Central African Republic | Freedom House

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Central African Republic

Central African Republic

Freedom in the World 2010

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Despite the installation of a consensus government in January 2009, rebel groups continued to clash with government forces during the year, creating thousands of new internally displaced persons and refugees. In October, former president Ange-Felix Patasse returned to the country after six years in exile with the intention of running in the 2010 presidential election.

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 French forces helped to restore Dacko in 1979. He was then deposed again 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. With French assistance, he survived three attempted coups between 1996 and 1997. 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. International observers judged the election to be relatively free, although irregularities were reported. UN peacekeepers withdrew in 2000, and while Patasse overcame a coup attempt by Kolingba in 2001, he was ousted by General Francois Bozize in 2003, allegedly with backing from Chadian president Idriss Deby.
Bozize initiated a transition back to civilian rule, and voters approved a new constitution in December 2004. The general then 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 yet another insurgency in the northwest.
In September 2007, the UN Security Council authorized a new UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and a related European Union (EU) peacekeeping force, but these were limited to the northeastern CAR and tasked primarily with addressing the spillover effects of the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.
After a number of abortive peace agreements, the National Assembly in September 2008 passed an amnesty law providing government and rebel forces with immunity for abuses committed after March 15, 2003. Peace talks resumed in December when President Bozize, rebel groups, and opposition leaders agreed on the establishment of an interim government to lead the country until the next presidential and legislative elections in 2010. The December peace talks, known as the Inclusive Political Dialogue, outlined a Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program in preparation for the 2010 elections.
The “consensus government” was installed in January 2009, but some rebel groups remained dissatisfied with government performance. In February, the FDPC and the Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ) declared that they would resume violence, and raids against the government by the FDPC continued through May.  Both groups signed onto the DDR program in July. By December 2009, the UN reported that the all rebel groups were participating in the peace process except the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP). CPJP has led attacks against the government in the northeast, displacing some 6,400 people internally and driving an additional 9,000 into Chad. CPJP leader Charles Massi, who served as defense minister under Patasse, was arrested by Chadian authorities in May. Massi was released in July, but re-arrested in December.
Beginning in June, clashes between the Ugandan military and the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, intensified in southeastern CAR, near Obo and M’Boki. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated in October 2009that the cross-border fighting had internally displaced over 4,500 CAR residents and forced 1,400 refugees into the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

UNICEF estimated in early 2008 that there are some 197,000 internally displaced persons in the CAR, and that roughly a quarter of the country’s four million citizens have been affected by armed conflict. 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. The CAR earned the fourth-worst ranking on the UN Development Programme’s 2009 Human Development Index.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The CAR is not an electoral democracy. Although presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2005, they were marked by some irregularities and 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-seat 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 former coup leader Andre Kolingba’s Central African Democratic Assembly.
After much negotiation, the government passed a revised electoral code in November 2009 and formed an electoral commission for the 2010 presidential and legislative races. First round voting will take place on April 18, 2010. In October 2009, former president Ange-Felix Patasse returned from a six-year exile in Togo and announced his candidacy for president. He will run as an independent, as the MLPC had already selected former prime minister Martin Ziguele as its candidate. Patasse is also tainted by past associations with Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former DRC rebel leader who was currently facing trial before the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Corruption remains pervasive, despite some steps toward reform in recent years. Diamonds account for about half of the country’s export earnings, but a large percentage of the stones are thought to circumvent official channels. The Central African Republic ranks 158 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government generally respects the right to free speech, but many journalists practice self-censorship. It remains a crime to broadcast information that is “false” or that could incite ethnic or religious tension. 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 newspapers offer competing views, though they have limited influence due to low literacy levels and high poverty rates. There are no government restrictions on the internet, but the vast majority of the population is unable 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 on the grounds that they could stoke ethnic or religious tensions. Insecurity in the north continues to hinder the operations of aid groups, forcing a number to withdraw from volatile areas. In June 2009, a Red Cross employee was killed by armed men in Birao, and two French aid workers were abducted there in November. All associations must register with the Interior Ministry. The rights to unionize and strike are constitutionally protected and generally respected, though only a small percentage of workers are unionized, primarily those in the public sector.
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 police 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 President Francois 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. Abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. The U.S. State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report placed the CAR on its Tier 2 Watch List due to the government’s failure to pass a 2006 draft law against trafficking. In January 2009, new labor code articles outlawed forced and bonded labor.