Freedom in the World
Central African Republic
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The government of the Central African Republic signed a comprehensive peace agreement in June 2008 with the two main rebel groups. However, one of them, the Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD), and a coalition of opposition parties subsequently pulled out of the peace process, objecting to the agreement’s amnesty provisions. APRD rebels clashed with government forces in the north in September, and attacks by Chadian rebels on northern border villages continued during the year. In December, peace talks resumed when President Francois Bozize and rebel and opposition leaders agreed on the establishment of an interim consensus government until the 2010 presidential elections.
The Central African Republic (CAR) gained independence from France in 1960 after a period of brutal colonial exploitation. Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa seized power from President David Dacko in a 1966 coup, but his erratic and destructive rule ended in 1979, when French forces helped to restore Dacko to power. Dacko was then deposed by General Andre Kolingba in 1981.
Mounting political pressure led Kolingba to introduce a multiparty system in 1991, and Ange-Felix Patasse, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC), was elected president in 1993. He later faced opposition from civil servants over salary arrears and from military officers over perceptions of ethnic favoritism, leading to three attempted coups between 1996 and 1997 that were quelled with French assistance. French forces were replaced by African peacekeepers in 1997, and the United Nations took over peacekeeping duties the following year.
Patasse won a second six-year term in 1999 elections. International observers judged the vote to be relatively free, although they were criticized by Kolingba and other candidates, and irregularities were reported. UN peacekeepers withdrew in 2000, and while Patasse survived a coup attempt by Kolingba in 2001, he was overthrown by General Francois Bozize in 2003, allegedly with backing from Chadian president Idriss Deby.
Bozize eventually initiated a transition to civilian rule, and voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in December 2004. With an independent electoral commission officiating, Bozize ran for president as an independent with the backing of the National Convergence Kwa Na Kwa (KNK) coalition, winning 65 percent of the vote in a May 2005 runoff against MLPC candidate Martin Ziguele. The KNK won 42 of 105 seats in the National Assembly, securing a majority with the help of several smaller parties and independents. The MLPC, the second-largest grouping, won just 11 seats.
In early 2005, the rebel Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD), supported by forces loyal to Patasse, launched an insurgency in the northwest. In the northeast, another conflict erupted between the government and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), consisting of former Bozize supporters and members of the largely Muslim Gula ethnic group. Destructive rebel assaults on Birao and other towns continued through 2006, and in early 2007, the Central African People’s Democratic Front (FDPC) launched another insurgency in the northwest. The Bozize regime concluded peace agreements with the FDPC in February and the UFDR in April. In September, the new UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) began providing security, police training, and judicial reform assistance, and a European Union peacekeeping force (EUFOR), expected to consist of 3,700 troops, was authorized to provide general security for civilians.
In March and April 2008, clashes erupted between the government and the APRD, but the two sides signed a peace agreement on May 9. The government, the APRD, and the UFDR signed a consolidated peace accord on June 21, though the FDPC representative was not present to sign it. By August 1, the APRD and a coalition of five opposition parties had pulled out of the peace process, criticizing the amnesty provisions called for in the comprehensive accord. Fighting between the APRD and the government resumed in early September. Despite the objections, the National Assembly on September 29 passed an amnesty law providing government and rebel forces with immunity for abuses committed after March 15, 2003. In early October, a splinter group of the UFDR attacked the northeastern town of Am Dafok, near Birao. Nevertheless, peace talks resumed in December when President Bozize and rebel and opposition leaders agreed on the establishment of an interim consensus government to lead the country until the next presidential elections are held in 2010.
Separately, raids by bandits, the Chadian army, and Darfur rebels further terrorized civilian populations during 2008. Human Rights Watch asserted in March that there had been at least five separate raids by Chadian soldiers into northern CAR since January, possibly with the backing of the CAR government, in retaliation for local support for the APRD. A Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, launched raids into southeastern CAR in February.
Despite the country’s abundant natural resources, some 80 percent of the population relies on subsistence agriculture. Decades of conflict and poor governance have led to economic and social collapse. However, over the past several years, the CAR has received increasing humanitarian assistance, and in September 2007 it became eligible for debt relief under the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. In October 2008, a Common Humanitarian Fund was established to facilitate the transfer of donor funds to critical humanitarian and infrastructure projects; several European states have already pledged some $2.3 million.
The CAR is not an electoral democracy. Although presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2005, they were marked by some irregularities and were criticized by opposition candidates as unfair. The president, who is limited to two five-year terms, appoints the cabinet and dominates the legislative and judicial branches. Members of the unicameral, 105-member National Assembly are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. Though the KNK coalition is the country’s leading political force, other parties operate freely, including the MLPC and Andre Kolingba’s Central African Democratic Assembly. Following the 2005 elections, seven parties were represented in the National Assembly, along with 34 independents.
Corruption remains pervasive, despite some steps toward reform in recent years. Diamonds constitute about half of the country’s export earnings, but a large percentage are thought to circumvent official channels, and there is speculation that conflict diamonds from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo are laundered in the country. The CAR was ranked 151 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government generally respects the right to free speech, but many journalists practice self-censorship. Although many press offenses, including defamation and slander, were decriminalized in 2005, it is still a crime to broadcast information that could incite ethnic or religious tension or is considered to be “false;” two journalists have since been prosecuted for such offenses. In early 2007, Michel Alkhaly-Ngady, editor of the Temps Nouveaux newspaper and head of a print media union, was jailed for two months for criticizing a government decision about another paper’s news coverage. In January 2008, the editor of the private weekly Les Collines de l’Oubangui, Faustin Bambou, was arrested over an article that accused two government ministers of corruption. He served six weeks of a six-month sentence before President Francois Bozize pardoned him in February. According to the U.S. State Department, laws providing journalists with access to information do not specifically guarantee access to government information. Insecurity prevents journalists from traveling freely outside the capital. The state dominates the broadcast media, but some private radio stations exist, including a Roman Catholic station and a UN-supported station. Several private papers offer competing views, but they have limited influence due to low literacy levels and high poverty rates. There are no restrictions on the internet, although it is estimated that as of 2007, less than 1 percent of the population was able to access this resource.
The constitution guarantees religious freedom. However, the government prohibits activities that it considers subversive or fundamentalist, and the constitution bans the formation of religious-based parties. Academic freedom is generally respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are constitutionally protected and generally upheld in practice. However, permission is required to hold public meetings and demonstrations; authorities sometimes deny such requests for alleged security reasons to avoid ethnic or religious tensions. Insecurity in the north continues to hinder the operations of aid groups. In March 2008, the French organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) curtailed its activities in the northeastern Vokaga province after the shooting death of a woman in one of its ambulances.
All associations must register with the Interior Ministry. The rights to unionize and strike are constitutionally protected and generally respected. However, only a small percentage of workers are unionized, primarily those in the public sector. A general strike over back pay for civil servants in January 2008 triggered the resignation of Prime Minister Elie Dote and his government; he was replaced by Faustin-Archange Touadera.
Corruption, political interference, and lack of training undermine the judiciary. Judges are appointed by the president, and proceedings are prone to executive influence. Limitations on searches and detention are often ignored. While the penal code prohibits torture, police brutality remains a serious problem. Prison conditions are poor. The military and members of the Presidential Guard have committed human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, with impunity.
Members of northern ethnic groups, especially Bozize’s Baya group, hold all key positions in the government and the military, and discrimination against indigenous ethnic groups, such as the Aka, persists. Insecurity restricts the movement of citizens and greatly undermines the protection of private property.
Constitutional guarantees for women’s rights are not enforced, especially in rural areas. Violence against women is common, with instances of rape widespread in conflict areas. Female genital mutilation has been illegal since 1996 and is reportedly diminishing in practice. Abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. The U.S. State Department considers the CAR to be a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. The laws do not specifically criminalize trafficking, though antitrafficking legislation was drafted in 2006. There are reports that rebel groups have used child soldiers, and that the army has used child labor, but there is no national law criminalizing these practices.