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Freedom in the World 2011 - Central African Republic

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 16 May 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Central African Republic, 16 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dd21a4b2d.html [accessed 14 July 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.

Capital: Bangui
Population: 4,511,000

Political Rights Score: 5 *
Civil Liberties Score: 5 *
Status: Partly Free

Overview

The government postponed presidential and legislative elections originally slated for April 2010 until January 2011, citing inadequate funding. In May, the National Assembly passed a law allowing François Bozizé to remain in power until elections are held. Insecurity continued to plague much of the country during the year, as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) increased its attacks against civilians, and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) rebel group continued its attacks on the town of Birao.


The Central African Republic (CAR) gained independence from France in 1960 after a period of brutal colonial exploitation. Colonel Jean-Bédel 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 André Kolingba in 1981.

Mounting political pressure led Kolingba to introduce a multiparty system in 1991, and Ange-Félix Patassé, 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.

Patassé 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. While Patassé overcame a coup attempt by Kolingba in 2001, he was ousted by General François Bozizé in 2003, allegedly with backing from President Idriss Déby of Chad.

Bozizé initiated a transition back to civilian rule, and voters approved a new constitution in 2004. With the backing of the National Convergence Kwa Na Kwa (KNK) coalition, Bozizé ran for president as an independent, winning 65 percent of the vote in a May 2005 runoff against MLPC candidate Martin Ziguélé. 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 Patassé, 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 Bozizé 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.

After a series of failed peace agreements, the National Assembly passed a law in September 2008 providing government and rebel forces with immunity for abuses committed after March 15, 2003. Peace talks between Bozizé, the opposition, and rebel groups in December 2008 established an interim government to lead the country until the next elections and outlined a Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program. By December 2009, the UN reported that the all rebel groups, except the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), were participating in the peace process except for the CPJP.

In September 2007, the UN Security Council authorized a new UN Mission in CAR and Chad (MINURCAT) and a related European Union peacekeeping force in northeastern CAR. MINURCAT's mandate ended on December 31, 2010; troops had left Northeast CAR by mid-November. Shortly after their withdrawal, the CPJP took control of Birao. The Chadian army later displaced the rebels, but the fighting forced many civilians to flee Birao.

In January 2010, half of the members of the Independent Electoral Commission quit in protest over the appointment of its president, Joseph Binguimalet, whom they claimed favored Bozizé. Presidential and legislative elections had been postponed four times before April 2010, but by August 2010, all political parties and civil society groups signed onto a new election calendar scheduled for January 2011. A law passed by the National Assembly in May allowed Bozizé and members of the Assembly to remain in power until elections are held. Opposition groups initially blamed Bozizé for delaying elections but did not challenge the legitimacy of his rule. The government has blamed the most recent postponement on inadequate funding, though previous delays stemmed from incomplete voter lists, problems with candidate registration, and insecurity in the north. Voter registration took place in September and October, but the National Democratic Institute reported that the lists had not been shared publicly.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The CAR is not an electoral democracy. The 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections 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.

Following a number of delays, presidential and legislative elections were rescheduled for January 2011. President François Bozizé will run against independent candidate and former president Ange-Félix Patassé, as well as MLPC candidate and former prime minister Martin Ziguélé.

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. CAR was ranked 154 of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index 2010.

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. According to the U.S. State Department, laws providing journalists with access to information do not specifically guarantee access to government information. 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. 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. According to Amnesty International, 11 people were held without trial between June and October 2010 due to their association with a lawyer and businessman accused of burning a supermarket owned by a prominent Lebanese business man. The national lawyers' union held a two-month boycott to protest the arrests and government interference in the investigation.

Insecurity restricts the movement of citizens and greatly undermines the protection of private property. Attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group, increased in 2010, with rebel activities reported in four regions of CAR. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) mission to CAR in August estimated that the violence has displaced tens of thousands of villagers, and at least 304 civilians had been kidnapped in abductions targeting children. According to a November 2010 HRW report, the LRA has killed some 2,000 civilians and abducted an additional 3,000 since September 2008. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) at 192,000, the number of refugees in CAR at 31,500, and the number of Central African refugees abroad at 162,000 as of June 2010; most IDPs remain in the northwest.

The CPJP held the city of Yalinga between September 18 and October 6, 2010 and again in November 2010. Charles Massi, CPJP leader and former minister, was apprehended by Chadian authorities in December 2009, and his supporters claimed that he had been tortured to death while in CAR government custody in January 2010. The government has denied these allegations.

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 was ranked 159 out of 169 countries in the UN Development Programme's 2010 Human Development Index.

Constitutional guarantees for women's rights are not enforced, especially in rural areas. Following a February 2010 visit to CAR, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed serious concern over the high incidence of sexual violence against women by state and non-state actors. Abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. An April 2010 UNICEF report revealed widespread allegations of child witchcraft in CAR, which often result in child abuse and abandonment. The U.S. State Department's 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report placed CAR on its Tier 2 Watch List for the fifth consecutive year.


* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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