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)
Fighting erupted in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), in October 2002 between rebels and government forces backed by Libyan jets and troops. The attack appeared to have been launched by renegade troops led by the CAR's former head of the armed forces, General Francois Bozize. He had fled to neighboring Chad in November 2001, after forces loyal to President Ange-Felix Patasse attempted to arrest him for his alleged involvement in a May 2001 coup attempt. That 2001 uprising was apparently led not by Bozize, but by former military ruler Andre Kolingba, who then sought exile in Uganda. In 2002, a court in the CAR sentenced Kolingba, along with at least 20 others, to death in absentia.
The 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, both of which Patasse won, defeating Kolingba. 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. The May 2001 coup attempt left at least 250 people dead in the capital, Bangui, and forced 50,000 others to flee their homes. Human rights abuses were rampant during the ten days of fighting, and the Yakoma were singled out for persecution. Relations between Chad and the CAR have deteriorated since Bozize and his followers sought refuge in Chad. In December 2002, leaders from the Central African region sent 350 troops from Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, and the Republic of Congo to monitor the border region and to patrol Bangui.
Restructuring of the security forces has been slow following military uprisings in 1996 and 1997. Kolingba played a part in both of those. UN 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. Diamonds and forestry are the government's main source of foreign exchange. The UN Security Council has welcomed the government's efforts to stamp out corruption and establish good governance. At least a dozen senior government officials were arrested in 2002 on charges of embezzlement.
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 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 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.
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. However, some human rights leaders hailed what they called the independent decision of a court in 2001 to acquit a former defense minister who had been implicated in the May 2001 coup attempt. 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. However, 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, although some carry programming on human rights and peace-building issues. 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. Several journalists fled the country following the May 2001 coup attempt. Some journalists were tortured.
Religious freedom is generally respected, but the government occasionally infringes on these rights. 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. However, women have made some gains in the political sphere. Female genital mutilation is still practiced, but it was made illegal in 1996 and is reportedly diminishing. Human rights groups said more than 100 women were raped during the October 2002 military uprising.
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. The law does not provide for collective bargaining specifically, but workers are protected from employer interference.