Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
For example, on March 6, FACI soldiers used live ammunition to quell a demonstration in Assuefry, near Bondoukou; three protesters were killed and one injured. The demonstrators were protesting extortion by soldiers. The government made no arrests.
A terrorist attack resulted in civilian deaths. On March 13, a terrorist attack on a beach resort in Grand-Bassam resulted in the deaths of 16 civilians, including a child. The government arrested two soldiers and sentenced them to 10 years in prison for providing support to the terrorists in the preparation for the attack.
On January 28, the trial of former president, Laurent Gbagbo, and his close ally, Charles Ble Goude, opened at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Gbagbo and Ble Goude were accused of four counts each of crimes against humanity committed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, in which at least 3,000 civilians were killed and more than 150 women and girls were raped.
On March 31, the trial of former first lady Simone Gbagbo commenced in the Assize Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes. (Simone Gbagbo, who has been in custody since 2011, also has been indicted by the ICC.) Hers was the first-ever trial for crimes against humanity conducted within the country. Some human rights groups acting as plaintiffs in the case withdrew during the year, claiming proceedings were flawed. Earlier in March the Supreme Court rejected Simone Gbagbo’s final appeal against the 20-year sentence resulting from a separate 2015 trial in which she was charged with crimes against the state.
On January 25, the trial of 19 military officers charged in connection with the 2002 assassination of General Robert Guei and his family resumed. On February 18, the military court sentenced three officers–General Dogbo Ble, former head of the Republican Guard; Commander Anselme Seka Yapo, former head of the protection detail for the former first lady; and Daleba Sery–to life imprisonment for murder and complicity in murder, and four others to 10 years’ imprisonment. The remaining 12 were acquitted.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.
According to a July report by UNOCI’s Human Rights Division, there were 1,129 reported rape cases with 1,149 victims from 2012-15. Of that number, 76 percent of victims were children, and 7 percent of alleged perpetrators were state agents, particularly members of FACI and teachers.
According to Amnesty International, police raped one student and sexually abused another during university protests in April. The government denied the allegations and did not take action against the accused.
The United Nations reported that between January 1 and December 20, it received four allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers deployed to UNOCI, with two alleged incidents occurring during the year, one in 2012, and one for which the date was unknown. These allegations involved military peacekeepers from Senegal, Niger, and Pakistan. Of the four allegations, two involved minors. The two allegations against Senegalese peacekeepers, one of which involved a minor, and the allegation against a Nigerien military observer, were being investigated by the United Nations. There was no result by the end of the year. The allegation against the Pakistani peacekeeper, which involved a minor, was being investigated by the government of Pakistan. There were no results by the end of the year.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding continued in many prisons. At the end of November, there were 11,192 prisoners, of whom an estimated 193 were minors and 237 were women. The central prison of Abidjan was built to hold approximately 1,500 prisoners but held 3,845 as of September 21. Reports from other prisons also indicated the number of inmates exceeded capacity.
Large prisons generally had doctors, while smaller prisons had nurses. Prisoners with health crises were supposed to be sent to health centers with doctors; however, critical health care for prisoners was not always available at local hospitals or clinics. Charities or religious organizations sometimes financed prisoners’ medical care.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided nutritional supplements to vulnerable prisoners, such as pregnant women and the elderly. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, were problems in some prisons.
According to government figures, 55 prisoners died through September 26. In February an armed confrontation between security forces and detainees at the central prison of Abidjan resulted in the deaths of a prison warden and 10 detainees, including Yacouba Coulibaly, alias “Yacou the Chinese,” who, with his men, had reportedly controlled parts of the prison. Two trials resulting from the confrontation continued at year’s end.
Authorities did not always hold men and women in separate prison wings, held juveniles with adults in the same cells in some prisons, and held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates often lived with their mothers in prison, although prisons accepted no responsibility for their care or feeding. Inmate mothers received help from local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Wealthy prisoners reportedly could buy extra cell space, food, and other amenities as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes. The government allotted 500 CFA francs ($0.85) per person per day for food rations, which was insufficient. Families routinely supplemented rations if they lived within proximity of the prison or detention center.
No information on conditions at irregular or informal detention centers operated by the FACI or Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) was available, as the government did not allow local or international NGOs to access them.
Administration: Prison records were destroyed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, and the government did not take significant measures to restore records. Record keeping that resumed after the crisis was not always adequate. The law provides for work-release programs and alternatives to incarceration for youths. In May, for example, 63 young offenders arrested in 2014 graduated from an 18-month reinsertion program in Bonoua, where they learned carpentry and sewing. Although sentencing magistrates were responsible for alternatives to sentencing and facilitating conditional release for inmates, there were fewer than 20 of them across all courts and they did not function effectively. There was no prison ombudsman, but prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities. Prison authorities had limited incentive or capacity to investigate and redress allegations of poor detention conditions. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in their absence due to lack of transport from prison to court.
Authorities generally permitted visitors in formal prisons. Prisoners’ access to lawyers and families was allegedly intermittent or nonexistent in informal detention centers operated by the FACI and DST.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted the United Nations and international NGOs adequate access to formal prisons. The government did not grant them access to informal detention centers run by the FACI and DST. Local human rights groups reported sporadic access to prisons.
Improvements: Unlike in the previous year, potable water was available in all formal prisons and detention centers, both for drinking and bathing.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred. The FACI (which lacks arrest authority), 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 formal prisons and detention centers, but detained others for lengthy periods. The United Nations reported several incidents of detention in undisclosed and unauthorized facilities.
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 (CCDO), a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and 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 FACI, who were better trained and equipped than police or gendarmerie, continued to perform functions normally associated with those entities. The national gendarmerie assumed control from the FACI for all security functions on national roadways, such as running authorized checkpoints. Nevertheless, the FACI still operated unauthorized security checkpoints, especially near borders, where they engaged in extortion.
While FACI forces were better trained and equipped than police or gendarmes, they were not adequately trained or equipped and lacked an adequate command and control structure. Corruption and impunity were endemic in the FACI and other security forces, including police, gendarmerie, CCDO, and DST.
Dozos (traditional hunters) assumed an informal security role in many communities, although they 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, but investigations and prosecutions rarely occurred.
Security forces failed at times to prevent or respond to societal violence, particularly during intercommunal clashes over land tenure. In some cases gendarmes or FACI personnel restored order when police failed to respond.
On March 2, in collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States, the government adopted a decree establishing a national center to coordinate early warning responses to crises. The role of the center, which was not operational by year’s end, included preventing conflict, fighting terrorism, and reducing response times following crisis alerts.
In June the Cell for Coordination and Monitoring of Reintegration (CCSR)–created in July 2015 to continue the reintegration process for ex-combatants following the expiration of the mandate of the Authority for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (ADDR)–completed its work. According to the government, more than 69,000 former combatants were reintegrated as a result of ADDR and CCSR processes.
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, 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 FACI and 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. Human rights observers reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside of their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law.
Arbitrary Arrest: On August 10, DST agents arrested without warrant Antoinette Meho, leader of the women’s wing of the opposition Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI). Meho was held without access to family or her lawyers for several days before being transferred to the central prison in Abidjan. According to the justice minister, Meho was charged with undermining state security and remained in detention awaiting trial at year’s end.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem. According to government figures, as of September 21, approximately 44 percent of all prison inmates and 57 percent of inmates at Abidjan’s central prison were in pretrial detention, including some minors. In many cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and lack of training contributed to lengthy pretrial detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: 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 because most detainees were unaware of this right and had limited access to public defenders.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases. The judiciary was inadequately resourced and inefficient. The continued lack of civilian indictments against pro-Ouattara elements for crimes during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis indicated the judiciary was subject to political and executive influence. There were also numerous reports of judicial corruption, and bribes often influenced rulings. During the last two years, the General Inspectorate of Judicial Inspections opened disciplinary investigations based on field audits of all 36 courts in the country; however, no magistrates or clerks had been disciplined or dismissed by year’s end.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary 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 this requirement. In the past Assize Courts (special courts convened as needed to try criminal cases involving major crimes) rarely convened. Starting in 2015, however, they convened for one session per year in several cities to hear a backlog of cases. Defendants accused of felonies have the right to legal counsel at their own expense. Other defendants may also seek legal counsel. The judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys, although 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. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may not access government-held evidence, although their attorneys have the legal right to do so. Defendants may present their own witnesses or 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 this abuse sometimes occurred. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try defendants in their absence. Those convicted had access to appeals courts in Abidjan, Bouake, and Daloa, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts.
Military tribunals did not try civilians or provide the same rights as civilian criminal courts. Although there are no appellate courts within the military court system, persons convicted by a military tribunal may petition the Supreme Court to order a retrial.
The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Dispute resolution was by extended debate. There were no reported instances of physical punishment. The law specifically provides for a “grand mediator,” appointed by the president, to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Amnesty International listed 226 persons arrested between the beginning of 2011 and September as political prisoners. Of the 226, all of whom remained in prison at year’s end, 20 suffered from various ailments, and more than half were malnourished.
Some political parties and local human rights groups claimed members of former president Gbagbo’s FPI party–detained on charges, including economic crimes, armed robbery, looting, and embezzlement–were political prisoners, especially when charged for actions committed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis.
Opposition and government representatives offered differing assessments of the number of political detainees remaining in custody. A government-created platform for dialogue with the opposition met several times during the year to discuss these detainees and other issues concerning the opposition. The government released all but three of the 90 persons arrested in connection with the 2015 presidential election. In September the government released 10 persons associated with the FPI, and in March it released 70 of 300 persons whose release was requested by the FPI.
Political prisoners were given the same protections as other prisoners, including ICRC access.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the judiciary was subject to corruption, outside influence, and favoritism based on family and ethnic ties. Citizens may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, but they did so infrequently. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. The judiciary was slow and inefficient, and there were problems in enforcing domestic court orders.
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. Police sometimes used a general search warrant without a name or address. The FACI and DST arrested individuals without warrants.
In some areas FACI units continued to occupy illegally businesses and homes, despite the government’s efforts to end such occupations.
Some leaders of opposition parties reported authorities froze their bank accounts, although they were not on any international sanctions list, and courts had not charged them with any offenses.
A government-opposition dialogue platform discussed occupied housing and frozen bank accounts, with some progress acknowledged by representatives from both sides. In March the government stated 43 bank accounts remained frozen after it reactivated four bank accounts belonging to associates of former president Gbagbo. In August the government reactivated 12 more bank accounts of FPI officials.