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)
The Central African Republic received a downward trend arrow due to the takeover of more than half of the country by rebel forces and curtailed freedoms of expression and assembly in rebel-held areas.
Insecurity continued to plague much of the country during 2012. After the last major rebel group, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, signed a peace treaty with the government in August, efforts were made toward rehabilitating and disarming all rebel groups. However, on December 10 a coalition of rebel factions launched an offensive and took control of large areas of the country. As of December 31, rebel attacks and advances toward the capital continued.
The Central African Republic (CAR) gained independence from France in 1960 after a period of brutal colonial exploitation. General André Kolingba deposed President David Dacko in 1981. Mounting political pressure led Kolingba to introduce a multiparty system in 1991, and Ange-Félix Patassé 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 in 1998. Patassé won a second six-year term in 1999, and UN peacekeepers withdrew in 1999. Patassé was ousted by General François Bozizé in 2003, allegedly with backing from President Idriss Déby of Chad.
Bozizé initiated a transition to civilian rule, and voters approved a new constitution in 2004. With the backing of the National Convergence Kwa Na Kwa (KNK) coalition, Bozizé won a May 2005 presidential runoff. The KNK and its allies won a majority in the National Assembly.
Between 2005 and 2007, several major rebellions were launched by groups such as the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD), the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), and the Central African People’s Democratic Front (FDPC). An estimated 200,000 Central Africans were internally displaced or fled to neighboring countries due to the fighting.
After a series of failed attempts, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the government, the UFDR, and the APRD in June 2008. The National Assembly passed a law in September providing government and rebel forces with immunity for abuses committed after March 15, 2003. The Inclusive Political Dialogue, which was held between the government, the opposition, and rebel groups in December, established an interim government until 2010 elections, and outlined a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program. By December 2009, all rebel groups except the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) were participating in the peace process, but the demobilization of these groups has been slow and partial.
Presidential and legislative elections were held in January 2011 after being delayed twice the previous year. Bozizé, with the backing of the KNK, won the presidential poll, defeating four candidates with 66 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, Patassé, captured 20 percent. Opposition leaders and candidates challenged the result, which were upheld by the Constitutional Court, but revised down to 64 percent. The KNK won 63 out of the 105 seats in concurrent National Assembly elections. The polls were considered free, and security officers did not intimidate voters as they had in previous elections. However, the opposition criticized both elections as unfair, citing fictitious and displaced polling stations, problematic electoral rolls, and numbers on voting cards not matching those in voting station rolls.
In June 2011, the CPJP signed a ceasefire with the government, although it engaged in clashes with UFDR rebels over control of the diamond trade. The two rebel groups agreed to a ceasefire in October. The CPJP and the government signed a peace deal in August 2012. During 2012, the government increased its efforts to disarm rebel groups as part of the DDR program, with about half of the APRD rebels participating in a program that gave them the option of joining the military or special civilian programs; the CPJP also agreed to participate as part of the peace accord. Separately, a Chadian rebel group operating in northern CAR surrendered and began to return to Chad in October, signaling an important step toward security in the area. However, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, continued to carry out attacks in the CAR in 2012, including a September assault on an army convoy that killed one soldier and a raid on a village in which 55 people—including at least 25 girls—were abducted.
An offshoot of the CPJP formed its own rebel group—the Fundamental CPJP—and attacked three cities in September. While those attacks were repelled, a new rebel alliance, called Seleka, seized three towns in the north on December 10. Seleka had been created in August and was made up of a faction of the UFDR; the Fundamental CPJP; and a lesser-known group, the Convention of Patriots for Salvation and Kodro. The alliance demanded the proper implementation of the 2007 accords, including payments for demobilized rebels fighters and releases of prisoners. The group advanced quickly toward Bangui, and by December 31 only the town of Damara stood between the rebels and the capital.
In response to the swift rebel advance and lack of government control over large areas of the country, representatives from the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) agreed at a meeting in Gabon on December 28 to send a multinational force to the CAR, in addition to the 560 troops already in the country. The size and timing of this force had yet to be specified as of the end of 2012. Meanwhile, the Chadian government pledged a force of 2,000 soldiers; an unknown number were already in the CAR. However, they have not engaged with the rebels, and withdrew with the CAR army as the rebels advanced toward Bangui.
Decades of conflict and poor governance have led to economic and social collapse in the CAR. The country was ranked 180 out of 186 countries in the UN Development Programme’s 2012 Human Development Index. However, according to the International Monetary Fund, the economy recovered slightly in 2012.
The CAR is not an electoral democracy. The 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections were marked by irregularities and criticized by opposition candidates as unfair. The president, who is elected for a five-year term and eligible for a second term, appoints the cabinet and dominates the legislative and judicial branches. However, with the December 2012 rebel offensive, the government of President François Bozizé effectively lost control over much of the country. 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. However, the government sometimes withheld approval for meetings of political opposition groups in 2012.
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 circumvent official channels. The CAR was ranked 144 of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government generally respects the right to free speech, but many journalists practice self-censorship. It is illegal to broadcast information that is “false” or that could incite ethnic or religious tension. The state dominates the broadcast media, but private radio stations exist. 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 it. However, with the security situation declining as a result of the rebel advance in December, the movement of journalists and their ability to report was severely limited.
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, and authorities sometimes deny such requests on the grounds that they could stoke ethnic or religious tensions. Due to the rebel attacks in December, freedom of assembly was effectively curtailed as a result of the security situation. The rights to unionize and strike are constitutionally protected and generally respected, though only a small percentage of workers are unionized.
Corruption, political interference, and lack of training undermine the judiciary. The president appoints judges 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. The military and members of the presidential guard continue to commit human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, with impunity. Prison conditions are poor.
Insecurity restricts the movement of citizens and greatly undermines the protection of private property. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated the number of internally displaced persons at 105,200, the number of refugees in the CAR at 16,730, and the number of Central African refugees abroad at 162,800.
Constitutional guarantees for women’s rights are not enforced, especially in rural areas. There is no specific law criminalizing domestic abuse, which is widespread, and there is a high incidence of sexual violence against women by state and nonstate actors. Abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. Women were elected to only 13 percent of the seats in the National Assembly in 2011. The U.S. State Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report put the CAR in Tier 3 for the second year in a row, as a result of the ongoing trafficking of children for forced labor and sexual exploitation, as well as their use in armed conflict.