Central African Republic | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Central African Republic

Central African Republic

Not Free
9/100
Overview: 

The Central African Republic suffers from pervasive insecurity and an absence of state authority in much of the country. Efforts to reach a negotiated settlement between the government and various armed groups have not yet produced major agreements. The country faces a humanitarian crisis, and violent attacks against civilians, including sexual violence, are an acute risk in many areas. 

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • The African Union (AU) continued efforts to help broker a settlement between armed groups and the government—as did Russia and Sudan, in a parallel effort. However, these initiatives failed to produce major developments, and the government remained unable to restore the authority of the state beyond the capital city.
  • Russia increased its military presence in the country, deploying military advisors and civilian instructors in Bangui, and delivering several shipments of arms and ammunition.
  • In July, three Russian journalists were ambushed and killed near the northern city of Sibut. The journalists had been investigating the activities of a Russian security group operating in the country for a news outlet owned by an opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
  • Citing corruption allegations, the National Assembly in October voted to dismiss its president, Abdou Karim Meckassoua, a moderate politician who represented the district in Bangui home to most of the city’s Muslims. Meckassoua’s supporters claimed his firing represented an attempt by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra to consolidate control over opposition in the parliament.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 4 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 3 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4

The president is chief of state and is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. President Touadéra was elected in February 2016. The elections were monitored by the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM), and were regarded as generally successful and a step towards peace and stabilization. Fears of widespread electoral violence were not realized, but there were many reports of serious irregularities at the polls. Moreover, many voters were unable to participate because insecurity prevented voter registration, or because they had fled to other countries as refugees and the state was unable to set up effective absentee voting procedures.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4

Members of parliament are directly elected to five-year terms. The current parliament was elected in February 2016, followed by a second round of by-elections that March. The polls were generally regarded as successful, but like the presidential polls, were plagued by irregularities and the disenfranchisement of voters unable to access the polls due to security concerns or refugee status. Moreover, a first round had to be nullified following a slew of allegations of fraud and other misconduct, by actors ranging from armed groups to political candidates to the National Electoral Authority.

A new constitution adopted in 2015 stipulated the creation of a Senate, but it has not been established.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1 / 4

The electoral laws of the Central African Republic permit multiparty competition, and adult citizens enjoy universal and equal suffrage. However, the broader electoral framework of the country remains challenged by a weak judicial system, inadequate funding and training for election officials, and a lack of transparency in the composition of national election authorities.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 2 / 16

B1.      Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1 / 4

While political parties are legally able to form and operate, party members conducting political activities are at risk of intimidation and violence in areas controlled by irregular armed groups.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1 / 4

Several opposition parties exist in the parliament. However, politicians are at risk of intimidation, harassment, or violence in areas controlled by armed groups, and opposition parties are limited in their ability to garner support in those areas.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 0 / 4

Citizens are vulnerable to pressure and intimidation from nonstate armed groups. Due to enduring insecurity, voters outside the capital are largely unable to participate in political processes.

In 2018, a Russian military presence in Central African Republic became increasingly visible. Early in the year, after the UN Security Council, the United States, and France assented, Russia deployed military advisors and civilian instructors in Bangui, and made several deliveries of arms and ammunition. Wagner Group, a Russian security company with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, also began providing personal security for President Touadéra. Members of the same group were reportedly providing security at gold mines in the country.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 0 / 4

Enduring insecurity and an accompanying lack of access to political processes precludes many minority groups from achieving political representation. Sectarian violence affecting Muslims has decreased their ability to participate in politics. Women are underrepresented in politics, and just 11 sit in the 140-seat parliament. Societal and legal discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people prevent them from working to see their interests represented in the political sphere.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 0 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0 / 4

Presidential and parliamentary elections held in early 2016 led to a peaceful transfer of power from the National Transitional Council to an elected government. However, while the elected representatives can determine the policies of the government, the weak authority of the state in many areas severely limits the government’s ability to implement policy decisions.

Citing corruption allegations, the National Assembly in October 2018 voted to dismiss its president, Abdou Karim Meckassoua, a moderate politician who represented the district in Bangui home to most of the city’s Muslims. Meckassoua’s supporters claimed his firing represented an attempt by Touadéra to consolidate control over opposition in the parliament.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0 / 4

Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption is difficult given capacity limitations. The UN Panel of Experts on Central African Republic noted in December 2017 abuses by local officials who had partnered with international investors in the mining sector.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0 / 4

Government operations are largely nontransparent, and civil society groups and others have limited opportunity to comment upon or influence impending policy decisions. Citizens outside of the capital have limited access to their elected representatives in the national legislature.

ADDITIONAL DISCRETIONARY POLITICAL RIGHTS QUESTION

Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group? −1 / 0

Targeted violence against civilians by armed groups such as the Muslim-dominated Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central Africa (FPRC) as well as Christian anti-Balaka militias, continued in 2018 in northwestern, central, and eastern regions of the country. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain internally displaced or confined to ethnic and sectarian enclaves.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 5 / 60

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 4 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 1 / 4

Reporters face restricted access to many areas of the country due to insecurity. 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. However, some independently run stations continue to operate and host robust debates, with active participation from callers-in.

In July 2018, three Russian journalists were ambushed and killed near the northern city of Sibut. The journalists had been investigating the activities of the Wagner Group for the Investigation Control Centre, an online news outlet owned by prominent Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 0 / 4

Officially Central African Republic is a secular state, but religious and sectarian cleavages often overlap with the country’s political divisions. In 2018, sectarian clashes between Christian and Muslim populations continued to threaten the free practice of religion. Muslims and Christian residents in Bangui remain segregated in separate enclaves, and fears of identity-based violence by armed actors impede free religious expression.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4

While the educational system is generally free of extensive political indoctrination, many schools and universities remain closed, or operate without adequate resources.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1 / 4

Public discussion and political debates are generally free from surveillance by state authorities. However, political instability and the risk of violent retaliation for challenging the presence of armed groups or expressing opinions on other sensitive topics inhibits free expression.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 1 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 0 / 4

Although freedom of assembly and the right to political protest is guaranteed under the constitution, in practice these liberties continued to be curtailed in 2018 due to widespread insecurity.

In April, demonstrators placed outside the United Nations office in Bangui the bodies of over a dozen people they said were civilians killed in clashes between UN forces and armed groups. A UN spokesperson condemned the action as propaganda, and said the dead were criminals who had attacked UN forces.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 0 / 4

While the government does not restrict nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and frequently cooperates with them, their operations in practice are severely restricted by poor security conditions. More than 270 recorded security incidents involved relief workers between January and September 2018, causing 6 deaths and at least 15 NGOs to suspend humanitarian activities.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1 / 4

Trade unions and collective bargaining are permitted, although union organizers are sometimes subject to arbitrary detention or arrest. Small-scale agricultural organizations and cooperatives exist throughout the country, including organizations for women farmers.

F. RULE OF LAW: 0 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 0 / 4

Courts are inefficient and politicized. Judicial salaries have often gone unpaid, and there is a shortage of judges. The government has limited authority to enforce judicial decisions in the many areas of the country controlled by armed groups.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0 / 4

Arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention are commonplace in Central African Republic, and the state justice system has limited presence beyond Bangui. Impunity for violence, economic crimes, and human rights violations remained widespread in 2018.

In October 2018, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in Bangui opened. The SCC has 13 Central African judges and 12 foreign judges, and is tasked with ending impunity by perpetrators of human rights abuses since 2003. The opening of the SCC is regarded by victims and members of the legal community as a significant step towards improving accountability and prosecuting individuals responsible for child recruitment, sexual abuse, and other crimes. However, the Court has not yet proven its ability to successfully prosecute alleged perpetrators and end impunity.

In November 2018, authorities transferred Alfred Yekatom to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands; he stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with his leadership of anti-Balaka militia groups that terrorized the country’s Muslim population after predominantly Muslim Séléka rebels seized power in 2013. Separately, in December 2018, French authorities arrested a former anti-Balaka militia leader, Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, in France on an ICC arrest warrant alleging war crimes and crimes against humanity.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0 / 4

Armed nonstate actors—many of which are successors to the Muslim Séléka rebels and Christian anti-Balaka militias involved in violent atrocities since the onset of the country’s current crisis in 2013—continue to operate with impunity in the eastern, northern, and northwestern regions of the country. These groups were responsible for violent attacks against civilians, often on the basis of ethnic and religious identity, as well as attacks against international peacekeeping forces and humanitarian aid workers.

In August and September 2018, fighting between armed groups for control of diamond mining territory near Bria resulted in the deaths of at least 30 people. Violent competition among insurgent groups for control of territory and natural resources keeps over 600,000 Central Africans internally displaced. Conflict between farmers and nomadic pastoralists in the border areas near Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, and South Sudan further destabilized the country in 2018.

In addition to mediation efforts between armed militia groups and the government led by the African Union (AU), Russia and Sudan organized a parallel negotiating track in 2018. In August, at a meeting in Khartoum, four factions signed an initial declaration of intent to negotiate in connection with the Russian-Sudanese effort, but key signatories withdrew in October. Mediation efforts by the AU similarly failed to produce major developments.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 0 / 4

Same-sex sexual acts are illegal, and punishable by fines and imprisonment. While enforcement of these laws is uncommon, societal discrimination against LGBT people remains acute. Discrimination continues against the nomadic pastoralist Mbororo minority, as well as the forest-dwelling Ba’aka.

The independent High Authority for Good Governance is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities and the handicapped, though its reach is limited.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 0 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 0 / 4

Free movement by citizens is inhibited by the lack of security and targeted violence. Transportation routes are threatened by banditry and theft in many areas.

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 0 / 4

Businesses and homes are regularly looted or extorted by armed militants, with little prospect for compensation or legal recourse for victims. The agricultural economy—the livelihood of the majority of the population—remains restricted by ongoing violence and insecurity.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 0 / 4

Abuse, rape, and sexual slavery against women by armed groups threaten the security of women and girls. Sexual violence is used as a deliberate tool of warfare, and attackers enjoy broad impunity. Constitutional guarantees for women’s rights are rarely enforced, especially in rural areas. Sexual abuses by UN peacekeeping forces have been documented, but many instances have not been investigated or prosecuted.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0 / 4

Economic opportunity is heavily restricted by the presence of armed groups in many areas of the country. Approximately one in two Central Africans depend on access to humanitarian assistance for survival. Many armed groups exploit gold and diamond mines, and forced labor and child recruitment for soldiering are common practices.