Côte d'Ivoire introduced new citizenship policies based on the concept of "Ivoirité," which resulted in the denial of citizenship for minority groups comprising up to 30 percent of the country's population. Even though many were born in the country, they are denied the official documents essential for everyday life. The Peace Agreements of 2003 called for a reform of the citizenship laws, but so far little has changed. (Keywords: Statelessness - Discrimination)
For 33 years after independence from France in 1960, Côte d'Ivoire prospered economically under the leadership of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny. During this period, the country pursued a policy of broad ethnic tolerance and welcomed the plantation-worker immigrants from neighboring countries.
Since the death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, when Henri Konan Bédié succeeded him in a contested election, the country has been destabilized by political divisions that have developed along geographic, religious, and ethnic lines. Apparently as a deliberate policy to strengthen his political support among specific communities, Bédié began to question the citizenship, or right to access to citizenship, of individuals from the north of Cote d'Ivoire.
According to the nationality code (Loi 21/12/72), citizens became "foreigners" if they did not have one parent who was born in Côte d'Ivoire (or on the territory that became Côte d'Ivoire after independence). A law passed in 1998 also set out to prohibit "foreigners" from owning land, voting, or running for public office (Loi n°98-750, 23 décembre 1998).
Bédié was replaced by Military General Robert Guéï after a coup in 1999. Guéï embraced Bédié's xenophobic policies and perpetrated large-scale human rights abuses. Security forces committed hundreds of extrajudicial killings aimed at people known as "dioulas", a term applied to predominantly Muslim groups of various ethnicities in the North of the country. Up until 2005, police still repeatedly discriminated against individuals based solely on the origin of their names, their accent, or their physical appearance and manner of dress indicating Northern origin. Individuals have been dragged out of their homes, stopped randomly in the street, and detained by groups of gendarmes or police. Victims often identified the presence of government officers when serious abuses, including rape, were committed.
The policy of targeting "dioulas" was, and continues to be, systematic. Even with proper proof of citizenship, the government denies "dioulas" benefits and services by creating obstacles to obtaining state-issued documents, such as passports, birth certificates, and identification cards. There have also been numerous reports of identification documents being confiscated, with ethnic and religious discrimination cited in most testimonies as the key motive.
Tensions arising from lack of identification and arbitrary deprivation of citizenship were acknowledged by both the Linas-Marcoussis (2003) and the Ouagadougou (2007) Peace Agreements as the root causes of the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. While the authorities have since initiated a nationwide birth registration program, known as audiences foraines, the birth certificates in question do not confer citizenship. Moreover, neither peace agreement has dealt with the highly restrictive and problematic application of articles governing who qualifies for Ivorian nationality.
Arguing that these people have been made stateless, in breach of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Justice Initiative filed an application with the Commission in 2006.
Discrimination. The Ivorian government discriminates against "dioulas" in violation of Article 2 of the African Charter and denies "dioulas" equal protection before the law in violation of Article 3 of the Charter.Statelessness/Legal status/Freedom of movement. Ivorian citizenship laws and policies effectively deny "dioulas" identification cards and passports, violating the "dioulas" right to legal status and infringing on their freedom of movement in contravention of Articles 5 and 12 of the African Charter.Civic rights. Discriminatory laws and policies deprive "dioulas" of enjoyment of their civic rights, such as their right to property and their participation in elected government in violation of Articles 13 and 14 of the African Charter.Family and development. The Ivoirian authorities' discriminatory laws and policies deny "dioulas" their rights to family life and socio-economic development in contravention of Articles 18 and 22 of the African Charter.
November 2005. The Justice Initiative files a communication with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.
May 2009. Additional arguments on admissibility submitted.
The African Commission is expected to rule on the admissibility of the case shortly.