Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) joint trial of former president Laurent Gbagbo and his close ally Charles Ble Goude continued. They 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.
On March 28, an Abidjan jury found former first lady Simone Gbagbo not guilty of crimes against humanity stemming from the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis. She and her attorneys were not present when the verdict was read. They refused to appear in court, having decided to boycott the trial in November 2016 when their requests to call government officials and former senior military staff as witnesses were denied. Simone Gbagbo, in custody since 2011, was indicted by the ICC in 2016.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.
Prison authorities reported taking action in August when a prison guard in Daloa beat a prisoner, sanctioning the guard after a disciplinary process. Human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) sources reported that torture and inhuman abuse were also committed against opposition political prisoners associated with the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) political party. At least two deaths were reported among political prisoners. Prisons authorities stated that these cases were natural deaths. Prison authorities acknowledged that abuse might happen and go unreported as prisoners fear reprisals.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding continued in many prisons. As of December there were 16,127 prisoners, of whom an estimated 381 were minors and 386 were women. The central prison of Abidjan was built to hold approximately 1,500 prisoners but held 5,791. Reports from other prisons also indicated the number of inmates exceeded capacity.
Authorities usually 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.
According to government figures, 21 prisoners died through September 20. Human rights groups did not report that any prisoners died from unnatural 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 that prisoners must 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 that 97 percent of medical evacuation requests were approved.
Critical health care for prisoners, however, was not always available at local hospitals or clinics. Charities or religious organizations sometimes financed prisoners’ medical care. Prison pharmacies often provided medicine for diseases like malaria, but not for 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. According to prison authorities, it was the Ministry of Health, not prison authorities, who decided which pharmaceuticals a prison pharmacy should receive.
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.
According to human rights groups, 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 ($0.74-$0.83) per person per day for food rations, which was insufficient. The prison budget did not increase with the number of prisoners. Water was potable, but prisons sometimes experienced shortages. Families routinely supplemented rations if they lived within proximity of the prison or detention center, and they could bring food from the outside during the four visiting days of the week.
While information on conditions at detention centers operated by the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) was not readily available, NGOs and international visitors had some access to the centers. Based on their visits, they generally agreed with government reports that these facilities were in decent condition.
There were a few prison outbreaks during the year, notably in August when five prisoners escaped from the prison in Gagnoa and 20 from the prison in Abidjan, and in September when almost 100 followers of “Yacou the Chinese,” a prisoner who died in 2016 during a confrontation with security forces, escaped from a prison in the central region.
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 they improved some conditions, such as hygiene and nutrition. A human rights NGO reported that prisoners who had been politically active had slightly better living conditions than other prisoners. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures.
Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons. Prisoners’ access to lawyers and families was allegedly nonexistent in detention centers operated by the DST.
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 all of its requests to visit prisons had been refused since 2013, when it produced a critical report.
Improvements: The nutritional content improved at Abidjan’s main prison, and the level of malnutrition decreased. In the main prison in Abidjan, a prisoners’ rights organization with international funding was working with prison authorities to build a kitchen in the section for prisoners who are minors.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred. 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 were known to detain 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 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 were not adequately trained or equipped and lacked an adequate command and control structure. Corruption was endemic and impunity present in the FACI and other security forces, including police and gendarmerie.
Former rebels from the civil war in the 2000s and the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, who were integrated into the FACI and constituted more than one-third of the force, mutinied in January and in May, blocking access in and out of Bouake, the second-largest city in the country, and blocking roads in other cities, including Abidjan. The mutineers demanded a bonus payment of 12 million CFA francs ($22,000) per soldier, which they claimed they were promised, and the government ultimately paid the money. Four persons died in clashes between mutineers and civilians. The top commanders and the minister of defense were replaced, but no soldiers were held responsible for the mutinies.
Dozos (traditional hunters) assumed an informal security role in some 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 over land tenure. In some cases gendarmes or FACI personnel restored order when police failed to respond.
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 getting reimbursed. 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. 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 on occasion.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. According to government figures, as of September approximately 37 percent of all prison inmates in the country and almost half of the inmates at Abidjan’s central prison were in pretrial detention, including 109 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.
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.
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. By September 20, 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.
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 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
The government denied that there were political prisoners. Amnesty International listed 211 persons arrested between the beginning of 2011 and September 2017 as political prisoners, and several suffered from various ailments.
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 for dialogue with the opposition met several times during the year to discuss these detainees and other issues concerning the opposition.
Authorities granted political prisoners the same protections as other prisoners, including access by the International Committee of the Red Cross. On May 7, Antoinette Meho, the leader of the women’s wing of the FPI, was released following nine months of detention. She was arrested without a warrant in August 2016, charged with undermining state security, and held for several days without access to family or lawyers before being transferred to the central prison in Abidjan.
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.
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 their bank accounts remained frozen by authorities, 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. Some bank accounts remained frozen, although the government reactivated the bank account of a legislative candidate and his wife whose assets had been frozen.