Freedom in the World

Central African Republic

Freedom in the World 2016
Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Aggregate Score: 
7
Freedom Rating: 
7.0
Political Rights: 
7
Civil Liberties: 
7

Quick Facts

Capital: 
Bangui
Population: 
5,551,900
GDP/capita: 
$371.10
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
N/A
Overview: 

While Central African Republic (CAR) was beset by periodic intercommunal violence throughout 2015, the fighting was less severe than it had been in the months that followed the 2013 coup, in which largely Muslim Séléka rebel forces had overthrown President François Bozizé. The modest lull in violence between former Séléka groups on one hand, and Christian militias known as anti-Balaka on the other, permitted the commencement of long-delayed presidential and parliamentary elections and a constitutional referendum. With the presidential election scheduled to conclude in early 2016, the nation appeared to be in its best position in years to take steps toward improving the security situation and strengthening weak government institutions.

In January 2015, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA) arrested the head of a leading anti-Balaka militia, Rodrigue Ngaibona, also known as General Andilo. However, soon after, anti-Balaka elements kidnapped a government minister, a UN staff member, and a French aid worker. While all were later released, the incidents, along with Séléka forces’ continued control over territory in the north, highlighted the relative weakness of the central government.

In May, the central government, MINUSCA, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) hosted various armed groups and political parties at a “reconciliation forum” in Bangui, aimed at bringing stability to the country and facilitating the release of child soldiers—estimated to number between 6,000 and 10,000 across the many armed groups. Several hundred child soldiers were released as a result of the forum’s agreement, which also committed groups to end additional recruitment of children and to enter a process of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and repatriation. However, the agreement’s effects were limited, as a number of anti-Balaka groups boycotted the forum, while several participating factions of the former Séléka alliance later disavowed the deal. The killing of a Muslim man in September sparked renewed intercommunal violence between Muslim and Christian militias in Bangui, leading to more than 20 deaths and the escape of hundreds of prisoners from the city’s Ngaraba prison. Despite a heavy security presence from UN and French troops in the capital, nonstate armed groups continued to operate checkpoints within Bangui and the surrounding countryside.

Divisions and fragmentation among the principal political coalitions in CAR inhibited efforts to achieve political reconciliation in 2015. The former Séléka alliance remained split into rival movements. Among the anti-Balaka forces, the movement remained split between factions that support former president Bozizé and those who oppose him.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 1 / 40 (+1) [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 1 / 12 (+1)

Following the 2014 resignation of then president and Muslim military leader Michel Djotodia amid an earlier wave of intercommunal violence, the 105-seat National Transitional Council (CNT), which had been appointed after the 2013 coup, elected Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president. Although the CNT is charged with creating a new constitution, poor security conditions across much of the country and logistical challenges forced the interim government to repeatedly postpone a constitutional referendum, as well as presidential and parliamentary elections.

A political forum initiated in October 2015 aimed to restart a dialogue and solidify plans to hold the long-delayed votes, but several major political parties and armed groups boycotted it. Nevertheless, a referendum on a new constitution that among other things limited the presidency to two five-year terms was conducted in December; it passed with approximately 93 percent support. At the end of December, the first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections took place. No presidential candidate emerged from the first round with a majority of the vote, and a runoff between the top two finishers is now scheduled for early 2016. Results of the elections to the unicameral, 105-seat National Assembly had not been announced at the year’s end. While some irregularities were reported, there appeared to be no major incidents of election-related violence, and the polls were hailed as a success by MINUSCA and the Special Representative of the UN in the CAR.

 

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 1 / 16

Free political participation remained curtailed in 2015 by high intercommunal tensions and insecurity across the country. The main political parties—including the National Convergence Kwa Na Kwa (KNK), the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People, and the Central African Democratic Rally—remain legal, but the CNT is not elected. No laws prohibit new parties, but the political and security environment make party competition difficult. In August 2015, Bertin Bea, the KNK leader, was arrested on charges of “inciting disorder,” though details surrounding the charge were unclear. KNK supporters subsequently converged upon the office where he was being held, and forced his release.

 

C. Functioning of Government: 0 / 12

Since the 2013 coup, government administration in CAR has been run by unelected officials operating in a largely nontransparent manner. The CNT is unable to provide basic public services such as security and electricity in much of the country. Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of the government, and addressing public sector corruption is difficult under the current security situation. CAR was ranked 145 of 168 countries and territories in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Diamonds account for about half of the country’s export earnings, but a large percentage circumvented official channels. In August 2015, the sanctions committee of the UN Security Council froze the assets of the Belgian subsidiary of diamond firm Badica/Kardiam for involvement in illegal trading of minerals with armed groups in CAR. Many of the factional splits among the major political parties in CAR are rooted in internal conflicts among political elites over control of illicit diamond and gold networks.

 

Discretionary Political Rights Question B: -1 / 0

Deliberate targeting of civilians by Séléka and anti-Balaka forces declined in 2015 from the highest levels of violence in 2013 and 2014. Nevertheless, periodic clashes have continued, and many civilians remain internally displaced or confined to ethnic and sectarian enclaves. In October, the UN Security Council committed to imposing sanctions against individuals responsible for the latest outbreak of violence that began the previous month.

 

Civil Liberties: 6 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 4 / 16

The 2004 constitution guarantees freedom of the press, though criminal penalties remain for some defamation charges. Given the security situation, those constitutional guarantees have not been reliably enforced, and the media environment for reporters remains restricted. Few residents outside Bangui enjoy access to national or international media sources or the internet. Since the onset of conflict in 2013, many community radio stations have been shuttered.

Officially CAR is a secular state, but religious and sectarian cleavages overlap with the country’s current political divisions, and in 2015 sectarian clashes between Christian and Muslim populations continued to threaten the free practice of religion. Relatively few Muslims remain in Bangui or western towns. Some members of anti-Balaka groups demanded at the May reconciliation forum in Bangui that identity cards issued by Djotodia’s Séléka government be cancelled—a challenge to the citizenship rights of Muslim communities perceived as “foreigners.”

Many schools and universities remain closed or without adequate resources, effectively interfering with academic freedom. Free expression of political views and private discussion of politics is also curtailed by the prevailing sense of insecurity and political instability in the country.

 

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 1 / 12

Freedom of assembly was restricted in 2015 by the security situation in CAR. Insecurity along main transportation routes curtailed the movement and operations of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which have also been prevented from entering areas of Bangui controlled by armed groups. The ongoing violence has made it very difficult for unions to function properly.

 

F. Rule of Law: 0 / 16

The national justice system in CAR remained weak in 2015, and the provision of security and justice in much of the country fell largely to nonstate armed groups. Impunity for violence, economic crimes, and human rights violations remained widespread, and many abuses have not been investigated. In September hundreds of prisoners in Bangui’s main jail escaped during intercommunal clashes, during which private residences and offices were reportedly pillaged. Military and police forces in CAR are incapable of exercising control, and the interim government has not rearmed the army. Corruption, political interference, and lack of training hamper the effectiveness of the judiciary, problems which have persisted under the CNT government.

At the request of the interim government, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is conducting an ongoing investigation into widespread allegations of rape, murder, forced displacement, persecution, and pillaging since 2012. The ICC was also handling cases related to an earlier wave of violence in the country, and the trial of former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and several of his codefendants opened in September 2015.

In June, President Samba-Panza enacted a law adopting a specialized court inside the justice system to investigate and prosecute crimes not likely to be covered by the ICC since 2003, to be composed of judges and prosecutors from CAR as well as from abroad. The hybrid justice mechanism represents the first attempt by a sovereign government to try crimes committed on its own territory in conjunction with the ICC.

Same-sex sexual acts are illegal in CAR, punishable by fines and imprisonment, although enforcement of this law is uncommon. Societal discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people remains strong, and many hide their sexual orientation.

 

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 1 / 16

Widespread insecurity and religious persecution continued to hinder the movement of citizens and undermined the protection of private property in 2015. Private businesses and homes are regularly looted by armed militants, with little prospect for compensation or legal recourse for victims. The agricultural economy, the livelihood of the majority of the population, remained restricted by ongoing violence and insecurity. Irregular armed forces control much of the diamond and gold industry, and government agencies lack the capacity to regulate the extraction of natural resources. The Kimberley Process, a multigovernmental scheme to stop the trade of “conflict diamonds,” suspended exports from CAR in 2013, but trade in illicit resources continues.

Constitutional guarantees for women’s rights are not enforced, especially in rural areas. Domestic abuse and sexual violence against women is exacerbated by the ongoing conflict. In 2015, the UN conducted investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct by French military and UN peacekeeping personnel inside CAR; amid that probe, rape accusations against UN troops raised by Amnesty International prompted the August resignation of General Babacar Gaye as the head of MINUSCA.

The displacement of women and children has made them more vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking within the country, according to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 25 percent of CAR’s population has been internally displaced since the beginning of the conflict in 2013.

 

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

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