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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Central African Republic

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Central African Republic, 18 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5f300823.html [accessed 25 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

Despite the Libreville peace and ceasefire agreement of June 21, 2008 and the General Amnesty Law adopted on September 29, 2008, fighting continued in October and November in the north of the Central African Republic (CAR), between the Central African Armed Forces (Forces armées centrafricaine – FACA) and rebel groups, and was accompanied by grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Members of FACA units were still responsible for the summary execution of civilians, extortion of money and arbitrary arrests. In addition, several sources reported arbitrary detentions, acts of torture and mistreatment of presumed rebels carried out by the Central African security forces in detention centres. Some rebels from the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (Armée populaire pour la restauration de la République et la démocracie – APRD) also executed civilians after the passing by emergency courts of expeditious sentences, looted the population and carried out kidnappings.

This is the context in which the "Inclusive Political Dialogue" was held from December 5 to 20, 2008, mediated by the President of Gabon Omar Bongo Ondimba and bringing together around 200 delegates representing the Government, the opposition forces and civil society, in order to examine the obstacles to the advent of a lasting peace and to adopt a social and economic programme.1 The Dialogue led to the appointment in January 2009 of a "consensus" Government and the establishment in February 2009 of a monitoring committee made up of representatives of parties that took part in the Dialogue, charged with preparing the general elections planned for 2010 with a revision of the Electoral Code and setting up an Independent Election Commission. Human rights defenders expressed great regret that the fate of victims of the conflicts in CAR since 2002 was not on the Dialogue agenda.

In this context, the situation of defenders remained very difficult, since any determination to denounce human rights violations was perceived as undermining peace efforts and even as support for the rebels who are active in the north of the country.

Threats against defenders who fight against impunity

In 2008, the authorities perceived any attempt to fight against impunity as a threat. Organisations that defend victims' rights were a particular target following the arrest in May of Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo after the issue of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of Congo and President and Commander in Chief of the Congo Liberation Movement (Mouvement de libération du Congo – MLC) is accused in particular of war crimes, systematic or generalised acts of torture and rape and crimes against humanity for acts carried out by men under his authority in 2002 and 2003, at the time of their intervention in support of the Central African troops against the rebel forces of General Bozizé. In May 2008, shortly after the announcement of the arrest of Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, two members of the Organisation for Compassion and Development for Families in Distress (Organisation pour la compassion et le développement des familles en détresse – OCODEFAD) were victims of threats and acts of intimidation warning them against pursuing the case. Furthermore, while one of the persons threatened, Ms. Bernadette Sayo, OCODEFAD founder and President, was then Minister of Tourism, she was given no protection, unlike her other colleagues. Mr. Nganatouwa Goungaye Wanfiyo, a lawyer and President of the Central African Human Rights League (Ligue centrafricaine des droits de l'Homme – LCDH), also received threats because of his ICC activity on behalf of victims and linked to the arrest of Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. On June 17, 2008, an unknown person notified him, amongst other things, that he should be careful that the same thing did not happen to him as had happened to two other defenders; one of the latter had been killed and the house of the second person had been attacked in 2006. His death, on December 27, 2008, in unclear circumstances that had still not been elucidated as of the end of 2008, leave room for the possibility of an assassination, due to his central role in the denunciation of human rights violations in the country and the support he was bringing to victims before the ICC.2

Judicial harassment of journalists who denounce corruption

Although on November 25, 2004 the transitional Central African Parliament abolished the law providing for prison terms for all press offences, in 2008 the Central African authorities continued to deprive journalists of their freedom by unfairly sidestepping the Press Law.3 Thus, instead of starting proceedings for libel, solely punishable by fines, the authorities had no hesitation in making use of the State apparatus against people who denounced fraud and corruption, such as Mr. Faustin Bambou. Mr. Faustin Bambou, Director of the newspaper Les Collines de l'Oubangui, was arrested on January 11, 2008 for having published an article accusing two ministers of receiving several billion CFA francs from the French nuclear group AREVA in December 2007. The Prosecutor of the Republic, who considered that his article had contributed to reinforcing the strike of civil servants who claimed payment of salary arrears, recommended a two-year prison sentence and payment of a fine of three million CFA francs (around 4,500 Euros). On January 28, 2008, the Bangui Magistrates' Court (Tribunal correctionnel) finally sentenced Mr. Bambou to six months' imprisonment for "incitement to revolt", "libel" and "insults", and to pay a symbolic one CFA franc in damages to the two ministers who were the plaintiffs in the case. Mr. Faustin Bambou was released on February 23, 2008 after being granted a presidential pardon. At the opening of his trial, his lawyers had withdrawn as a sign of protest. In their opinion, their client should have been prosecuted under the 2004 Press Law, which protects journalists from prison sentences, and not under criminal law.

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 20084

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Erick Kpakpo and Ms. Bernadette Sayo NzaleDeath threats / Acts of intimidationUrgent Appeal CAF 001/0508/OBS 092May 28, 2008
Mr. Nganatouwa Goungaye WanfiyoDeath threatsUrgent Appeal CAF 002/0608/OBS 106June 18, 2008

1 See International Crisis Group, Central African Republic: Untangling the Political Dialogue, Africa Briefing No. 55, December 9, 2008.

2 The NGO community and the EU Presidency paid homage to Mr. Goungaye Wanfiyo following his death and saluted his support for the work of the ICC and his role in the forum on the Inclusive Political Dialogue. See Declaration by the EU Presidency, December 31, 2008.

3 See Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières – RSF) Press Release, January 16, 2008.

4 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

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