CÔTE D’IVOIRE: The Government must lift the ban on protest ahead of the presidential election

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the decision of the Government of Côte d’Ivoire to extend the ban on public protest until 1 November 2020. This ban means no protests and assemblies can be held on public roads until after the presidential election scheduled for 31 October. Banning protest is an arbitrary restriction to civil rights and risks aggravating the already toxic political and social climate.

Fatou Jagne Senghore, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 in Senegal/ West Africa called on the Ivorian Government to enable people to fully participate in the democratic process:

“It is simply unimaginable that the Government launches the political campaign of President Ouattara for a new term during a public event and at the same time it approves a decree to extend the ban on protest until after the presidential election. This decree is an abuse of power and violates both the constitution of Côte d’Ivoire and the guidelines on freedom of association and assembly in Africa and the African charter on democracy, elections and governance that respectively recognize protest as a right and guarantees citizens enjoyment of fundamental freedoms in their universality during elections. If this ban is maintained, it will only make an already tense situation worse.”

The Government should immediately lift this ban as it is unlawful and unjustifiable in this period of political campaigns. The Government should further allow peaceful assemblies and take all necessary measures to make sure any protest that may be organised remain peaceful. Protesters must receive protection by law enforcement officers.

In a ministerial decree issued on 14 October 2020, the Government announced the extension of the measure to suspend protest and other demonstrations on public streets, specifying that offenders will be prosecuted.

Prohibiting or limiting the right to protest ahead of an election for so-called public order reasons is a blatant infringement of freedom of expression and assembly, in violation of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance

ARTICLE 19 emphasises in its principles on the protection of human rights in protests that states should allow protests in all public places. This includes places that are privately owned but are functionally public, and areas that are open to the public and routinely used for public purposes.

Under international human rights law and standards, no restriction on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and privacy may be imposed unless it is prescribed by law, pursues a legitimate aim and is necessary and proportionate in pursuance of a legitimate aim and not discriminatory.

In the case of Ivorian Government, the ban on protest is not legitimate. The decree did not  provide reasonable motivation justifying the prohibition. It did not demonstrate that the State had no means to prevent any anticipated damages that could result in protests organization. In addition, it seems to be discriminatory since political events are allowed if they happen away from public streets.

The measure also violates the Constitution and Ivorian legislation. Indeed, the  1960 Law on associations and the 2016 Constitution both guarantee the freedoms of association, assembly and peaceful demonstration in Côte d’Ivoire. Moreover, the Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa stress that protest is a right.

The ongoing ban on protest follows a series of restrictions of freedoms of assembly that the Government introduced by decree on 23 March 2020, proclaiming the state of emergency, as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. This included  a ban of large gatherings and  demonstrations. The state of emergency decree was subsequently extended till 15 May 2020.

“If the ban was part of the government policy to restrict movements because of the Corona virus pandemic, the authorities should have said so. Because they have now created the impression that the extension of the ban on public protest is connected to the presidential election to avoid public discordant expression against the controversial election and the decision of the President to run for another term after ending his second. The Government could have advised people to observe coronavirus measures, such as wearing a facemask and keeping distance.”

Responding to the shrinking civic space in West African States with upcoming elections, the  ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations, through a joint press release, have recently encouraged the countries, including Côted’Ivoire, to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, freedom assembly, and peaceful participation of all citizens.

As documented by ARTICLE 19, the political situation in Côte d’Ivoire has been particularly tense since President Ouattara announced to run for a third term. There have been protests since August, asking the President to reconsider his decision. Unfortunately, the security forces have responded with excessive force to disperse the protesters, resulting in at least ten deaths in August. The situation has also led to inter-communal violence and clashes among supporters of political parties.

According to local sources and media reports, in the weekend of 16 to 18 October, clashes among political supporters caused the death of three people in Bonoua and Bongouanou. It also resulted in the destructions of buildings, including the residence of one of the opposition leaders. The local mayor accused the security forces of being responsible for the killing in Bonoua, but ARTICLE 19 could not confirm this from independent sources. According to France 24 reports, and as confirmed by the local mayor, ten additional deaths and at least forty wounded were reported in Dabou near Abidjan on 21 October 2020.

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned that security forces failed to prevent the violence and protect people against these clashes. The organisation stresses that banning protests may result in unauthorised gatherings and possibly violent clashes between different political supporters. The Government should instead encourage law enforcement officers to ensure the security of all participants during protests.

 

For more information, please reach out to:

Eliane NYOBE, Senior Program Assistant, ARTICLE 19 West Africa: eliane@article19.org

Tel: +221 77 553 13 87 or +221 33 869 03 22

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