The Ivorian government ratified landmark legislation for Africa on 20 June 2014 by adopting Law 2014-388 on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Defenders. The legislative process was initiated by the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Public Liberties, which, in early 2013, invited non-governmental human rights organisations to comment on early versions of the draft legislation and to make suggestions for its improvement. Some of these suggestions were taken into account although several substantial reservations were not. The draft law was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 4 November 2013 and then submitted to the National Assembly for approval.

While the adoption of this law represents a positive development in the attempts of the Ivorian state authorities to implement the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders at the domestic level, several concerns remain regarding the consultation process entered into before the passage of the law as well as its contents.

First, civil society was able to provide input early on, but was not involved in the discussions at later stages of the lawmaking process – i.e. at the Council of Ministers and in the National Assembly.[1]  Second, the law imposes a specific definition of what a HRD is, thus being contrary to international standards set out in the UN Declaration on HRDs and Factsheet 29. Third, while the law establishes the rights of HRDs and the obligation of the state to protect them and facilitate their work, it also imposes obligations on HRDs that could limit their activities, such as forcing human rights organisations to be legally registered (art. 1), and establishing an obligation for HRDs to submit a yearly report of activities to the minister in charge of human rights (art. 13). Moreover, the Minister will enjoy discretionary powers to determine when a defender can be subject to judicial inquiries, detained, arrested or sent to trial to face criminal charges (art. 5) and when a defender’s office or house can be searched (art. 6).

Finally, and although the law stipulates the responsibility of the state to protect HRDs and members of their families at risk (art. 17) and to punish the perpetrators of violations of HRDs’ rights (art. 18), the legal framework fails to provide clear guidance to state authorities on how they should implement a comprehensive HRD protection policy encompassing prevention, the coordination of different state institutions, the fight against impunity, and respect and promotion of HRD activities.

Up until now, according to local civil society sources, the law is perceived as a half-way measure, as there has been no indication that the Ivorian authorities are adequately setting the stage to fulfill the state’s obligation to protect HRDs at risk. This situation is compounded by the absence of a national campaign to raise awareness among CSOs about the existence of the law, and particularly among vulnerable sectors of HRDs that still face grave risks.[2] At the time of writing this report, the government had not yet adopted an executive decree to implement the law, as ordered by article 19.

PI in Côte d’Ivoire

In early February 2013, together with the American Bar Association, PI provided technical advice to the coordination team of the Ivorian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CIDDH in French) when the government engaged in consultations with civil society for the first bill. Following the adoption of Law 2014-388 PI has resumed contact with other local CSOs, which are interested in honing their understanding of experiences and lessons learned on HRD protection in other countries, and advocate for a public policy on the matter to Ivorian authorities.



[1] Protection International interview with Mata Coulibaly, former National Coordinator, Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme. Brussels. 4 December 2013.

[2] Skype interview with representative of Ivorian human rights NGO. 28 August 2014.

 

***This information comes from PI’s publication FOCUS 2014.