Côte d’Ivoire

Last Updated 19 November 2020

A presidential representative democratic republic, Côte d’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast) is a country located in West Africa, on the Gulf of Guinea.

Ivory Coast counts almost 27 million inhabitants, roughly divided between Muslims (50%), mainly in the north, and Christians (41%), mainly in the south. A small minority adheres to other religions.1https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/cote-divoire/

Ivory Coast is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

In the latest decades, the country has lived a troubled history, experiencing a coup d’état in 1999, followed by two religiously-grounded civil wars (2002 to 2007, then 2010 to 2011) with the north largely controlled by Muslim rebels, and the recognized government presiding over the predominantly Christian south.

Although the civil war ended in 2011, Côte d’Ivoire occasionally still struggles amid sectarian and political tensions, most recently seen during the 2020 Presidential elections.2https://www.crisisgroup.org/fr/africa/west-africa/c%C3%B4te-divoire/b161-cote-divoire-reporter-pour-dialoguer

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Constitution and government

The Constitution of 20163https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Cote_DIvoire_2016.pdf?lang=en declares Ivory Coast a secular state (Article 49), and affirms the equality of all citizens before the law irrespective of religion (Article 4), further prohibiting discrimination in public and private employment due to, inter alia, philosophical or religious opinions (Article 14).

Article 19 of the Constitution protects freedom of thought, belief and expression, crucially mentioning freedom of conscience and of philosophical convictions alongside freedom of religion:

“Freedom of thought and freedom of expression, particularly, freedom of conscience, of philosophical and religious conviction or of worship are guaranteed to everyone. Everyone has the right to express and disseminate their ideas freely.

These freedoms are exercised subject to respect for the law, for the rights of others, for national security and for public order.

Any propaganda whose objective or outcome is to elevate one social group above another, or to encourage racial, tribal or religious, hatred is prohibited.”

The Department of Faith Based Organizations within the Ministry of Interior is entrusted with promoting dialogue between religious groups and with the Government. It also provides administrative support for these groups as well as monitoring their activities and processing the registration of new religious organizations.4https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/cote-divoire/

Religious groups are required by law to register with the government by submitting an application to the Department of Faith Based Organizations, which conducts a security investigation on the group and its members. Although no penalty is foreseen for not registering, registered religious groups benefit from government support, including free access to state-run television and radio to provide specifically religious programming. Registered religious groups are also exempt from import duties on items such as religious books.5https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/cote-divoire/

Religions enjoy special privileges in other domains. For instance, the government funds pilgrimages abroad for Christians and Muslims,6https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/cote-divoire/ and members of  foreign religious institutions pay much lower visa and residence card fees than lay visitors and residents.7https://www.carteresident.ci/Fees.html

Education and children’s rights

Religious education is not part of  the public school curriculum but is often administered by private schools affiliated with a particular faith.8https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/cote-divoire/

As of November 2020, almost 523,000 students are enrolled in private primary and secondary schools.9https://www.ecolci.net/

Traditional Quranic schools, in particular, are growing at a fast pace, and raise concern about the possibility of Islamic radicalization.10https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/100397-000-A/cote-d-ivoire-le-succes-des-ecoles-coraniques/

We do not yet have information about the nature of such instruction, or whether religious private schools receive public funding.

Family, community and society

According to independent surveys, the percentage of those who self-declare as atheists or non-religious in Ivory Coast is negligible.11https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/07/losing-their-religion-these-are-the-world-s-most-atheistic-countries/; https://www.thearda.com/internationalData/countries/Country_61_1.asp However, we have also found no reports of abuse targeting atheists or ‘apostates’.

While Ivory Coast has been mostly spared by the phenomenon of jihadism which afflicts other Western African countries, it suffered a major terrorist attack from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in March 2016, when gunmen shot bathers at random in the coastal town Grand Bassam, killing 19 people.12https://www.counterextremism.com/countries/cote-d-ivoire The attack was denounced by several religious leaders with the High Council of Imams denouncing the ‘barbaric methods’ of the extremists. The Ahmadiyya Islamic Mission Community was falsely associated with the attackers by the media in the country, though they also denounced the attacks.13https://www.state.gov/report/custom/befbad674d/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The country is divided, politically as well as geographically, between its predominantly Muslim North and predominantly Christian South. The sectarian conflict has ebbed and flowed, but the government has generally respected freedom of religion or belief per se.

Political turmoil and civil conflict resurged after the disputed presidential election in December 2010 infringing some freedoms, including freedom of the press and freedom to peaceably assemble. Some concerns remain that the government has failed to investigate some other serious human rights violations or address the root causes of the conflict.

The 2020 Presidential elections have been the latest catalyst of societal tensions and protests, at times brutally repressed by the police.14https://www.article19.org/resources/cote-divoire-civic-space-is-shrinking/

Freedom House rates Ivory Coast as only “Partly Free”, citing as hindrances to freedom the threat of  violence, endemic corruption, citizenship issues for thousands of people in the north, gender-based violence, as well as prolonged pre-trial detention, impunity, or lack of due process in justice matters.15https://freedomhouse.org/country/cote-divoire/freedom-world/2020

Furthermore, in 2020 a new Criminal Code was approved that punishes with imprisonment any offense to the president and vice-president, the organization of “undeclared or prohibited” demonstrations, and the act of “sharing false news where that results or could result in” disturbance to public order.16https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/cote-divoire; https://freedomhouse.org/country/cote-divoire/freedom-world/2020

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