The Central African Republic (CAR) 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 and have been repeatedly breached by both parties. 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.
- A January ruling by the Constitutional Court found that the December 2020 presidential elections had been legal, rejecting the appeals of the opposition and confirming the reelection of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. The election, in which Touadéra took 53.16 percent of the votes, was marked by significant flaws and low voter turnout.
- The Constitutional Court also ruled in January that only 22 of the 140 members of Parliament had been elected outright in the December 2020 first-round polls, overturning the election results in a number of constituencies due to numerous irregularities, including voter intimidation and ballot box tampering. Additional rounds of voting were held in March, May, and July to fill the remaining seats, and were largely allowed to proceed peacefully.
- Fighting between armed militant groups and the Central African Armed Forces (FACA)—supported by Russian and Rwandan military reinforcements and MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic)—continued throughout the year, despite Touadéra’s declaration of a cease-fire in October.
- The National Assembly voted to impose a six-month state of emergency in February in response to continuing violent attacks carried out by armed rebel groups throughout the country. During the state of emergency, administrative and judicial authorities severely restricted the rights of many of the country’s opposition leaders, preventing them from leaving the country and threatening to revoke their parliamentary immunity.
- In October, the Central African government officially acknowledged that rebel militants, FACA troops, and Russian forces in the country had committed numerous human rights violations against civilians in the CAR. Though government officials promised to enforce sanctions against the perpetrators, no meaningful action had been taken by year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president is chief of state and is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was reelected to a second term in December 2020 with 53.1 percent of the vote. In January 2021, the Constitutional Court rejected the appeals presented by the opposition and confirmed the legality of the presidential election, despite numerous significant electoral flaws.
The 2020 presidential election was characterized by delays and irregularities in the voter registration, and was held following more than a week of intense fighting outside the capital. While the government and its international partners described the election as credible and legitimate, opposition parties denounced the polls, which took place alongside legislative elections, as marred by widespread ballot-box stuffing and vote buying. Many citizens were prevented from voting due to threats and attacks perpetrated by the new rebel coalition. There were no international independent observers outside of the capital, Bangui.
The prime minister is the head of government and is appointed by the president. In June 2021, President Touadéra appointed then finance minister Henri-Marie Dondra as prime minister after the resignation of former prime minister Firmin Ngrebada.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
Members of Parliament are directly elected to five-year terms. The constitution adopted in 2015 stipulated the creation of a Senate, but it has not been established.
The first round of legislative elections took place in December 2020 alongside the presidential election, and was plagued by insecurity, voter intimidation, and allegations of fraud. In January 2021, the Constitutional Court certified that 22 out of 140 members of Parliament had been elected outright in the December 2020 polls. The court ruling also nullified the results of the December elections in a number of constituencies, citing numerous electoral irregularities, including ballot box tampering and acts of violence and intimidation against candidates and voters. Another round of voting was held in March to fill the 118 parliamentary seats still open; two more rounds of legislative elections were held in May and July to fill the remaining seats. According to UN reports, despite some flaws, the 2021 legislative elections were marked by high voter turnout and were largely allowed to proceed peacefully.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The electoral laws of the Central African Republic permit multiparty competition, and adult citizens enjoy universal and equal suffrage. However, electoral authorities operate in an opaque manner.
A new law regulating the National Elections Authority (ANE) was approved in July 2020. Though the legislation introduced a number of mechanisms to enhance the independence of the ANE, the new board is still largely controlled by the ruling party.
Parliament also amended the electoral law in 2020 to extend the period for voter registration, three months before the December elections. The opposition coalition contested the bill, instead calling for a national consultation. The election ultimately was marred by irregularities surrounding voter registration due to poor implementation of the law.
|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?
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 and progovernment militias in Bangui, and by armed groups and national security forces outside the capital.
In September 2021, President Touadéra established a committee to organize a “republican dialogue” between the government and the opposition. However, most opposition leaders withdrew from the committee in October after Touadéra refused to allow representatives of rebel groups to participate in the dialogue; the process was unable to begin before year’s end.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
Several opposition parties exist in the parliament. In February 2020, the most prominent opposition leaders joined forces within the Coalition for Democratic Opposition (COD-2020) to overcome increasing government repression.
However, most of the candidates in the 2020–21 elections were not able to run electoral campaigns outside the capital due to widespread violence and direct threats and aggression by armed rebel groups. In late 2020, six presidential candidates from the opposition requested that the elections be postponed due to the withdrawal of another candidate from the presidential race because of insecurity; the Constitutional Court rejected the request in December 2020.
After the elections, administrative and judicial authorities severely restricted the rights of several prominent political opposition leaders, who were prevented from leaving the country and threatened with the loss of their parliamentary immunity. In August 2021, well-known opposition politician Abdou Karim Meckassoua was dismissed from the parliament after he was accused of treason and the Constitutional Court annulled his election win; Meckassoua criticized the ruling, claiming that it was politically motivated.
|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?
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.
A Russian military presence in Central African Republic persists. President Touadéra has named a former Russian intelligence agent, Valery Zakharov, as his special advisor and assigned his security to the Wagner Group, a Russian security company with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin. More than 2,000 Wagner mercenaries were estimated to be present in the CAR as of the end of 2021, supporting the country’s military operations and directly engaging in fighting with armed rebel groups.
In December 2021, the European Union (EU) put Mr. Zakharov and the Wagner Group under financial sanctions, citing serious human rights abuses and destabilizing activities in the CAR. The EU also temporarily suspended the activities of the EU Training Mission in the CAR (EUTM RCA), asking the government to guarantee that trained troops would not fall under Wagner control.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Enduring discrimination and an accompanying lack of access to political processes prevents members of many ethnic, religious, and other minority groups from achieving political representation. Sectarian violence against Muslims continues to affect their ability to participate in politics. Women are underrepresented in politics, and fewer than 20 women sit in the 140-seat Parliament, though the electoral law passed in 2019 requires that 35 percent of candidates be women. Societal and legal discrimination against LGBT+ people prevent them from working to see their interests represented in the political sphere.
Due to the long-lasting tribalization of politics, the country’s public institutions and army are dominated by its ethnic majority, the Gbaya, to which former President Bozizé belongs. President Touadéra has also promoted members of his groups, the Mbaka-Mandja, to key senior positions and to the presidential guard.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
While the elected representatives can determine the policies of the government, the poor governance and the weak authority of the state outside the capital severely limit the government’s ability to implement policy decisions.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption is difficult given the lack of political will. Members of the president’s party, the United Hearts Movement (MCU), appear to benefit from impunity. In March 2020, the vice president of the parliament, Jean-Symphorien Mapenzi, was reelected to his post despite admitting to having fixed a parliamentary vote on a finance bill. The year before, the second vice president of the parliament, Mathurin Dimbélé-Nakoé, escaped sanctions in a case of corruption involving mining licenses granted to Chinese companies.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
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. In July 2020, the UN Panel of Experts reported on an expansion of the presidential guard that was not provided for in the national defense plan nor in the security sector reform process.
|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?
Targeted religious- and ethnic-based violence perpetrated by FACA and Russian mercenaries increased after the 2020–21 elections in northwestern 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?
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, with a spike in such material during the 2020 preelection period. Although the High Commission of Communication (HCC) has played an active role in media regulation since 2017, the situation has not improved.
In February 2021, the government blocked access to two online news outlets, the Corbeau News and Le Tsunami, accusing them of spreading “hate speech” and “fake news.” The outlets’ publishers have alleged that the decision was made in order to prevent them from publishing information on the presence of Russian mercenaries in the country.
Journalists reportedly faced increasing threats from national security and progovernment militia forces throughout 2021, and the government began preventing international media workers from traveling outside the capital in September. Incidents of harassment and intimidation by government forces often go unreported for fear of reprisals.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Officially, the Central African Republic is a secular state, but ethnic and religious cleavages often overlap with the country’s political divisions. Muslims and Christian residents in Bangui remain partially segregated in separate enclaves, and fears of identity-based or sectarian violence by armed actors impedes free religious expression. Members of Muslim communities living in the northwestern and eastern regions of the country continued to be targeted by FACA and Russian mercenary forces throughout 2021.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Although extremely dysfunctional, the educational system is generally free of extensive political indoctrination. However, clientelism and corruption are widespread in many schools and universities. Outside the capital, the school year is often disrupted, including by a lack of available teachers and the occupation of school buildings by armed rebel groups, national army forces, and Russian mercenaries.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Public discussion and political debates are increasingly surveilled by state authorities. Political instability and the growing risk of violent retaliation for expressing opinions on sensitive topics—including the widespread abuses perpetrated by progovernment militias, FACA forces, and Russian mercenaries—inhibit free expression.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because fear of indiscriminate violence and retaliation by progovernment militias and Russian mercenaries have virtually shut down open discussion of political issues.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Although freedom of assembly and the right to political protest is guaranteed under the constitution, these liberties are curtailed due to government repression of the opposition in Bangui, and threats posed by armed groups, FACA forces, and Russian mercenaries outside the capital. Limitations imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also hampered free association in 2020 and 2021, though there were no major reports of abuses in enforcement of lockdown measures.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
The operations of NGOs are limited by poor security conditions, and aid workers are particularly vulnerable. According to the International NGO Safety Organization (INSO), there were 296 recorded security incidents in 2021 involving relief workers, resulting in 2 aid workers killed, 27 injured and 4 abducted.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
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?
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. The Special Criminal Court (SCC), created in 2015, is struggling to fulfill its mandate; however, the court announced its first trial in December 2021.
In February 2020, the parliament passed a bill establishing a Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TJRRC), and its 11 commissioners took office in July 2021. The commission possesses a four-year mandate to investigate the violent events in the country over a period of 60 years (1959–2019). However, the commission was mostly conceived as a convenient vehicle to achieve political accommodation during peace negotiations, and it may never become fully empowered.
The independence of the Constitutional Court was significantly damaged by high levels of political interference from the ruling party throughout 2021. Previously one of the country’s only independent judiciary bodies, the Constitutional Court repeatedly ruled in favor of the ruling MCU both during and after the presidential and legislative elections in 2020 and 2021. In August 2021, the court removed opposition politician Abdou Karim Meckassoua from the parliament based on allegations that Meckassoua had committed treason by supporting armed rebel groups; Meckassoua condemned the court’s decision, calling it politically motivated and unlawful.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 due to the ruling party’s interference with the previously independent Constitutional Court.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
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 2021.
In December 2019, former President François Bozizé returned to Bangui from exile despite UN sanctions and an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide. After entering the country in January 2020, former President Michel Djotodia, who overthrew Bozizé in the 2013 coup, announced his return to Bangui from exile in September 2020, and engaged in political maneuvers to support President Touadéra.
The commanders of two armed groups were arrested during 2021, including ex-Séléka leader Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, who was detained and handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in January; and former FACA captain Eugène Ngaïkosset, who was brought to the SCC in September. The trials of two other former militia leaders, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, who were arrested in 2018 on charges of crimes against humanity, began in the ICC in February.
In November, the SCC arrested the Minister of Livestock, Hassan Bouba, accusing him of war crimes and crimes against humanity; Bouba’s detention ended later that week when, in defiance of the SCC, members of the presidential guard unlawfully escorted him out of the prison in which he was being held.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
In Bangui, the officials of the Central African Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) and the progovernment militias are often accused of abuse of power and excessive use of force. Outside the capital, armed nonstate actors continue to operate with impunity, despite the 2019 peace deal. These groups are responsible for numerous violent attacks against civilians, as well as attacks against international peacekeeping forces and humanitarian workers.
Allegations of serious human rights violations committed by FACA and Russian mercenary forces have increased since the reelection of President Touadéra in December 2020. In October 2021, the Central African government officially acknowledged that rebel militants, FACA troops, and Russian forces in the country had committed numerous human rights violations against civilians in the CAR. Though government officials promised to enforce sanctions against the perpetrators, no meaningful action had been taken by year’s end.
Violent competition between national security forces and insurgent groups for control of territory and natural resources kept about 669,791 Central Africans internally displaced in 2021, and there were 743,865 refugees living outside the country at year’s end. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that insecurity and attacks during the 2020–21 elections had led at least 233,200 people to flee their homes. Conflict between farmers and nomadic pastoralists further destabilized the country in 2021.
In July, the UN Security Council (UNSC) voted to further relax the arms embargo established in 2013.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
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 Ba’aka minority. The Gbaya majority, to which former President Bozizé belongs, is also targeted.
The independent High Authority for Good Governance is tasked with protecting the rights of members of minority groups and people with disabilities, though its reach is limited.
Due to the tribalization of politics, the Mbaka-Mandja groups may continue to enjoy unfair advantages.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
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. Limitations of movement imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have economically affected Central Africans.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
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.
The family code does not discriminate against women when it comes to inheritance rights. However, in practice, the possibility for women to inherit faces many challenges, including eviction from the family home after the death or disappearance of men during conflict.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
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.
Allegations of sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeeping forces in the country have been documented, including in September 2021, when UN peacekeepers from Gabon were accused of sexually abusing five Central African girls; the same month, UN officials removed the entire Gabonese peacekeeping contingent from the CAR and ordered an investigation into the allegations.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Economic opportunity is heavily restricted by the widespread corruption and the presence of armed groups throughout the country. Many armed groups exploit gold and diamond mines, and forced labor and child recruitment for soldiering are common practices. The government has made significant efforts to eliminate trafficking, though it has not yet fully met minimum standards, according to the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons report.
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Global Freedom Score7 100 not free