reported domestic violence due to cultural barriers and because police often ignored women who reported rape or domestic violence. Survivors stressed that although sexual and gender-based violence was an “everyday reality,” deeply ingrained taboos discouraged them from speaking out. Survivors were ostracized and advocates for survivors reported being threatened. Fear of challenging male authority figures silenced most victims. In September the first lady offered to pay the medical expense of an eight-year-old girl who had been raped.
The Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs assisted victims of domestic violence and rape, including counseling at government-operated centers.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to two million CFA francs ($650 to $3,610). Double penalties apply to medical practitioners. In August authorities made several arrests after discovering that a group of girls had been subjected to the procedure. The government successfully prosecuted some FGM/C cases during the year. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a serious problem.
For more information, see Appendix C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices, 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).
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of between one and three years’ imprisonment and fines of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800). Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in labor law but not under religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women experienced discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. In 2012 parliament passed a series of laws to reduce gender inequality in marriage, including laws to allow married women to benefit from an income tax deduction and to be involved in family decisions. Many religious and traditional authorities rejected these laws, however, and there was no evidence the government enforced them.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. At least one parent must be a citizen for a child to acquire citizenship at birth. The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth free, except the cost of the stamp. In some parts of the country, the three-month window conflicts with important cultural practices around the naming of children, making birth registration difficult for many families. For births registered after the first three months, families pay 5,000 CFA francs ($9.00) or more. For older children authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. To continue to secondary school, children must pass an exam for which identity documents are required. As a result, children without documents could not continue their studies after primary school. The government, with UNICEF and the World Bank, launched a special operation to ensure the civil registration of 1.2 million school-going children in 2017, but due to numerous technical obstacles, many children did not benefit from this program.
For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: Under a law passed in 2015, primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. Education was thus ostensibly free and compulsory for children ages six to 16, but families generally reported being asked to pay school fees, either to receive their children’s records or pay for school supplies. Parents of children not in compliance with the law were reportedly subject to fines up to 500,000 CFA francs ($900) or jail time of two to six months, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school. In principle students do not have to pay for books, uniforms, or fees, but families usually paid because the government did not often cover these expenses. Schools expected parents to contribute to the teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas.
Educational participation of girls was lower than that of boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls enrolled at a higher rate, participation rates for them dropped below that of boys because of the tendency to keep girls at home to do domestic work or care for younger siblings.
Child Abuse: The penalty for statutory rape or attempted rape of a child younger than age 16 is a prison sentence of one to three years and a fine of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800). Nevertheless, children were victims of physical and sexual violence and abuse. Authorities reported rapes of girls as young as age three during the year. Authorities often reclassified claims of child rape as indecent assault, which ensured a timely trial and conviction, although penalties were less severe. Judges exercised discretion in deciding whether to reclassify a claim from child rape to indecent assault, and they may only do so when there is no clear medical proof or testimony to support rape charges. There were some prosecutions and convictions during the year. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government cooperated with UNICEF to strengthen the child protection network.
Before April, three children were killed as sacrifices, one in Abidjan, including a four-year-old killed after a traditional witch doctor promised that a child sacrifice would make the killer wealthy. Following the alleged rape and ritual murder of a 14-year-old student, 11 persons were injured in March when students ransacking and torching the gendarmerie barracks clashed with gendarmes.
Although the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs, and Professional Training; Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs; and Ministry of Education were responsible for combating child abuse, they were ineffective due to lack of coordination between the ministries and inadequate resources.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits the marriage of men younger than age 20 and women younger than age 18 without parental consent. The law specifically penalizes anyone who forces a minor younger than age 18 to enter a religious or customary matrimonial union. Nevertheless, traditional marriages were performed with girls as young as 14 years old.
For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of children for commercial sex or pornographic films, pictures, or events. Violators can receive prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years and fines of five million to 50 million CFA francs ($9,000 to $90,000). Statutory rape of a minor carries a punishment of one to three years in prison and a fine of 360,000 to one million CFA francs ($650 to $1,800).
In November armed gendarmes abducted a 14-year-old girl from an NGO in Abidjan that shelters trafficked and abandoned children. Security forces had initially demanded that the NGO give up the girl, and when they refused, gendarmes with brandished weapons arrived and forced the girl to get in their vehicle. Reportedly, relatives brought the girl to Abidjan after her father raped her, but she may have been forced to work in the household of the security force officer from which she escaped to the NGO. An investigation by a military tribunal continued at year’s end.
The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking. During the year the antitrafficking unit of the national police investigated several cases of suspected child sex trafficking.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Displaced Children: Local NGOs reported thousands of children countrywide living on the streets. The government implemented a program with a multifaceted approach to addressing the problem of hundreds of children, including many teenagers, who composed a large percentage of youth offenders and lived on the streets of Abidjan and other cities. Police often stopped to question and sometimes arrest these minors in security operations in Abidjan and other cities. Officials in the Ministry of Youth opened several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training, and the government announced a pilot resocialization program to offer civic education to 160 youth as part of efforts to address juvenile delinquency.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The country’s Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, both expatriates and Ivoirians who converted. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law requires the government to educate and train persons with physical, mental, visual, auditory, and cerebral motor disabilities; hire them or help them find jobs; design houses and public facilities for wheelchair access; and adapt machines, tools, and work spaces for access and use by persons with disabilities as well as to provide them access to the judicial system. The law prohibits acts of violence against persons with disabilities and the abandonment of such persons, but there were no reports the government enforced these laws. The 2016 constitution contains provisions in favor of persons with disabilities, but these laws were not effectively enforced. Vision- and hearing-impaired persons were also discriminated against in civic participation, since political campaigns did not include materials for them, either in braille or sign language. An NGO reported bringing this to the attention of the CEI, but to no avail.
Persons with disabilities reportedly encountered serious discrimination in employment and education. While the government reserved 800 civil service jobs for persons with disabilities, government employers sometimes refused to employ such persons. Prisons and detention centers provided no accommodations for persons with disabilities.
The government financially supported separate schools, training programs, associations, and artisans’ cooperatives for persons with disabilities, but many persons with disabilities begged on urban streets and in commercial zones for lack of other economic opportunities. Because most of these schools were located in Abidjan, vision- and hearing-impaired students in other areas of the country did not have the opportunity to attend them. NGOs reported that these schools functioned more as literacy centers that did not offer the same educational materials and programs as other schools. It was difficult for children with disabilities to obtain an adequate education if their families did not have sufficient resources. Although public schools did not bar persons with disabilities from attending, such schools lacked the resources to accommodate students with disabilities. Persons with mental disabilities often lived on the street.
The country has more than 60 ethnic groups, and ethnic discrimination was a problem. Authorities considered approximately 25 percent of the population foreign, although many within this category were second- or third-generation residents. Despite a 2013 procedural update that allows putative owners of land an additional 10 years to establish title, land ownership laws remained unclear and unimplemented, resulting in conflicts between native populations and other groups.
The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism and makes these forms of intolerance punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. There were instances in which police abused and harassed non-Ivoirian Africans residing in the country. Harassment by officials reflected the common belief that foreigners were responsible for high crime rates and identity card fraud.
In July residents from the Guere ethnic group clashed with Burkina Faso nationals over an alleged murder in western part of the country.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law’s only mention of same-sex sexual activity is as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, the same prescribed for heterosexual acts performed in public. Antidiscrimination laws do not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Law enforcement authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Two members of the transgender community were killed in Abidjan, one in February and the other in May; in one case a person was arrested, then released, and for the other, no one had been arrested by year’s end. Members of the LGBTI community reported that police rarely investigated violence against LGBTI persons. Human rights organizations reported that LGBTI persons who were attacked seldom reported the crime to police, due to fear of revenge and further abuse, as well as discrimination upon revealing their sexual orientation. Paying the authorities was often required for them to conduct investigations.
Societal discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community were problems. Human rights groups continued to report that LGBTI community members were evicted from their homes by landlords or their families. They reported several instances of LGBTI persons being beaten or blackmailed by neighborhood thugs. Security forces sometimes tried to humiliate members of the transgender community by forcing them to undress in public.
Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in access to health care, citing instances where doctors refused treatment and pharmacists told them to follow religion and learn to change.
The few LGBTI organizations in the country operated freely but with caution to avoid attracting the attention of persons who might attack or otherwise abuse its members. New NGOs promoting human rights for members of the LGBTI community were founded, including two new transgender groups based in Abidjan and a group in northern part of the country. These groups advocated on behalf of victims and collaborated with local human rights group to prod the police to investigate cases of violence against members of the LGBTI community. They also organized discussions with community and religious leaders to explain how rejecting LGBTI family members could do great harm.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There was no official discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. A 2014 law expressly condemns all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and provides for their access to care and treatment. The law also prescribes fines for refusal of care or discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status.
The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene managed a program to assist vulnerable populations at high risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (including but not limited to men who have sex with men, sex workers, persons who inject drugs, prisoners, and migrants). The Ministry of Women, Child Protection, and Social Affairs oversaw a program that directed educational, psychosocial, nutritional, and economic support to orphans and vulnerable children, including those infected and affected by HIV.