Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is a coastal country with a population of 14 million. It is largely irrigated by four rivers, and has a hot, humid climate. Côte d'Ivoire is an ethnic puzzle; ethnic groups are numerous and diversified. The population, however, essentially derives from four groups, each divided into many sub-groups. They are: Mandé (primarily Malinké, Bambara and Foula) in the North, Don in the West, Bete in the Central and Southwest areas, and Akan (subdivided into Baoule and Agni) in the Central and Southeast areas.
Côte d'Ivoire is the world's leading producer of cocoa and the third in coffee and palm oil. It also has fishing and minerals industries. In the 1970s the country was believed to be one of the wealthiest in West Africa, benefitting from the high prices of cocoa and coffee on the world market at the time. The government built an efficient road system during these years. Since the 1980s, however, coffee and cocoa prices have continued to drop, and this in turn has prejudiced the Ivoirian economy. The authorities have taken measures to lower the standard of living in the country. These have been unwelcome by the population, and the political situation has started to deteriorate.
Côte d'Ivoire has been ruled since independence by a one-party regime and a "strong man" President. As long as the economy prospered, Ivoirians did not complain about the lack of liberties and the general human rights situation. A free press did not exist, and the only newspapers were government-owned. The regime outlawed political parties, and prohibited freedom of expression, whether oral or written.
Once the economic situation began to deteriorate, however, people raised their voices, demanding greater respect for human rights. The demands started in the university and secondary schools, and then spread beyond. Students were killed. An investigating committee concluded that the military was responsible, but the government refused to take action, and riots ensued.
After several months of an unstable political situation, the government finally agreed to allow political parties to form and independent newspapers to begin publishing. As a result, there is currently a multitude of political parties in Côte d'Ivoire, and the newstands are fairly well stocked. A "spirit of democracy", however, is still absent in the country. Journalists have been imprisoned and some organizations are not officially recognized. Illegal arrests and detentions continue, and the situation of detainees in prison is very bad. In one prison in Abidjan, an average of three prisoners die each day.
HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
Relations between NGOs and the government are poor. The Ligue Ivoirienne des Droits de l'Homme (LIDHO), the main human rights organization in the country, does not have the cooperation of the authorities in its job of human rights monitoring. The President of LIDHO was imprisoned following a demonstration. Members of NGOs currently do not feel under any threat to their lives, but their situation is not made easy. There is also a general climate of insecurity in the country, due to activities of thieves and bandits, which NGOs along with the general population, experience.
A group of young people formed ACATDH in 1990, receiving official recognition in September 1992. The organization has observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.
ACATDH's main objective is the promotion and protection of human rights and the struggle against torture.
ACATDH is composed of students, lawyers, school children, teachers, and others, and has approximately three hundred members. It has its headquarters in Abidjan, but has no office space of its own. It has no paid staff, and all work is done on a voluntary basis.
- produces audio-visual cassettes on key human rights provisions and makes these available to the population;
- sponsors campaigns to sensitize and conscientize the population on their human rights and the necessity to react in cases of violations;
- holds seminars and workshops on the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; and
- issues press releases in cases of mass violations of human rights.
ACATDH also envisions opening a documentation centre on human rights.
The Association des Femmes Juristes de Côte d'Ivoire (AFJCI) was formed and received legal recognition in 1984. It was very active for some time, then went through a long period of inactivity. It resumed its activities at the end of 1993.
The main objective of AFJCI is to struggle against all forms of discrimination against women.
AFJCI's membership is exclusively women lawyers. The organization does not have paid staff or an office of its own.
In order to carry out its mandate, AFJCI has emphasized the necessity for women to know their rights, exercise them, and struggle against their violation. In the beginning they held a series of workshops and conferences with women throughout the country. They have given free legal advice in the ten departments of Abidjan and in some other parts of the country. They have published a series of booklets on marriage, and intend to produce one on family rights. Their main goal currently is the opening of legal clinics for women throughout the country.
Centre Ivoirien de Recherches et d'Etudes Juridiques
(The Ivoirian Centre of Research and Legal Studies)
Le Centre Ivoirien de Recherches et d'Etudes Juridiques (CIREJ) was created in 1973 by a decree of the President of Côte d'Ivoire, and is thus not an NGO.
CIREJ's objective is to promote human rights and human rights education.
CIREJ's members are law teachers and civil servants from the different ministries. The organization has a large staff, all paid by the government.
CIREJ's activities include:
- fundamental research on the legal problems of the country;
- applied research;
- legal documentation; and
- seminars on human rights, including promotion and protection of human rights in West Africa; rights of landowners; protection of the forests in Côte d'Ivoire, women, and access to land.
They are also planning to develop a program of vernacular translations of the law for use in rural areas.
GERDDES Africa, created in 1990, is a pan-African, non-profit organization with headquarters in Benin and a branch in Côte d'Ivoire. The Côte d'Ivoire branch was formed in 1991.
The main objective of GERDDES Côte d'Ivoire is the monitoring of democracy through civic education, training of election observers, research, political intermediation, and so on.
GERDDES Africa has over 1,000 members in twenty African countries. The membership in Côte d'Ivoire is composed of intellectuals from all professional branches. GERDDES Côte d'Ivoire has an office in Abidjan, and employs an administrative officer to manage it. All other members work on a voluntary basis.
GERDDES Côte d'Ivoire has held a series of training workshops to discuss democracy with:
- journalists, to discuss their role and to establish codes of professional ethics;
- heads of different medias, including radio and television. This workshop included participants from Mali, Senegal, Cameroun, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire;
- women, about their role in the process of democracy;
- youth, and their role in the democratic process; and
- magistrates and their role in the promotion of justice.
GERDDES Côte d'Ivoire also has a program of civic education of the population on citizenship, the vote, and similar matters.
The Ligue Ivoirienne des Droits de l'Homme (LIDHO) formed in March 1987, and received official recognition from the government in July 1990. In the same month the organization held its first congress.
The main objectives of LIDHO are the promotion and protection of human rights.
LIDHO's membership is diverse, and is composed of various professionals, citizens and activists. According to its records, it has 750 members.
LIDHO has its headquarters in Abidjan, although it has no paid staff and no office of its own. It uses a church as a meeting and work locale. The organization has sought to open sections in Abidjan and elsewhere around the country. It now has four sections in Abidjan and fourteen in the whole country.
Since its creation LIDHO has denounced human rights violations in the country by means of press releases and conferences. In 1992, following gross violations of human rights at the University of Abidjan, LIDHO, along with some political parties, organized a public protest through the streets of Abidjan. The police violently suppressed this demonstration, and arrested the Secretary General of LIDHO and imprisoned him for several months.
LIDHO monitors abuses. When it receives a complaint, it responds according to the nature of the violation. If there is a violation of an individual's rights, it contacts the person whose rights have been violated, investigates the situation, negotiates with the perpetrator of the violation to bring an end to the violation, and if no agreement is reached, they take the case to court. If the rights of a group have been affected, LIDHO contacts as many of the victims as possible, and searches for any who have disappeared; it tracks down witnesses, investigates and analyzes the reports; it issues press releases and launches campaigns; and it appeals to external partners (in Africa and outside) to protest against the violations.
LIDHO also works on the situation in prisons. It issues press releases on the situation of prisoners, the number of deaths, the sanitary situation, etc. Côte d'Ivoire's prisons are very harsh. Prisoners are tortured and are not given enough food.
LIDHO published a pamplet entitled Je Connais Mes Droits (I Know My Rights), but did not have the funds to continue in this sphere.
The Mouvement Ivoirien des Femmes Démocrates (MIFED) was formed in 1990 by a group of women who believed in an increased role for women in the development of Côte d'Ivoire.
MIFED's primary objective is the promotion and protection of women's rights. MIFED believes that Côte d'Ivoire cannot develop without the full participation of women.
Members of MIFED are women professionals and others, literate or illiterate, living in towns and in rural areas. The organization's records indicate a membership of approximately 1,000. The organization has paid staff, based primarily in the Abidjan office the organization.
MIFED's activities include:
- sponsoring conferences and workshops on the following themes: family law, access of women to
credit, sexual mutilation, AIDS;
- issuing press releases to denounce violations of human rights in general and women's rights in particular;
- holding press conferences on the situation of women in Côte d'Ivoire;
- sponsoring solidarity actions with the prisoners in MACA (the main prison in the country), with an emphasis on women prisoners;
- sponsoring workshops on democracy, because MIFED believes that a democratic society will mean the end of discrimination against women; and
- running a Centre for Legal, Economic and Social Assistance for women. In this centre women can learn about their rights, receive medical assistance, and be trained as artisans.
- Seny Diagne
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