The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Côte d'Ivoire is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Côte d'Ivoire is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Côte d'Ivoire is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Côte d'Ivoire is also a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, and has accepted the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The 2016 Constitution of the Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) stipulates that the freedoms of "assembly and peaceful demonstration are guaranteed by law".Art. 20, 2016 Constitution of the Ivory Coast.
Assemblies and demonstrations must be announced in advance but the organisers are not formally required to obtain authorisation. If the public authorities determine that an assembly or demonstration could pose a threat to law and order, they can decide to prohibit it. In practice, the notification regime functions as a request for authorisation.
The 1981 Penal Code of Côte d’Ivoire stipulates that any armed gathering in a public place is prohibited as is any gathering "that could disturb public peace".Art. 179, 1981 Penal Code of Côte d’Ivoire.
Anyone who refuses to heed an order to disperse may be punished with a term of imprisonment of between two months and one year.Art. 180, 1981 Penal Code of Côte d’Ivoire.The penalty increases to up to three years if an unarmed person is part of an armed gathering that refuses to disperse.
Failure to make a complete and accurate notification of a demonstration on the public highway is subject to heavy fine and incarceration for a period of up to six months.Art. 183, 1981 Penal Code of Côte d’Ivoire.Any person participating in an unlawful demonstration may be imprisoned for a similar period.
The Interministerial Order of 19 August 2020 suspended public protests until 15 September in order to “prevent risks to public order”. The suspension was prolonged several times by Interministerial Order. The Government’s explanation for the ban was that it was combatting COVID-19 under the State of Emergency Decree of 23 March 2020. Other sources suggested that it was rather to prevent protests against President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to run again in the October 2020 elections.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
There is no detailed legislation governing police use of force in Côte d'Ivoire. According to Article 179 of the 1981 Penal Code of Côte d’Ivoire, any gathering may be dispersed by force if a senior officer gives the order twice for dispersal and this order is not heeded or if violence is used against law enforcement officials. This rule is maintained in the revised (2019) Penal Code.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
The law in force in Côte d'Ivoire does not restrict police use of firearms, including during assemblies, as international law requires.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2015 Concluding Observations on Ivory Coast, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern "about reports of assaults on freedom of association and assembly involving prohibitions on demonstrations" in Côte d'Ivoire by "certain opposition political parties and certain non-governmental organizations". The Committee called on Côte d'Ivoire to
remove any unnecessary restrictions on freedom of assembly, particularly on the freedom of political parties and non-governmental organizations to demonstrate.
In his 2016 report, the Independent Expert on capacity-building and technical cooperation with Côte d’Ivoire in the field of human rights reminded the authorities in Côte d'Ivoire
that the power to prohibit peaceful demonstrations and assemblies should only be used in exceptional circumstances under international law. More specifically, freedom of expression through assemblies and demonstrations is a fundamental human right whose enjoyment may not be restricted except under exceptional circumstances that are in full conformity with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. It is important, under all circumstances, to avoid banning public assemblies or demonstrations based on an overly broad interpretation of what constitutes a threat to law and order.
In its most recent report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Côte d'Ivoire has recalled the constitutional protection for the right of freedom of assembly.
Views of Civil Society
Controversial and disputed presidential elections, held on 31 October 2020 and boycotted by the main opposition parties, saw president Alassane Ouattara reelected with 94 per cent of the vote. The elections were preceded and followed by political and inter-communal violence and clashes, while dozens of opposition members were arrested. In a joint statement on 3 November 2020, the UN, African Union and the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called upon the opposition that had set up the National Transition Council to 'reverse their decision' and to call for a dialogue. A political dialogue between the ruling party and some opposition parties 'to ease the political climate' started in December 2020 but has not yet resulted in an agreement.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Côte d'Ivoire:
The constitution protects the right to free assembly, but in practice the government has attempted to restrict or forcibly disperse peaceful gatherings, and sometimes violence between demonstrators and police has erupted. Despite risks and restrictions, public protests and demonstrations are common.