The Central African Republic suffers from pervasive insecurity and an absence of state authority in much of the country. A series of peace deals between the government and various armed groups have not produced improvements in the security situation. Violent attacks against civilians, including sexual violence, are an acute risk in many areas. There is little support for independent journalists, and workers with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), particularly aid workers, operate at great personal risk.
- In February, under the aegis of the African Union (AU), a peace deal was signed in Khartoum, Sudan, between the government and 14 armed groups. As a result, the government was reshuffled and by March officials representing all of these armed groups were appointed as ministers. However, these initiative failed to produce major improvements, and fighting continued to affect the stability of the country.
- In June, state security agents attacked protesters and journalists at an opposition demonstration.
- In a move regarded as reflecting increased judicial independence, the Constitutional Court struck down part of an electoral law after finding that certain eligibility requirements were discriminatory. Meanwhile, a tribunal set up in 2018 and tasked with prosecuting human rights abuses committed since 2003 continued work, though it did not complete any prosecutions.
- In December, former President François Bozizé returned to Bangui from exile. Overthrown in 2013, Bozizé faces an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide. He has indicated that he may compete in the 2020 elections.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
The president is chief of state and is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was elected in February 2016. Fears of widespread electoral violence were not realized, but there were many reports of serious irregularities at the polls. Moreover, many voters were unable to participate because insecurity prevented voter registration, or because they had fled to other countries as refugees and the state was unable to set up effective absentee voting procedures. The elections were monitored by the AU Election Observation Mission (AUEOM), and were nevertheless regarded as generally successful and a step towards peace and stabilization.
The National Electoral Authority (ANE) has set the first round of the next presidential election for December 27, 2020, and the second round for February 14, 2021.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
Members of parliament are directly elected to five-year terms. The current parliament was elected in February 2016, followed by a second round of by-elections that March. The polls were generally regarded as successful, but like the presidential polls, were plagued by irregularities and the disenfranchisement of voters unable to access the polls due to security concerns or displacement. Moreover, a first round had to be nullified following a slew of allegations of fraud and other misconduct, by actors ranging from armed groups to political candidates to the ANE.
The constitution adopted in 2015 stipulated the creation of a Senate, but it has not been established.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1.001 4.004|
The electoral laws of the Central African Republic permit multiparty competition, and adult citizens enjoy universal and equal suffrage. However, the broader electoral framework of the country remains challenged by a weak judicial system, inadequate funding and training for election officials, and a lack of transparency in the composition of national election authorities.
A new electoral law was approved by the parliament in July 2019, following a nontransparent drafting process. The Constitutional Court had rejected a first version of the law, considering some voter eligibility criteria to be discriminatory.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1.001 4.004|
While political parties are legally able to form and operate, party members conducting political activities are at risk of intimidation and violence by the national police in Bangui and other security bodies, as well as armed groups in the areas they control.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
Several opposition parties exist in the parliament. However, the government prevented a newly created opposition platform from demonstrating in Bangui in June 2019. Also, agents with the Central African Office for the Suppression of Banditry (OCRB) have attacked opposition demonstrators, as well as journalists covering their activities.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0.000 4.004|
Citizens are vulnerable to pressure and intimidation from national police and nonstate armed groups. Due to enduring insecurity, voters outside the capital are largely unable to participate in political processes.
In 2018, a Russian military presence in Central African Republic became increasingly visible. Early in the year, after the UN Security Council, the United States, and France assented, Russia made several deliveries of arms and ammunition, and deployed military instructors. In parallel, President Touadéra named a former Russian intelligence agent as his special advisor and assigned his personal security to the Wagner Group, a Russian security company with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In October 2019, Touadéra expressed openness to the establishment of a Russian military base in the country.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||0.000 4.004|
Enduring discrimination and an accompanying lack of access to political processes prevents many minority groups from achieving political representation. Sectarian violence affecting Muslims continues to affect their ability to participate in politics. Women are underrepresented in politics, and just 11 sit in the 140-seat parliament, though the electoral law passed in 2019 requires that 35 percent of candidates in legislative, senatorial and regional elections be women. Societal and legal discrimination against LGBT+ people prevent them from working to see their interests represented in the political sphere.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
Presidential and parliamentary elections held in early 2016 led to a peaceful transfer of power from the National Transitional Council to an elected government. However, while the elected representatives can determine the policies of the government, the weak authority of the state in many areas severely limits the government’s ability to implement policy decisions. Amnesty International reported in 2019 that despite the February peace agreement (the latest in a series of many), 80 percent of the country remained under the control of armed groups.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption is difficult given the lack of state capacity and political will.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
Government operations are largely nontransparent, and civil society groups and others have limited opportunity to comment upon or influence impending policy decisions. Citizens outside of the capital have limited access to their elected representatives in the national legislature.
|Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?||-1.00-1|
Targeted violence against civilians by the Muslim-dominated ex-Séléka factions as well as anti-Balaka militias (representing, ethnically and religiously, the majority of Central Africans), continued in 2019 in northwestern, central, and eastern regions of the country. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain internally displaced or confined to ethnic and sectarian enclaves.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
There is little support for independent media, and in Bangui, outlets are increasingly aligned with national politicians and foreign governments, especially Russia. Media (and social media) often carry material meant to incite hate, discrimination, or violence, mainly against minority groups. Since 2017, the High Commission of Communication has played an active role in media regulation, and has made efforts to address the proliferation of hate speech. However, despite its efforts, the situation has not improved.
In July 2018, three Russian journalists were ambushed and killed near the city of Sibut (two hours’ drive from Bangui). The journalists—who worked for the Investigation Control Centre, an online news outlet owned by prominent Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky—had been investigating the activities of the Wagner Group. The killings remain unpunished. In June 2019, two AFP journalists were arrested and beaten in Bangui, allegedly by the OCRB, during a demonstration by an opposition group.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||0.000 4.004|
Officially Central African Republic is a secular state, but ethnic and religious cleavages often overlap with the country’s political divisions. In 2019, sectarian clashes continued to threaten the free practice of religion. Muslims and Christian residents in Bangui remain segregated in separate enclaves, and fears of identity-based violence by armed actors impede free religious expression.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
While the educational system is generally free of extensive political indoctrination, clientelism and corruption are widespread in many schools and universities.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||1.001 4.004|
Public discussion and political debates are generally free from surveillance by state authorities. However, political instability and the risk of violent retaliation for challenging the presence of armed groups or expressing opinions on other sensitive topics inhibits free expression.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||0.000 4.004|
Although freedom of assembly and the right to political protest is guaranteed under the constitution, in practice these liberties were curtailed in 2019 due to both government repression of opposition and perceived opposition in Bangui, and threats posed by armed groups that control areas outside of the capital.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||0.000 4.004|
The operations of NGOs are limited by poor security conditions, and aid workers are particularly vulnerable. According to the International NGO Safety Organization (INSO), more than 253 recorded security incidents in 2019 involved relief workers, resulting in 3 workers killed, 19 injured, and 18 abducted.
In December 2018, the parliament approved a new law regulating NGOs. The law, which would have severely restricted NGOs’ independence and operational capacity, was eventually suspended in the face of international pressure.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1.001 4.004|
Trade unions and collective bargaining are permitted, although union organizers are sometimes subject to arbitrary detention or arrest. Small-scale agricultural organizations and cooperatives exist throughout the country, including organizations for women farmers.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
Courts are generally inefficient and frequently hampered by corruption. The government has limited authority to enforce judicial decisions. Judicial salaries have often gone unpaid. Judicial personnel are often untrained, and are reluctant to be deployed outside of the capital.
However, in 2019, the Constitutional Court displayed a degree of independence by striking down provisions in a new electoral law related to eligibility criteria for candidates to stand for office. Additionally, the new Special Criminal Court (SCC), although it had yet to complete any prosecutions at year’s end, was operational and is considered relatively independent. The court opened in October 2018; it has 13 Central African judges and 12 foreign judges, and is tasked with ending impunity by perpetrators of human rights abuses since 2003. Additionally, some courts in Bangui heard criminal cases involving allegations of abuses by members of armed groups during the year.
Score Change: The score increased from 0 to 1 because some courts displayed a degree of independence and functionality during the year.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0.000 4.004|
Arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention are commonplace, and the state justice system has limited presence beyond Bangui. Impunity for violence, economic crimes, and human rights violations remained widespread in 2019.
In December, former President François Bozizé returned to Bangui from exile. Overthrown in 2013, Bozizé faces an international arrest warrant issued by the country’s authorities for crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide. He has indicated that he man compete in the 2020 elections.
Earlier, in November 2018, authorities transferred Alfred Yekatom to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands. He stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with his leadership of anti-Balaka militia groups that terrorized the country’s Muslim population after predominantly Muslim Séléka rebels seized power in 2013. Separately, in December 2018, French authorities arrested a former anti-Balaka militia leader, Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, in France on an ICC arrest warrant alleging war crimes and crimes against humanity. A hearing confirming their charges was opened at The Hague in September 2019.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||0.000 4.004|
In Bangui, OCRB officials are often accused of abuse of power and excessive use of force. Outside of the capital, armed nonstate actors—mainly belonging to ex-Séléka factions and anti-Balaka militias involved in violent atrocities since the onset of the country’s current crisis in 2013—continue to operate with impunity, despite the 2019 peace deal. These groups were responsible for violent attacks against civilians, often on the basis of ethnic and religious identity, as well as attacks against international peacekeeping forces and humanitarian workers. Among other attacks in May, a series of attacks by an armed group in Ouham Pendé Province left at least 46 civilians dead.
Violent competition among insurgent groups for control of territory and natural resources keeps about 600,000 Central Africans internally displaced. Conflict between farmers and nomadic pastoralists further destabilized the country in 2019.
In September, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to relax an arms embargo established in 2013. Diplomats indicated that move was intended to permit state security forces to better equip themselves, as they battle militia groups.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||0.000 4.004|
Same-sex sexual acts are illegal, and punishable by fines and imprisonment. While enforcement of these laws is uncommon, societal discrimination against LGBT+ people remains acute. Discrimination continues against the Muslim minority, nomadic pastoralist groups, and the forest-dwelling Ba’aka.
The independent High Authority for Good Governance is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities and people with disabilities, though its reach is limited.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||0.000 4.004|
Free movement by citizens is inhibited by the lack of security, and targeted violence. Transportation routes are threatened by banditry and theft in many areas.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||0.000 4.004|
Businesses and homes are regularly looted or extorted by armed militants, with little prospect for compensation or legal recourse for victims. The agricultural economy—the livelihood of the majority of the population—remains restricted by ongoing violence and insecurity.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||0.000 4.004|
Women and girls are by far the primary victims of sexual violence, but men and boys are also affected. Sexual violence is used as a deliberate tool of warfare, and attackers enjoy broad impunity. Such acts that are not related to ethnic conflict are most often perpetrated within communities by family or neighbors. Constitutional guarantees for women’s rights are rarely enforced, especially in rural areas. Sexual abuses by UN peacekeeping forces have been documented, but many instances have not been investigated or prosecuted.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||0.000 4.004|
Economic opportunity is heavily restricted by the widespread corruption and the presence of armed groups in many areas of the country. Many armed groups exploit gold and diamond mines, and forced labor and child recruitment for soldiering are common practices. The government has been unable to develop an antitrafficking plan, and has not initiated a human trafficking prosecution since 2008, according to the US State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons report.
On Central African Republic
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Global Freedom Score10 100 not free