Cote d'Ivoire is striving to emerge from the most serious political crisis it has faced since independence. After more than 30 years of stability, the country was plunged into crisis in 1999 when the elected president was ousted by a military coup. Presidential elections held in 2000 were marred by significant violence and irregularities, and the result was disputed. In September 2002 opponents of President Laurent Gbagbo launched a coup attempt that triggered a clash between the New Forces (FN) rebels and the military that left the rebels in control of the northern half of the country. In March 2007 President Gbagbo and FN secretary general Guillaume Soro signed the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA), which established a transitional government with Soro as prime minister and envisioned a presidential election by the end of 2007. In 2008 some progress was made on implementing key tenets of the OPA. However, the presidential election scheduled to take place in November 2008 was postponed. A new date has not yet been set.
The government's human rights record improved slightly during the 2008, but continued to be poor. The following human rights abuses were reported: restriction of citizens' right to change their government; arbitrary and unlawful killings, including by security forces and progovernment militias; torture and abuse by security forces; life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; security force impunity; arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of fair public trial; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; police harassment and abuse of noncitizen Africans; use of excessive force and other abuses in internal conflicts; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, peaceful assembly, association, and movement; official corruption; discrimination and violence against women, including female genital mutilation (FGM); child abuse and exploitation, including forced and hazardous labor; forced labor; and trafficking in persons. The FN's human rights record improved slightly in 2008 but continued to be poor. The UN reported the killing, disappearance, and rape of civilians in FN-held territories. The FN continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain persons and to conduct arbitrary ad hoc justice during the year. Conditions in FN prisons and detention centers were life threatening.
Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
The U.S. Government's strategy to promote freedom and democracy has focused on urging the signatories to implement the terms of the OPA as soon as possible. This includes establishing a procedure for Ivoirians who were previously disenfranchised to be documented and registered to vote, the establishment of a true national army, and free and fair elections. The U.S. ambassador participates regularly in meetings of the Monitoring and Evaluating Committee and is actively engaged in efforts to prod the president and prime minister to move forward. International and local NGOs agree that addressing the issue of identification (documenting all those who are Ivoirian citizens) is fundamental to achieving greater freedom and democracy in the country. In addition to promoting implementation of the OPA, the United States has established three themes as the cornerstones of its democracy strategy: the importance of free speech and open debate, an appreciation for tolerance and diversity, and an insistence on the accountability of public officials. The United States also focuses on the need to combat the exploitive child labor, including the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sector. Persuading the government to be more proactive with regard to trafficking in persons issues is also an important priority.
Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
The United States has suspended most nonhumanitarian aid to the country as a result of the absence of credible elections following a military-led coup in 1999. However, the United States supports several important programs designed to further democratic principles. The U.S. Government is funding an observation mission of the OPA-mandated identification and voter registration process. The United States also funded a U.S.-based NGO's efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Ivoirian electoral commission and provide technical advice on the identification and voter registration process. Journalists participated in a series of U.S.-organized presentations on election reporting, using the 2008 U.S. presidential election as an example. U.S. officials trained editors and regional correspondents on electoral coverage and led discussions with editors, media associations, and media watchdog groups on politics and journalism. Two journalists traveled to the United States and reported firsthand on the U.S. election via a U.S.-funded program.
NGO activists, community leaders, and professionals participate in a variety of U.S. outreach programs on civic education, transparency and good governance, and women and development. There was a major focus on the U.S. presidential election during 2008. This included discussion of the principles underlying campaigning, candidate selection, the role of youth and volunteers, party organization, financing, voter registration, and voting mechanisms and safeguards. Numerous programs to promote democratic principles focus on youth, civil society, and the next generation of leaders. Through a grant to a U.S.-based NGO, the United States is funding conflict resolution activities with youth using radio programming and leadership seminars. To promote freedom of speech, the United States cosponsors video conferences, book discussions, and roundtables for reporters and editors on the responsibilities of a free press. The United States distributes articles and materials on human rights, democracy, and good governance to key contacts and target audiences throughout the country.
The United States supports activities to promote religious pluralism and women's rights. To address women's rights, the U.S. Government is financially supporting a coalition of local NGOs working on combating gender-based violence in schools and a local NGO working to combat FGM in the north. An international organization working with children in the country's western region is also receiving U.S. funding to combat sexual exploitation and abuse. To promote religious pluralism, U.S. officials continue to organize programs, including Iftaar dinners for Muslim civil society leaders and a discussion with religious leaders on their role in effecting social change. Several Muslim youth leaders also participated in international exchange programs emphasizing tolerance.
The U.S. Government continues to fund efforts to combat child labor through the establishment of a child labor monitoring system designed to combat the worst forms of child labor. In conversations with government authorities, U.S. officials frequently speak out against child labor and trafficking. The U.S. Government also supports public-private partnerships to end hazardous child labor in the cocoa industry.