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Côte d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The government did not provide information regarding reports of abuse within prisons, or mechanisms to prevent or punish such abuses. Human rights organizations reported that prisoners were subject to violence and abuse, including beatings and extortion, by prison officials and that the perpetrators of these acts went unpunished. Human rights organizations reported mistreatment of detainees between arrest and being booked into prison.

Prison authorities acknowledged abuse might happen and go unreported, since prisoners fear reprisals.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, although members of the security forces reportedly did commit isolated abuses without punishment. Failure to enforce disciplinary action contributed to impunity. The government used military police and the military tribunal to investigate abuses.

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.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law does not specifically penalize spousal rape, and there is a rebuttable presumption of consent in marital rape cases. The court may impose a life sentence in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is younger than age 15. Media and NGOs reported that rape of schoolgirls by teachers was a problem, but the government did not provide information on charges filed.

A local human rights organization that supports the rights of persons with disabilities reported a man was sentenced to a 20-year prison term for the April 2019 murder of his pregnant girlfriend, a woman with disabilities. The same organization reported that the 2019 rape and killing of another teenage girl with disabilities remained unsolved as of September.

Survivors were often discouraged from pursuing criminal cases, with their families often accepting payment as compensation. A human rights organization cited a recent case in which a rape victim with disabilities’ father brought a complaint against the rapist and then withdrew it upon receiving a private payment from the assailant. The mother of the victim, wanting her own compensation, threatened to file a complaint and then refused to do so after receiving a payment from the assailant. There was at least one report of security forces intervening to persuade a family to file criminal charges rather than accept private compensation for a sexual assault on their minor child.

Although rape victims were no longer legally required to obtain a medical certificate, some human rights organizations reported that victim who did not do so encountered difficulties in moving their cases forward. Obtaining a medical certificate could be costly. In the first half of the year, the government reported authorities accepted 50 rape cases for investigation without a medical certificate.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. Double penalties apply to medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a problem. The government reported one FGM/C prosecution in the first half of the year. The defendant was fined and sentenced to 24 months in prison. The most recent 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that the rate of FGM/C nationwide was 36.6 percent, with prevalence varying by region.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices that are illegal, such as dowry deaths (the killing of brides over dowry disputes), levirate (forcing a widow to marry her dead husband’s brother), and sororate (forcing a woman to marry her dead sister’s husband). The government did not provide information regarding the prevalence or rate of prosecution for such violence or forced activity during the year but stated that no deaths were linked to these practices.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of one-to–three years’ imprisonment and fines. Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.

Reproductive Rights: The law provides for full and equal access to reproductive health information and services to all men and women ages 15 and older. Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and had access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion, discrimination, or violence. Government policy required emergency health-care services to be available and free to all, but care was not available in all regions, particularly rural areas, and was often expensive.

According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2010-19, 44 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated 82 percent of all women had the autonomy to decide whether to use contraception. Barriers to modern methods of contraception included cost (the government only partially subsidized the cost of some methods of contraception), distance to points of purchase such as pharmacies and clinics, and low or unreliable stocks of certain types of contraception. Other barriers to use included misinformation and hearsay, as well as religious beliefs and biases against marginalized groups.

According to estimates by the WHO, 74 percent of births in 2010-19 were attended by skilled health personnel. Barriers to births attended by skilled health personnel included distance to modern health facilities, cost of prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, and low provider capacity. According to WHO estimates, in 2010-18, the adolescent birth rate was 123 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

Health services for survivors of sexual violence existed, but costs of such services were often prohibitive for victims, law enforcement often did not know to refer victims to medical practitioners, and many medical practitioners were not trained in treatment of survivors of sexual violence.

According to estimates by the WHO, UNICEF, the UNFPA, the World Bank, and the United Nations Population Division, in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available), the maternal mortality rate was 617 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 658 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate were chiefly related to lack of access to quality care. Additionally, local nongovernmental organizations reported women often had to pay for prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, which dissuaded them from using modern facilities and increased the likelihood of maternal mortality. As a result of FGM/C, scarification was common. Scarification can lead to obstructed labor during childbirth, an obstetric complication that is a common cause of maternal deaths, especially in the absence of Caesarean section capability.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men in labor law, although there were also restrictions on women’s employment (see section 7.d.). A 2019 law establishes the right for widows to inherit upon the deaths of their husbands as much as the deceased’s children can. Human rights organizations reported many religious and traditional authorities rejected laws intended to reduce gender-related inequality in household decision-making.

Children

Birth Registration: The law confers citizenship at birth if at least one parent was a citizen when the child was born.

The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth for a nominal fee. In some parts of the country, the three-month window conflicts with important cultural practices around the naming of children, making birth registration difficult for many families. To register births after the first three months, families must also pay a fine. For older children, authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. To continue to secondary school, children must pass an exam for which identity documents are required. As a result children without documents could not continue their studies after primary school. The government, with the support of UNICEF, requires healthcare workers in maternity wards and at immunization sites to complete birth registration forms automatically when providing services. According to UNICEF this service was offered during the year in nearly 62 percent of the country’s health centers and, since the beginning of the program, health workers have completed registration paperwork for 85,779 newborns out of 94,892 live births, a registration rate of 90 percent.

Education: Primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. Education was thus ostensibly free and compulsory for children ages six to 16, but families generally reported being asked to pay school fees, either to receive their children’s records or pay for school supplies. In principle students’ families do not have to pay for books or user fees, but families usually covered some schooling expenses not covered by the government. Parents also often contributed to teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas. Parents of children not in compliance with the law were reportedly subject to substantial fines or two to six months in jail, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school.

Girls participated in education at lower rates than boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls initially enrolled at a higher rate, their participation dropped below boys’ because of a cultural tendency to keep girls at home to care for younger siblings or do other domestic work, and due to reported sexual harassment of female students by teachers and other staff. In April 2019 the Ministry of National Education created a new gender unit to focus on improving education and training for girls and women. The gender unit sponsored several events during the year, including a celebration of International Day of the Girl and a training for community leaders and parents on preventing pregnancy among school-aged girls.

Child Abuse: The penalty for statutory rape, or attempted rape, of a child younger than age 16 is a prison sentence of one to three years and a substantial fine. In March the government published a report detailing the findings of a 2018 study carried out with the support of international donors on violence against children and youth younger than age 18. The study found that 19 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys had been victims of sexual violence and 47 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys had been victims of physical violence. In 2019 the government investigated 59 cases of sexual abuse of minors and 37 child rape cases. In the first half of the year, the government reported two child rape convictions and four pending prosecutions. In February authorities arrested the relatives of a nine-year-old who died while being raped for not reporting the crime and for aiding in the rapist’s escape. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government cooperated with UNICEF to strengthen the child protection network in areas such as case management, the implementation of evidence-based prevention programs, and data collection and analysis.

Responsibility for combating child abuse lies with the Ministries of Employment, Social Affairs, and Professional Training; Justice and Human Rights; Women, Families, and Children; Solidarity, Social Cohesion, and the Fight against Poverty; and National Education. International organizations and civil society groups reported that lack of coordination among the ministries hampered their effectiveness.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: A law passed in July 2019 equalized the legal age for marriage for women and men at 18. The law prohibits marriage of women and men younger than 18 without parental consent. The law specifically penalizes anyone who forces a minor younger than 18 to enter a religious or customary matrimonial union. Nevertheless, reports of traditional marriages involving at least one minor spouse persisted.

In 2017 (most recent data available) according to UNICEF, 27 percent of girls were married by age 18 and 7 percent by age 15. In September media reported that a 15-year-old girl had been forced to marry a 29-year-old man in a customary marriage and was subjected to repeated abuse until she stabbed him to death in self-defense. Authorities arrested the girl and she confessed to the homicide; however, the public prosecutor ultimately released her and entrusted her to the Child and Youth Judicial Protection Service.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of minors for commercial sex or use in pornographic films, pictures, or events. Violators can receive prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years and substantial fines. Statutory rape of a minor carries a punishment of one to three years in prison and a monetary fine.

The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking.

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

Displaced Children: Human rights organizations reported thousands of children countrywide lived on the streets and were frequently subject to harassment by authorities. The government implemented a program to reduce the number of homeless minors. Officials in the Ministry of Youth opened several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training. A charity associated with First Lady Dominique Ouattara broke ground on a shelter to house former juvenile offenders. There was no information on the number of minors assisted in 2020.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html .

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Homosexuality is not criminalized, but public heterosexual and same-sex intimate activity is subject to conviction as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment. In July 2019 the government made minor changes to the law, but human rights organizations reported the changes did not prevent tacit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human rights organizations reported the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community continued to face discrimination and violence. Authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the LGBTI community. Further, LGBTI persons often did not report violence committed or threatened against them, including assault or homicide, because they did not believe authorities would take their complaints seriously. LGBTI community members reported being evicted from their homes by landlords or by their own families. Familial rejection of LGBTI youth often caused them to become homeless and drop out of school. Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in access to health care.

In February a gay man was reportedly severely beaten by family members after presenting his long-term partner publicly at his birthday party. The next day, his uncle told him he would not let his homosexuality tarnish the family’s image and instructed relatives to beat or kill him. After his relatives beat the man, neighbors sheltered him and took him to a health center for treatment. He then took refuge in a church, but congregants demanded the pastor expel him. Information regarding authorities’ response to this incident was not readily available.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no credible reports of official discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status, and the government respected the confidentiality of individuals’ HIV/AIDS status. The government adhered to global standards of patient rights, and a statement of these rights was posted or available at health facilities. The law expressly condemns all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and provides for their access to care and treatment. The law also prescribes punishment for refusal of care or discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. Social stigma persists.

The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene managed a program within the National AIDS Control Program to assist vulnerable populations at high risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (including but not limited to men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, persons who inject drugs, prisoners, and migrants). The Ministry of Women, Families, and Child Protection oversaw a program that directed educational, psychosocial, nutritional, and economic support to orphans and other vulnerable children, including those infected or affected by HIV.

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