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Côte d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

Cote d’Ivoire is a democratic republic governed by a president freely elected in 2015. Parliamentary elections held in 2016 were peaceful and considered inclusive and transparent, as were the country’s first-ever senatorial elections in March. Municipal and regional elections in October 2018, however, were marred by four elections-related deaths and numerous irregularities during the campaign period and on election day. Special elections in December 2018 were also marred by violence and allegations of fraud, despite the significant presence of security forces and international observers.

In August a cabinet reshuffle resulted in the division of functions previously managed by the Ministry of Interior and Security and the related establishment of a new Ministry of Security and Civil Protection and Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization. The National Police (under the new Ministry of Security and Civil Protection) and National Gendarmerie (under the Ministry of Defense) are responsible for domestic law enforcement. The Coordination Center for Operational Decisions, a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and 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 Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST), under the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, is responsible for countering external threats. Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged internal abuses perpetrated by members of the security services. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included arbitrary killings by police; arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh prison conditions; politically motivated imprisonment; lack of independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression, press, and internet; impediments to the rights of peaceful assembly and association; crimes of violence against women and girls, which the government took little action to prosecute; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and child labor.

The government did not always take steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both rights. 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 an opposition member of parliament was charged with the dissemination of false information and incitement to revolt via a tweet and was sentenced to one year in jail and a fine of 300,000 CFA francs ($500). In February an appeals court changed the verdict to a six-month suspended sentence.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The 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 ($1,700 to $5,000) 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 condemning the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents. The High Audiovisual Communications Authority (HACA) oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. Opposition groups and civil society criticized the government’s control over the main state-owned television station, claiming it does not allow opposition views to be broadcast. 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.

In May, one local press watchdog organization said there was very little independent press in the country since most media outlets were directly reliant on political parties or politicians for funding.

Violence and Harassment: According to an August report by Amnesty International, 14 activists had been arrested since the beginning of the year in a crackdown on dissenting voices.

In April a journalist was summoned and questioned by Abidjan police for four hours after contacting an activist campaigning against the Central Bank of West African States’ common currency used in the country, the West African CFA franc.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. In June the HACA censored a documentary film on child labor in the cocoa industry produced by a French media outlet. Although set to air, the station instead displayed a blank screen. Journalists with the state-owned media regularly exercised self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government officials. NGOs reported legal intimidation had a chilling effect on media coverage of certain topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison.

b. Freedoms 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.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: There were reports of impediments to internal travel. Security forces and unidentified groups erected and operated roadblocks, primarily along secondary roads outside of Abidjan. Although some roadblocks served legitimate security purposes, racketeering and extortion were common. FACI occupied some checkpoints at border crossings, but fewer than in previous years. Discrimination against perceived foreigners and descendants of Burkinabe migrants, including difficulty obtaining nationality and identity documentation, remained an obstacle to free movement of stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in the country.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The constitution and law provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Durable Solutions: Refugee documents allowed refugees to move freely in the country, with refugees younger than age 14 included on their parents’ documents. Refugees also had access to naturalization, although UNHCR reported many refugees had been in the naturalization process for more than five years.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who no longer qualified as refugees under the relevant UN conventions. Persons awaiting status determination received a letter, valid for three months, indicating they were awaiting a decision on their status. The letter provided for temporary stay and freedom of movement only. Holders of the letter did not qualify for refugee assistance such as access to education or health care.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

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 frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Human rights organizations reported significant official corruption, with corruption in the judiciary, police, and security forces being areas of particular concern. Many members of the security forces, including senior army officers, continued to engage in racketeering and extortion to profit from the illicit exploitation of natural resources. In September the head of the High Authority for Good Government (HABG), a government anticorruption authority, issued a communique in which he announced measures to end unauthorized charges for the delivery of administrative documents. Civil society groups and government officials reported the HABG was not empowered to act independently or to take decisive action to tackle corruption. The HABG can make recommendations, but the public prosecutor must decide to take up a case.

A government ministry said it reinforced and decentralized its Office of the Inspector General to facilitate more expeditious internal investigation procedures. The government also facilitated international training of Ivoirian magistrates to counteract money laundering.

Corruption: NGOs reported government authorities awarded many large contracts to persons or businesses with close connections to the executive branch. Since neither the proposals nor the contracts were made public, civil society organizations questioned the fairness and transparency of the procurement process.

In July, following a West African Economic and Monetary Union recommendation, the government endorsed a new public procurement code to increase the transparency of the public procurement process.

Financial Disclosure: A presidential decree requires the head of state, ministers, heads of national institutions, and directors of administration to disclose their income and assets. Since 2015 the HABG requires public officials to submit a wealth declaration within 30 days of the beginning of their term in office. The declaration was confidential, but the list of those who declared their wealth was publicly accessible in the official government journal. Officials who did not comply or provided a false declaration faced fines equal to six months of their salary. The procedures for reviewing the declaration of assets were not included in the implementing decree. The law requires the HABG to retain declarations of assets for at least 10 years.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of 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 about more sensitive topics.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government accepted 181 of the 186 recommendations in the report of the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council, which was published in May.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is responsible for implementing and monitoring the government’s policy on human rights, but it was neither adequately funded nor effective. In January the National Commission for Human Rights became the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH), a change intended to provide the CNDH with more financial and operational autonomy as an advisory body that consults on, conducts evaluations of, and creates proposals to promote and defend human rights. Nevertheless, the organization remained fully dependent on funding from the government. The CNDH inherited the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI’s) human rights mandate upon UNOCI’s departure in 2017 but acknowledged it did not have UNOCI’s resources or its autonomy. As of October the CNDH had 31 regional commissions and seven thematically focused departments. The civilian-controlled Special Investigative Cell (Special Cell) within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights was established in 2011 to investigate and try those responsible for human rights abuses committed during the postelectoral crisis. The Special Cell issued a number of indictments, although the government did not take steps to initiate trials against any of those indicted. The Special Cell has an indefinite mandate.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers, except members of police and military services, to form or join unions of their choice, provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers or others against union members or organizers. The law prohibits firing workers for union activities and provides for the reinstatement of dismissed workers within eight days of receiving a wrongful dismissal claim. The law allows unions in the formal sector to conduct their activities without interference. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the law does not have any objective criteria to establish recognition of representative trade unions, which could allow public and private employers to refuse to negotiate with unions on the grounds they were not representative. Foreigners are required to obtain residency status, which takes three years, before they may hold union office.

The law requires a protracted series of negotiations and a six-day notification period before a strike may take place, making legal strikes difficult to organize and maintain. Workers must maintain a minimum coverage in services whose interruption may endanger the lives, security, or health of persons; create a national crisis that threatens the lives of the population; or affect the operation of equipment. Additionally, if authorities deem a strike to be a threat to public order, the president has broad powers to compel strikers to return to work under threat of sanctions. Striking workers may legally be subjected to criminal penalties, including forced labor. The president also may require that strikes in essential services go to arbitration, although the law does not describe what constitutes essential services.

Apart from large industrial farms and some trades, legal protections excluded most laborers in the informal sector, including small farms, roadside street stalls, and urban workshops.

Before collective bargaining can begin, a union must represent 30 percent of workers. Collective bargaining agreements apply to employees in the formal sector, and many major businesses and civil-service sectors had them. Although the labor code may allow employers to refuse to negotiate, there were no such complaints from unions pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection.

Media reported three teachers in Bouake, the second largest city, were injured in February when unidentified persons attacked members of a teachers’ union and burned motorbikes belonging to the teachers.

There were no complaints pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection of antiunion discrimination or employer interference in union functions.

In February teachers from public primary and secondary schools and one university went on a two-month strike to claim better pay and working conditions. As a result two university teachers were jailed for public disorder and released two weeks later. Others were facing disciplinary actions at year’s end.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution explicitly prohibits human trafficking, including forced labor and child labor. The law criminalizes all forms of human trafficking, including for the purposes of forced labor or slavery, and the worst forms of child labor. The law grants government officials the broad power of requisitioning labor for “national economic and social promotion,” in violation of international standards. The government engages in forced prison labor, and the law allows for forced labor for political prisoners.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government did not provide enough resources or conduct enough inspections to deter violations. Forced and compulsory labor continued to occur in small-scale and commercial production of agricultural products, particularly on cocoa, coffee, pineapple, cashew, and rubber plantations, and in the informal labor sector, such as domestic work, nonindustrial farm labor, artisanal mines, street shops, and restaurants. Children were subjected to forced begging and participation in drug trafficking.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16 years although the minimum age for apprenticeships is 14. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18 years. Minors younger than age 18 may not work at night. Although the law prohibits the exploitation of children in the workplace, the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection did not enforce the law effectively outside the civil service and large national and multinational companies.

The National Monitoring Committee on Actions to Fight Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor (CNS), chaired by First Lady Dominique Ouattara, and the Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor (CIM) are responsible for assessing government and donor actions on child labor.

The law prohibits child trafficking and the worst forms of child labor. The government took active steps to address the worst forms of child labor. The government worked on implementing its 2018-2020 National Action Plan against Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor, and strengthened its National Child Labor Monitoring System. This program was launched in 2013 as a pilot in several departments to enable communities to collect and analyze statistical data on the worst forms of child labor and to monitor, report, and coordinate services for children involved in or at risk of child labor. Beginning in 2014 the government implemented stricter regulations on the travel of minors to and from the country, requiring children and parents to provide documentation of family ties, including at least a birth certificate. In late 2016 basic education became compulsory for children six to 16, increasing school attendance rates and diminishing the supply of children looking for work.

The Department of the Fight against Child Labor within the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, CNS, and CIM led enforcement efforts. The government’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan calls for efforts to improve access to education and health care for children, and income-generating activities for their families, as well as nationwide surveys, awareness campaigns, and other projects with local NGOs to highlight the dangers associated with child labor. The First Lady’s NGO, Children of Africa, in partnership with the government, operated a shelter for child victims of trafficking and forced labor in the central-west region of the country. The government engaged in partnerships with the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and the International Cocoa Initiative to implement these measures.

The List of Light Work Authorized for Children Between 13 to 16 Years of Age introduces and defines the concept of “socializing work,” unpaid work that teaches children to be productive members of the society. In addition the list states that a child cannot perform any work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. or during regular school hours, that light work should not exceed 14 hours a week, and that it should not involve more than two hours on a school day or more than four hours a day during vacation.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Child labor remained a problem, particularly in artisanal gold and diamond mines, agricultural plantations (generally small plots), and domestic work. Within agriculture, the worst forms of child labor were particularly prevalent in the cocoa and coffee sectors. Inspections during the year did not result in investigations into child labor crimes. Penalties were seldom applied and were not a deterrent to violations. The number of inspectors and resources for enforcement were insufficient to enforce the law.

Children routinely worked on family farms or as vendors, shoe shiners, errand runners, domestic helpers, street restaurant vendors, and car watchers and washers. Some girls as young as nine years old reportedly worked as domestic servants, often within their extended family networks. Children in rural areas continued to work on farms under hazardous conditions, including risk of injury from machetes, physical strain from carrying heavy loads, and exposure to harmful chemicals. According to international organizations, child labor was noticed increasingly on cashew plantations and in illegal gold mines, although no official studies had been conducted.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal access to public or private employment and prohibits any discrimination in access to or in the pursuit of employment on the basis of sex, ethnicity, or political, religious, or philosophical opinions.

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law specifically prohibits workplace discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status but does not address other communicable diseases. The labor code includes provisions to promote access to employment for persons with disabilities. It stipulates that employers must reserve a quota of jobs for qualified applicants. The law does not provide for penalties for employment discrimination.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Human rights organizations continued to report discrimination with respect to gender, nationality, persons with disabilities, and LGBTI persons. While women in the formal sector received the same pay and paid the same taxes as men, reports of a reticence to hire women persisted. The government updated its labor laws to prevent women from doing certain jobs deemed “work that exceeds the ability and physical capacity of women, or work that presents dangers which are likely to undermine their morality, for example, working underground or in the mines.” The government indicated that if a woman wanted to carry out any of the work on the “prohibited list,” she needed to contact an inspector at the Ministry of Labor.

While the law provides the same protections for migrant workers in the formal sector as it does for citizens, most faced discrimination in terms of wages and treatment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varied by sector. The minimum wage in all sectors exceeded the government estimate for the poverty income level. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Labor unions contributed to effective implementation of the minimum salary requirements in the formal sector. Approximately 85 percent of the total labor force was in the informal economy, in which labor law is not uniformly enforced. Labor federations attempted to fight for just treatment under the law for workers when companies failed to meet minimum salary requirements or discriminated between classes of workers, such as women or local versus foreign workers. The government started paying back wages based on a 2017 labor agreement reached with public-sector unions.

The law does not stipulate equal pay for equal work. There were no reports authorities took action to rectify the large salary discrepancies between foreign non-African employees and their African colleagues employed by the same companies.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours. The law requires overtime pay for additional hours and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards in the formal sector, while the informal sector lacks regulation. The law provides for the establishment of a committee of occupational, safety, and health representatives responsible for verifying protection and worker health at workplaces. Such committees are to be composed of union members. The chair of the committee could report unhealthy and unsafe working conditions to the labor inspector without penalty. By law workers in the formal sector have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. They may utilize the inspection system of the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection to document dangerous working conditions. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. These standards do not apply in the informal sector. The law does not cover several million foreign migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, who accounted for 70 percent of the nonagricultural economy.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Human rights organizations reported numerous complaints against employers, such as improper dismissals, uncertain contracts, failure to pay the minimum wage, and the failure to pay employee salaries. The failure to enroll workers in the country’s social security program and pay into it the amount the employer has deducted from the worker’s salary was also a problem. The government did not devote adequate resources or conduct adequate inspections to enforce applicable laws in the formal sector. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government enforced labor protections only for salaried workers employed by the government or registered with the social security office. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection employed insufficient labor inspectors to enforce the law effectively. Labor inspectors reportedly accepted bribes to ignore violations. While the law requires businesses to provide medical services for their employees, small firms, businesses in the informal sector, households employing domestic staff, and farms (particularly during the seasonal harvests) did not comply. Excessive hours of work were common, and employers rarely recorded and seldom paid overtime hours in accordance with the law. In particular, employees in the informal manufacturing sector often worked without adequate protective gear. Human rights organizations reported that working conditions in illegal gold mines remained very poor, including lack of fencing around mines, as well as large detonations and resulting deadly mudslides. According to a report released in April, there were 6,000 industrial accidents between 2015 and 2017, the most recent data available. According to government officials, the San Pedro region had an average of 400 industrial accidents per year over the past three years due to insufficient safety oversight.

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