Cote d’Ivoire is a democratic republic governed by a president re-elected in October under conditions generally considered free, although some international observers questioned the fairness of the overall electoral process. Ahead of the country’s October 31 presidential election, civil society and international human rights organizations alleged infringements on rights to assembly and expression and at least two reported instances of unregulated non-state-actor violence against protesters. Also prior to the election, opposition leaders challenged the legality of President Alassane Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term; however, the institution charged with validating candidate eligibility, the Constitutional Council, approved his candidacy on September 14. International election observers differed in their overall assessments of the election. Some found the process to be overall satisfactory while others concluded it did not allow for genuine competition. The Constitutional Council, which the constitution empowers to certify the results of elections, validated the incumbent president’s re-election on November 9. The country’s first ever senatorial elections in 2018 were peaceful.
The National Police, which reports to the Ministry of the Interior and Security, and the National Gendarmerie, which reports to 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 personnel, assisted police in providing security in some large cities. The Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire, which report to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for national defense. The Directorate of Territorial Surveillance, under the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, is responsible for countering internal threats. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant reported human rights issues included: forced temporary disappearance by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention by security forces; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and the press; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and association; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women and girls; and crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.
Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses perpetrated by members of the security services. The government provided some information on steps that it took to prosecute officials in the security services, as well as elsewhere in the government, who were accused of abuses, but victims of reported abuses alleged their perpetrators were not disciplined.
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 adult suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election on October 31. The lead-up to the election was marked by intense political maneuvering by the regime and opposition, acrimonious and divisive rhetoric, protests, and largely civilian-on-civilian violence.
The opposition vociferously contested President Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term following the July death of the ruling coalition’s candidate. Although the opposition argued that President Ouattara was precluded from running due to a term limit, the Constitutional Council, which the Ivoirian constitution empowers to validate presidential candidacies, validated Ouattara’s candidacy on September 14 on the grounds that it would be his first term under the 2016 Constitution. The Council also validated the candidacies of three prominent opposition figures but rejected those of 40 other contenders, specifying in each case which eligibility criteria the contender failed to meet. Before and after the election, opposition leaders repeatedly alleged the Council was inherently biased toward the ruling coalition. UN, ECOWAS, and African Union officials visited the country several times during the electoral period to encourage a tension-calming dialogue between the government and the opposition but did not recommend a revision of the Council’s decision on candidacies.
Among those barred from competition were prominent opposition figures Guillaume Soro and former president Laurent Gbagbo, both rejected due to domestic criminal convictions. Following the Constitutional Council’s announcement, the ACHPR issued two separate rulings on September 15 and September 25 ordering the government to permit Soro and Gbagbo to run for election. The government did not respond directly to either ruling but indicated in public statements that it did not consider the ACHPR’s rulings binding given its April announcement that it was withdrawing from the optional protocol that allowed nonstate actors to petition the Court.
Election-related protests and violence escalated immediately before the election, particularly in mid-October after the opposition launched a campaign of “civil disobedience” and an “active boycott” designed to prevent the election from occurring unless the government conceded to opposition demands. In addition to violent clashes between civilians, many criminal acts occurred during the campaign: media reported multiple incidents of vandalism, including the burning of Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) field offices, theft and destruction of voter cards, and construction of crude roadblocks by opposition-aligned youth to obstruct major roads.
Scattered, disruptive, and occasionally deadly unrest continued on election day in several locations in the central and southern parts of the country. Reported incidents included theft and destruction of electoral materials, civilian-on-civilian clashes, ransacked polling stations, and roadblocks around polling stations, which suppressed voter participation. The CEI confirmed that 21 percent of polling stations were not operational on election day–October 31–due to disruptions. International election observers reported the same but also noted that, in some cases, polling sites did not open because election officials failed to deploy necessary voter equipment and materials. At polling sites that did open, voting generally took place without incident although observers noted scattered minor irregularities, such as sites opening late or closing early and election officials struggling, without apparent malicious intent, to tabulate results accurately. In mid-November, the government reported that its investigations confirmed that since August, 85 persons had been killed and 484 injured, including several members of the security forces, in election-related violence.
International election observers differed in their overall assessments of the election. The African Union stated the election “was held in an overall satisfactory manner.” The International Election Observation Mission of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and The Carter Center found that officials “generally adhered to voting procedures in the majority of the polling stations visited,” but criticized the political climate in which the election took place as “not allow[ing] for a genuinely competitive election.” The CEI ultimately reported a voter participation rate of almost 54 percent of registered voters at the polling stations that were able to open. If calculated on the basis of the country’s full list of approximately 7.5 million registered voters, the stated turnout would have been approximately 42.9 percent. On November 9, the Constitutional Council certified that President Ouattara had won re-election with 94.27 percent of the vote. President Ouattara was sworn in for a third term on December 14.
On November 2, the opposition, asserting that President Ouattara was no longer president, announced the establishment of a National Transitional Council. On November 4, via social media from France, Guillaume Soro claimed in his capacity as a member of the transitional council that President Ouattara no longer had the constitutional power to command the armed forces and called for them to overthrow him. The government subsequently announced charges of sedition and terrorism against 20 senior opposition figures involved in the Council’s creation. Although one leading opposition member was provisionally released in late December, several individuals arrested on those charges remained incarcerated. On November 18, the government issued an international arrest warrant for Soro and three of his aides requesting their extradition from France.
Prior to the 2018 senatorial elections, the CEI declared it would restrict observers from remaining in the voting stations throughout the day, but later reversed its decision. Diplomatic observers and local civil society groups judged the elections to be peaceful and credible.
The law requires the national voter registry to be updated annually. The registry was not updated in 2019, but was in June and July. CEI staff generally appeared well prepared to execute that process, although some opposition parties reported their members’ difficulty obtaining documents required to prove their eligibility to vote. The government extended the registration period twice and, midway through the registration process, extended the validity of existing national identity cards so that holders could register and vote in the October presidential election without having to obtain new biometric identity cards before June. The extension had been a key demand of the opposition.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Although the law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines, there have historically been links between ethnic groups and specific political parties.
Throughout the year, opposition parties reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits. Following the August government ordinance banning demonstrations in public thoroughfares, and subsequent arrests of opposition supporters participating in unauthorized demonstrations, media broadcast images of ruling coalition supporters marching unimpeded through the streets en route to the formal nomination of President Ouattara as its presidential candidate.
An ACHPR ruling to affect greater political party balance and public confidence in the CEI’s work led the government to overhaul that institution in July 2019. Many opposition parties chose to boycott the overhaul negotiation, were not invited to join the CEI once it was reconstituted, and subsequently appealed against the legality and impartiality of the institution. In July the ACHPR ruled that the CEI was not illegal or fundamentally biased, but that the ruling coalition had controlled the nomination and leadership election process in ways that undermined public confidence in the impartiality of the institution. President Ouattara had by then invited the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, the country’s largest unified opposition party, to join the CEI, and the government announced it would rerun elections for leadership positions at local levels of the CEI organization. As of December, the Democratic Party’s representative had not taken his oath of office due to continued political disagreements. On September 30, the Ivorian Popular Front, the only party previously represented in the CEI that the broader opposition accepted as an authentic opposition party, suspended its participation due to its overall objection to the electoral process.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Of 253 National Assembly (lower legislative body) members, 29 were women, the same number as in 2017-19. Of 99 Senate (upper legislative body) members, 19 were women, including 11 of 33 appointed by President Ouattara in April 2019 and eight of 66 elected in 2018.
Members of the transgender community reported difficulty obtaining identity and voting documents. Electoral staff and fellow voters at polling sites for the October presidential election were observed assisting voters with disabilities, such as those who were unable to walk up stairs or legally blind individuals. The same assistance was offered during the June-July voter registration process due to a lack of government-provided accommodations for individuals with disabilities.