Increased hate speech and political instability following the October 2020 presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire leaves populations at risk of inter-communal violence and potential atrocities.
On 31 October Côte d’Ivoire held presidential elections amidst significant political unrest. According to local authorities, at least 85 people have been killed since August in election violence between supporters of incumbent President Alassane Ouattara, security forces and opposition protesters.
The political situation in Côte d’Ivoire has deteriorated since August when President Ouattara announced his decision to run for a third term after his preferred successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, unexpectedly died. The Constitution limits the number of presidential terms to two, but the Constitutional Council determined that the 2016 revision of the Constitution means that Ouattara’s two previous terms do not count, allowing him to run again.
The months preceding the election were marred by sporadic violence, hate speech aimed at manipulating ethnic differences for political ends and heightened tensions. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also noted an increase in violence against protesters by security forces and unidentified individuals during October. Approximately 10,000 Ivorians have fled to Liberia, Ghana and Togo.
Ahead of the election, the main opposition candidates – former President Henri Konan Bédié and Pascal Affi N’Guessan – called for a boycott and a civil disobedience campaign. After the vote, N’Guessan, who served as Prime Minister under former President Laurent Gbagbo, announced the creation of a “National Transitional Council,” chaired by Bédié and tasked with preparing “the framework for the organization of a fair, transparent and inclusive presidential election.”
Ex-rebel leader and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, who the Constitutional Council excluded as a presidential candidate, called upon the military to mutiny and back the National Transitional Council. On 6 November a prosecutor announced that opposition candidates will face charges of terrorism for establishing a breakaway government. Several opposition leaders, including N’Guessan, were arrested the following day.
On 9 November the Constitutional Council ratified President Ouattara’s re-election after he won 94 percent of the vote. President Ouattara and Bédié met on 11 November and promised to pursue talks.
Côte d’Ivoire has a history of civil war and election related violence during which atrocities were committed. Following the November 2010 presidential elections, when then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power, security forces and rival militias loyal to either Gbagbo or Ouattara targeted perceived ethnic and political enemies, killing an estimated 3,000 people. Atrocities ended following an international military intervention authorized in March 2011 by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1975.
Although Côte d’Ivoire underwent a reconciliation process and the UN withdrew its peacekeeping mission in the country (UNOCI) in June 2017, the underlying ethnic and political tensions that led to the outbreak of electoral violence in 2010-2011 remain. Recent unrest has exposed long-standing grievances that the reconciliation process failed to address. Most individuals who perpetrated past atrocities have not yet been held accountable, threatening the long-term stability of the country.
Ongoing political conflict and the manipulation of ethnic differences could quickly escalate into further violence. The three most popular parties in Côte d’Ivoire are more representative of regional and ethnic interests than political platforms.
The Ivorian government is struggling to uphold its responsibility to protect and should request assistance from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other regional partners.
Following an arrest warrant, on 30 November 2011 former President Gbagbo was handed over to the International Criminal Court, where he was tried and acquitted alongside his Minister of Youth, Charles Ble Goude. Gbagbo remains in Belgium, pending the outcome of a legal appeal.
On 9 November the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged all sides in Côte d’Ivoire to refrain from incitement to violence and to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve the crisis. ECOWAS has urged all Ivorians to prioritize social cohesion and to resolve differences through legal channels. The European Union and African Union have also called for dialogue.
All political leaders must refrain from inciting violence against anyone on the basis of their political affiliation or ethnic identity. The Ivorian authorities must ensure that all human rights violations and abuses during the election period are thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators held accountable, regardless of political affiliation.
The government must address long-standing grievances through dialogue and policies aimed at enhancing social cohesion and reconciliation.