8 March 2004
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Item 11 c of the provisional agenda
CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE
QUESTION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The right to freedom of opinion and expression
Report of the Special Rapporteur, Ambeyi Ligabo
Mission to Côte d’Ivoire
Note by the secretariat The present note is circulated in the language of submission and in French
1. The present document is the preliminary report concerning the mission of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, to Côte d’Ivoire, held from 28 January to 5 February 2004 at the invitation of the Government. The final report on his visit to Côte D’Ivoire will be published as a document of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights.
2. During his mission, the Special Rapporteur met with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Human Rights, the Minister of Information, the Minister of New Technologies and Telecommunications, the Vice-President of the National Assembly and other government personalities. Mr. Ligabo also met with representatives of the national and international media, press professional associations and other non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights. The Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to exchange views with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Albert Tevoedjre, and other United Nations officials working in the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (MINUCI) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
3. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur traveled to Bouake to meet representatives of Forces Nouvelles, members of the civil society and the media working in the area. He also paid a visit to the local MINUCI office. In Abidjan, Mr. Ligabo met with representatives of various non-governmental organizations, among them the Alliance of Young Patriots (Jeunes Patriots). Finally, he met with members of the diplomatic corps and the Head of the delegation of the European Union in the country.
4. Throughout his mission, the Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to ascertain that free circulation of balanced opinions and ideas was still difficult because of a number of preoccupying factors and circumstances. Since the death of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, Côte d’Ivoire has been struggling to find its own way toward a modern and democratic political environment.
5. The country has been divided into two distinctive parts since an attempted coup in September 2002, and in spite of the signing of the Linas-Marcoussiss agreement in January 2003, the situation remained extremely volatile throughout the year. Even after the official end of the conflict, the Special Rapporteur received reports of torture, arbitrary detentions and disappearances perpetrated by both sides to the conflict.
6. While consistent signs of movement in the political and military stalemate appeared in December 2003, the Special Rapporteur noted that violence, uncertainty and fear seemed to dominate various aspects of ordinary life. The overwhelming presence of military forces and police checkpoints, where ordinary citizens are often harassed and money extorted from them, were additional negative elements. This tense atmosphere impinged on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and negated the efforts towards reconciliation and peace.
7. The Special Rapporteur considers that the fight against impunity should be one of the main priorities on the political agenda. The Government should re-establish governance and the rule of law in full, officially declare all militias illegal, disband them and bring human rights violators to justice, regardless of their ethnic and/or political lines.
8. During his visit, the Special Rapporteur met with several personalities belonging to different political parties, representatives of the media covering the whole spectrum of media outlets and numerous members of the civil society. In those meetings, there was a common denominator: almost all the Special Rapporteur’s interlocutors seemed to have great expectations for a better future made possible by reconciliation and peace. While avenues and patterns for the development of the democratic process might differ substantially, there was a burning desire to discuss the future of the country without recourse to violence. Essential issues concerning the right to freedom of opinion and expression were discussed with openness and genuine involvement, in a spirit of collaboration that the Special Rapporteur much appreciated.
9. The Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to discuss with government representatives the controversial contents of article 35 of the Constitution concerning eligibility for election to the Presidency of the Republic, which includes discriminatory criteria in apparent contrast with the country’s international obligations and its own national legislation. The Special Rapporteur underlined that in ratifying the core international human rights instruments, the Government has committed itself to respect, protect and promote the provisions contained in those instruments. Therefore, as decided in the Linas-Marcoussiss agreement, article 35 of the Constitution should be reformulated in order to guarantee the right to freedom of expression of a large part of the Ivorian society with respect to the exercise of the right to vote in a pluralistic environment.
10. The Special Rapporteur noted that several national and international media have wide circulation throughout Côte d’Ivoire. Almost all national media are under the control or the influence of the major political parties: newspapers disseminate political propaganda, containing incendiary statements and false reports, without providing the reader with analysis or criticism. Journalists have been both victims and perpetrators of this situation, in particular those close to opposition parties, who have been the targets of violence, pressure and death threats. Offices have been ransacked and equipment either stolen or destroyed, and, as a result, the circulation of publications has been hampered, thus impeding the right to freedom of opinion and expression and undermining the expression of pluralism.
11. The Special Rapporteur strongly felt that all parties should commit themselves to an independent and inclusive media commission. In the meetings, he persistently called upon the Government and the civil society to make joint efforts to reactivate and reinforce the work of media institutions and professional associations such as L’Observatoire pour la liberté de la Presse, de l’éthique et de la déontologie, L’union national des journalistes de la Côte d’Ivoire, le Conseil national de la communication audiovisuelle and la Commission nationale de la presse. Noting the lack of regulatory mechanisms, the Special Rapporteur also observed that professional training and financial investments in the press and the media industry are urgently needed. Replacement of radio and television installations destroyed during the conflict would be an essential element for the re-establishment of countrywide circulation of information.
12. Moreover, the Special Rapporteur encouraged the United Nations, especially the UNESCO and other relevant international organizations, to continue their efforts for the development of independent media in Côte d’Ivoire, bearing in mind the experience of other African countries and the expertise of African journalists.
13. Having observed the matter of the ethnic divide, the Special Rapporteur felt that the right to freedom of opinion and expression of migrant workers should be guaranteed. He called on the Government to consider the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Likewise, the Special Rapporteur drew the attention of the authorities to the concerns and the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, included in document CERD/C/62/CO/1, and emphasized the contents of paragraph 16 concerning the role of national media in encouraging hatred and xenophobia. He thus invited the Government to draft specific bills and laws regarding hatred and its propagation in the framework of the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression, taking into account the provisions of articles 10 and 13 of the Constitution.
14. In his final report, the Special Rapporteur will make several recommendations to the Government, to the United Nations and to the international community as a whole. The Special Rapporteur will also emphasize that the Government should urgently seek the assistance of the United Nations, its specialized agencies, as well as other international institutions to overcome the serious shortcomings discovered during the mission.