Cote d'Ivoire is striving to emerge from the most serious political crisis it has faced since independence. After more than 30 years of stability, the country was plunged into crisis in 1999 when the elected president was ousted by a military coup. Presidential elections held in 2000 were marred by significant violence and irregularities, and the result was vehemently disputed. Opponents of elected President Laurent Gbagbo launched a coup attempt in September 2002 that triggered a clash between the New Forces (NF) rebels and the military that left the rebels in control of the northern half of the country. In March 2007 President Gbagbo and NF Secretary General Guillaume Soro signed the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA), which established a transitional government with Soro as prime minister and envisioned a presidential election by the end of 2007. Some progress was made during 2007 on implementing the provisions of the OPA, but virtually no progress was made on the key issue of disarmament. The government's human rights record, which improved slightly in 2007, continued to be poor overall. The following human rights abuses were reported: restrictions on citizens' right to change their government; arbitrary and unlawful killings, including summary executions by security forces, progovernment militias, and student groups; security force impunity; arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of a fair public trial; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; use of excessive force and other abuses in internal conflicts; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, peaceful assembly, association, and movement; corruption; discrimination and violence against women; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including hazardous labor. The NF's human rights record also improved slightly in 2007 but continued to be poor. UN Operation in Cote d'Ivoire reported the killing and disappearance of civilians in NF-held territories. The NF continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily and to conduct arbitrary ad hoc justice. There were reports of extrajudicial killings and arrests of persons suspected of attempting to overthrow the government.
The U.S. government's strategy to promote freedom and democracy includes supporting national reconciliation, strengthening the democratic process and civil society, and combating trafficking in persons and child labor. U.S. officials engage with members of the government and opposition political parties to urge that free and fair elections be held. The deputy secretary of state visited the country in November 2007 to underscore to political leaders U.S. government support for the OPA and to urge rapid implementation of that agreement, including the holding of credible elections as soon as possible. The U.S. ambassador and other U.S. officials engage regularly with the government to reinforce this message and have reiterated publicly the message delivered by the deputy secretary.
In addition to public statements, the United States funds several programs that seek to further democratic principles. The U.S. government funded a program in the troubled western region of the country to promote reconciliation and alternative dispute resolution. Further, the U.S. government continues to sponsor U.S.-based NGOs' efforts to strengthen the electoral commission and political party monitoring of the identification process, provide technical advice on reforming voter registration, and build awareness and capacity to combat corruption and human rights abuses.
U.S. officials frequently meet with the press to discuss media freedom and human rights and underscore U.S. support for a free press. To promote media freedom and freedom of speech, the United States co-sponsored digital video conferences (DVCs), book discussions, and roundtables for reporters and editors on the responsibilities of a free press. The U.S. government continues to fund a training program for editors and journalists to encourage professionalism and to help depoliticize an often vitriolic press. U.S. officials trained editors and regional correspondents on electoral coverage and led discussions with editors, media associations, and media watchdog groups on politics and journalism. U.S. officials also toured major news organizations to stress freedom of the press and the role and responsibility of the media in conflict resolution. The U.S. government provided extensive training on HIV/AIDS reporting for radio stations and major newspapers.
In 2007 NGO activists, community leaders, and professionals participated in a variety of U.S. outreach programs on conflict resolution, civic education, transparency and good governance, and women and development. The programs involved the distribution of articles and books on human rights, democracy, and good governance to key contacts and municipal councils throughout the country.
The United States supports activities to promote religious tolerance and women's rights. To address women's rights, the U.S. government supported a women's literacy program with a local NGO in the Korhogo and Ferkessedougou regions in the north. The U.S. government also offered support to a sensitization and training program for community educators to combat female genital mutilation in the Abidjan region and in the northern city of Korhogo.
Following the 2002 rebellion, the government targeted perceived supporters of the rebellion, many of whom were Muslim, for reprisals. Strong efforts by religious and civil society groups helped prevent the political crisis from evolving into a religious conflict. U.S. officials hosted programs focused on religious tolerance, including two Iftaar dinners for Muslim civil society leaders and a DVC with religious leaders on the role of religious leaders in effecting social change. The U.S. government sent two religious leaders, a Muslim imam and a Christian minister, to the United States on an International Visitor Leadership Program on religious tolerance with emphasis on the separation of religion and state.
To combat child labor and trafficking, the United States funded a local NGO that provided literacy and vocational training to 40 young girls in the Abidjan district of Yopougon who were trafficked into prostitution. The U.S. government continued to fund efforts to combat child labor through the establishment of a child labor monitoring system designed to ensure that cocoa beans purchased by U.S. manufacturers were grown and/or processed without any of the worst forms of child labor. U.S. officials frequently speak out against child labor and trafficking in conversations with government officials. The U.S. government also continued to fund a program with an international organization to end child labor in the cocoa and fishing industries and a project to help remove children from the worst forms of child labor and to enroll them in school. The U.S. government supported a local NGO that promoted school enrollment and worked to prevent child labor in a village in Oume district in the south-central region.