Freedom in the World
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Central African Republic
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Central African Republic's political rights rating declined from 3 to 5, and its civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5, due to a coup attempt that led to ethnic persecution.
The Central African Republic (CAR) was wracked by violence twice in 2001 by disgruntled members of the military, which left the democratically elected government vulnerable to further attacks by renegade troops. Former military ruler Andre Kolingba attempted to seize power from President Ange-Felix Patasse in May. The violence left at least 250 people dead in the capital, Bangui, and forced 50,000 others to flee their homes. More than 20,000 people, including hundreds of soldiers, fled across the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Human rights abuses were rampant during the ten days of fighting in Bangui, and there were fears of an ethnic bloodbath when the violence turned against members of Kolingba's ethnic group, the Yakoma. Kolingba escaped with many of his backers. In November, the former head of the armed forces, General Francois Bozize, fled north to Chad with troops loyal to him after several days of fighting in Bangui. The violence was triggered when forces backing Patasse attempted to detain Bozize in connection with the May coup attempt.
he CAR, a sparsely populated country, gained independence from France in 1960 after a period of particularly brutal colonial exploitation. Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa seized power in 1967 and, as self-declared emperor, imposed an increasingly bizarre personal dictatorship on the CAR, which he renamed Central African Empire. After Bokassa began to murder schoolchildren, French forces finally ousted him in 1979. A French-installed successor was deposed by General Kolingba in 1981. Kolingba accepted a transition to a multiparty system that led to democratic elections in 1993 and 1999, which Patasse won. Until the elections, members of Kolingba's Yakoma ethnic group occupied a disproportional number of positions in the government, security forces, and state-owned businesses.
General Kolingba, who was defeated in the 1999 presidential elections, sought help from mercenaries from Rwanda and Angola in the May 2001 coup attempt. In an unusual twist, a rebel group fighting the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, came to Patasse's aid, along with troops from Libya.
Tension had been mounting in the CAR because of salary arrears, economic hardship, and rivalries within the country's security forces. Restructuring of the security forces has been slow following military uprisings in 1996 and 1997. Kolingba played a part in both of those. United Nations peacekeepers withdrew in February 2000 following democratic elections and were replaced by a peace-building office.
Most of the CAR's people are subsistence farmers who rely on income from coffee, cotton, and timber. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have accused the government of executive interference in the country's privatization program, which is proceeding slowly.
Presidential and legislative elections were held in 1993 in line with the 1986 constitution, giving the CAR's people their first opportunity to choose their leaders in an open and democratic manner. President Ange-Felix Patasse, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People, was reelected in September 1999 for another six-year term, defeating Andre Kolingba. The incumbent narrowly won the first round, eliminating the need for a runoff. UN peacekeepers watched over the voting, and international observers judged the vote to be free, although there were reports of irregularities such as ballot shortages in some areas with a strong opposition following. Kolingba and other candidates claimed fraud.
President Patasse's triumph was not matched by his party in the December 1998 national assembly elections, which produced a nearly even split between his supporters and his opponents. Opposition parties held one more seat than the ruling party, but one of their members defected, giving the ruling party a majority. There are more than 35 political parties.
The Independent Electoral Commission was established in 1999, but it was largely controlled by administrators loyal to the president. A decree later subordinated it to the state Organ of Control to oversee the election process.
Corruption, political interference, and lack of training hinder the efficiency and impartiality of judicial institutions. Limitations on searches and detention are often ignored. Conditions for prisoners, including many long-term pretrial detainees, are extremely difficult and sometimes life threatening. Juveniles are not separated from adults. Police brutality is also a serious problem, and security forces act with impunity. Several human rights and other nongovernmental organizations operate unhindered.
Broadcast media are dominated by the state and offer little coverage of opposition activities. There are several independent newspapers. The only licensed private radio stations are music- or religion-oriented. Legislation enacted in 1998 rescinded the government's authority to censor the press, but authorities have occasionally been restrictive and have used draconian criminal libel laws to prosecute journalists.
Religious groups are required by law to register with the government, but religious freedom is generally respected in practice. However, two incidents reflected repressive tendencies in 2001. The director of Radio Notre Dame in Bangui, the Reverend Tolino Falagoista, was detained in October for a month after the government accused him of writing a story about mass executions of Yakomas, including information on the existence of three mass graves, and a warning of genocide. He denied the charges. The Reverend Julien Koyenguia, a Yakoma, was detained for two months and accused of sheltering coup suspects and of preaching violence and tribal hatred.
Open public discussion is permitted, but constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly is not always honored by authorities. Discrimination against indigenous Pygmies exists. Societal discrimination in many areas relegates women to second-class citizenship, especially in rural areas, and constitutional guarantees for women's rights are generally not enforced. Women's access to education and jobs has been limited. However, women have made some gains in the political sphere; 80 women contested the national assembly elections in 1998. Eight won seats. Female genital mutilation is still practiced, but was made illegal in 1996 and is reportedly diminishing. A family code was enacted in 1998.
The CAR's largest single employer is the government, and government employee trade unions are especially active. Worker rights to form or join unions are legally protected. Two of five labor federations are independent. For strikes to be legal, a conciliation process is required.