Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances 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. Human rights groups reported torture and other mistreatment of persons arrested and taken into security force custody. There were reports that government officials employed inhuman or degrading treatment.
Prison authorities acknowledged that abuse might happen and go unreported as prisoners fear reprisals. Human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) sources reported mistreatment of detainees associated with the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) political party.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and unhealthy due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding continued in many prisons. For example, the prison at Man was estimated to be at 10 times the capacity prior to a transfer of 300 prisoners from Man. The central prison of Abidjan was built to hold approximately 1,500 prisoners but held 5,728. Reports from other prisons also indicated the number of inmates exceeded capacity. In at least one prison, the inmates slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.
Authorities held men and women in separate prison wings, held juveniles with adults in the same cells in some prisons, and usually held pretrial detainees together 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 NGOs. There were generally no appropriate services for mentally ill inmates, and they were held together with the general prison population. A human rights NGO reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active had slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.
According to prison authorities, 39 prisoners died during the year, all from natural causes.
Large prisons generally had doctors, while smaller prisons had nurses, but it was unclear whether prisoners had access to these medical professionals at all times. Prison authorities reported that two doctors spend the night at Abidjan’s main prison and were always available for urgent cases, but human rights groups alleged prisoners had to rely upon guards to allow them to see medical staff at night. Prisoners with health crises were supposed to be sent to health centers with doctors, and prison authorities claimed they approved medical evacuations of prisoners. Where the prison did not have a vehicle, the prison authorities in some prisons said they cooperated with the local gendarmes or emergency services for transportation to hospitals.
Critical health care for prisoners, however, was not always immediately available. Charities or religious organizations sometimes financed prisoners’ medical care. Prison pharmacies often provided medicine for diseases such as malaria, but not the more expensive medicines for illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. In some cases prison pharmacists would write a prescription, and a family member would fill it. At one prison, authorities said the prison officials themselves would buy the medications at a local pharmacy out of the prison budget. The prison director also said some prison guards had nursing training and he authorized them to wake the doctor in the middle of the night if a prisoner needed urgent medical care. According to prison authorities, it was the Ministry of Health, not prison authorities, who decided which pharmaceuticals a prison pharmacy should receive.
Prison authorities reported difficulty in keeping mattresses free from pests in some prisons, leading authorities to remove the mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, were problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages could occur due to disagreements among the prisoners about how to allocate it. When one city experienced water shortages, prison authorities had trucks bring in water.
Approximately 23 percent of the prison population was in preventive detention. According to human rights groups, physical abuse occurred, and conditions were inhuman in police and gendarmerie temporary detention facilities, with detainees in close proximity to extremely unsanitary toilets. The 48-hour limit for detention without charge was often ignored and renewed, with the average time being eight to nine days. Officials sometimes listed the date of detention as several days later than the actual date of arrest while conducting an investigation to conceal the length of time the prisoner was actually in temporary detention.
Wealthier prisoners reportedly could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes. The government allotted 400-450 CFA francs ($0.72-$0.81) per person per day for food rations, which was insufficient. The prison budgets generally did not increase with the number of prisoners, although prison authorities said funding followed prisoners who were transferred to alleviate overcrowding. Families routinely supplemented rations if they lived within proximity of the prison or detention center, bringing food from the outside during the four visiting days of the week.
Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) was not readily available.
Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities, although there was no process for handling the complaints. Prison authorities had limited capacity to investigate and redress allegations of poor detention conditions, but NGOs reported that they improved hygiene and nutrition. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures.
Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days. Prisoners’ access to lawyers and families was allegedly nonexistent in detention centers operated by the DST.
In late November, five prison guards in Bouake became involved in a violent altercation with local university students. The incident, which involved local armed forces who joined the guards, stemmed from a dispute earlier in the day and ended with five students being shot, although authorities had not determined who fired the shots.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted the United Nations and local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons but not to detention centers run by the DST. Local human rights groups reported having access to prisons when they formally requested such in advance, although Amnesty International reported that its requests to visit prisons had not been approved since 2013, when it produced a critical report.
Improvements: In the main prison in Abidjan, a prisoners’ rights organization with international funding was working with prison authorities to build and equip a training center for cooking and hairdressing in the section for prisoners who are minors.
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.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government did not respect judicial independence. 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. By early December no magistrate or clerk had been disciplined or dismissed for corruption. On the other hand, magistrates who advocated independence or acted in a manner consistent with judicial independence were sometimes disciplined. For example, in July, two magistrates were dismissed from their jobs after they spoke out about the importance of independence in the judiciary, ethics, and “victor’s justice.” They fled the country following harassment by security forces.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and 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 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 such 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
The government denied that there were political prisoners, although President Ouattara recognized in August there were prisoners indicted for “offenses connected to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis,” a statement widely interpreted as recognition that political prisoners existed. In 2017 an Abidjan jury found Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, not guilty of crimes against humanity stemming from the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis. She had been in custody since 2011. Although Simone Gbagbo was released from prison under the August amnesty, it was unclear who or how many other persons were released.
In March authorities arrested 18 supporters of an opposition alliance and detained them at Abidjan’s main prison.
In July a prominent imam was arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges after criticizing the president for lack of progress in helping the poor and advocating for Muslim schools. Authorities released him after several weeks.
Some political parties and local human rights groups claimed members of former president Gbagbo’s opposition party FPI, 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. A government-created platform to discuss detainees and other issues concerning the opposition did not meet during the year.
Authorities granted political prisoners the same protections as other prisoners, including access by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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.
In May local police destroyed homes, forcibly evicting a number of persons from a gentrifying neighborhood in Abidjan. Because residents had been informed by official notice that they had until July to move, most residents, including children and the elderly, were unprepared and without alternative lodging during the rainy season. The demolition disrupted the students’ exams and hindered the possibility for some to advance to the next grade.
In July, one person was killed and several others injured as police clashed with youths after more than 20,000 persons were evicted from their homes in an Abidjan neighborhood local authorities believed to be unsafe and illegally occupied, according to news reports. Human rights groups reported that due process was not followed.
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.
Some leaders of opposition parties reported that authorities had frozen their bank accounts, although they were not on any international sanctions’ list and courts had not charged them with any offenses. It was unclear whether frozen bank accounts of those pardoned by the president in the August amnesty were reactivated. Human rights groups reported that the bank account of a minister’s opponent in the October municipal election was frozen.