Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July 2014, 16:05 GMT

2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Central African Republic

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 11 March 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Central African Republic, 11 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b9e5308c.html [accessed 11 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.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2010

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a constitutional republic whose population of approximately 4.3 million is governed by a strong executive branch and weak legislative and judicial branches. Armed forces Chief of Staff General Francois Bozize seized power in a military coup in 2003. Elections in 2005 resulted in Bozize's election as president. National and international observers judged the elections to be generally free and fair despite some irregularities. Fighting between factions of armed groups, as well as between armed groups and government security forces, increased, and much of the northwestern, northeastern, and extreme southeastern parts of the country remained outside of government control. Banditry remained a serious threat to civilians throughout the northern prefectures. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

The government's human rights record remained poor. Government abuses included security forces continuing to commit extrajudicial executions in the north; torture, beatings, detention, and rape of suspects and prisoners; impunity, particularly among the military; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged pretrial detention, denial of fair trial; official corruption; occasional intimidation and restrictions on the press; and restrictions on freedom of movement and on workers' rights. Mob violence resulted in deaths and injuries. Societal abuses included female genital mutilation (FGM), discrimination against women and Pygmies; trafficking in persons; forced labor; and child labor, including forced child labor. Freedom of movement remained limited in the north because of actions by security forces, armed bandits, and armed groups. Sporadic fighting between government forces and armed groups continued to internally displace persons and increase the number of refugees.

Armed groups, some of which were unidentified, continued to kill, beat, and rape civilians and loot and burn villages in the north. Armed groups kidnapped, beat, raped, and extorted money from local populations. There were reports of children as young as 12 serving as fighters in armed groups.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents killed members of opposing political groups, but soldiers, particularly the presidential security forces (presidential guard), killed civilians they suspected of being road bandits or supporting armed groups. Both government security forces and armed groups killed civilians in the course of conflict in the north (see section 1.g.).

During the year there were numerous credible reports that elements of the security forces, including the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), and particularly the presidential guard, committed unlawful killings while apprehending suspects and, allegedly, in connection with personal disputes or rivalries. Authorities appeared unwilling to prosecute personnel of the presidential guard for extrajudicial killings.

On February 5, Lieutenant Olivier Koudemon, alias Gbangouma, and two other members of the presidential guard confronted Commissioner of Police Daniel Sama over the commissioner's right to carry a firearm in Bangui while off duty. An altercation ensued and the commissioner was beaten to death. The permanent military tribunal (PMT) heard the case in April and found sufficient grounds to try the three. At year's end, Gbangouma and the other two remained free. No additional information was available.

The Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) comprises a special antibanditry police squad and an investigative and intelligence service operated by the Ministry of Defense in and around Bangui. It continued to commit extrajudicial killings. For example, on April 9, OCRB officers detained suspected thieves Maxime Banga and Adam Demori and transported them to OCRB headquarters. An OCRB unit subsequently took them to an unknown destination. By 6 p.m. that day, the corpses of Banga and Demori were left at the mortuary of Bangui community hospital. Authorities took no action against those responsible.

In April the PMT, which is responsible for adjudicating crimes allegedly committed by military personnel, ruled on 27 of the 33 cases involving military service members arrested for crimes from murder to desertion and theft of military equipment.

On June 25, a gendarme and a member of the Research and Investigation Services (SRI) struck and killed a local butcher in the PK 12 market of Bangui. By year's end, neither had been tried.

There were no reports of the government prosecuting any OCRB personnel for killings committed in 2008 or 2007.

There were no developments in the case of presidential guard member Boris Namsene, who shot and killed five persons in April 2008 in Bangui before his apparent murder three days later.

Armed bandits have contributed to instability for many years and continued to kill civilians. In the central part of the country, armed groups known as "zaraguinas" engaged in widespread kidnappings, at times killing family members of individuals who could not or would not pay ransom. Although information about these armed groups and highway bandits was difficult to obtain, aid workers and UN officials described them as a combination of common criminals and remnants of insurgent groups from the recurring conflicts in the region.

In December 2008 Nganatouwa Goungaye Wanfiyo, a leading human rights activist and one of the lawyers for the victims in the International Criminal Court (ICC) proceedings against Congolese politician and armed group leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, died in an automobile collision near Sibut. While there was no evidence of murder, at least one nongovernmental organization (NGO) said it believed that the incident was not an accident, and several NGOs called for an investigation regarding the manner in which the authorities handled the accident. No investigation had begun by year's end.

Civilians reportedly continued to kill persons suspected of being sorcerers or witches during the year.

An international NGO reported that on June 20, members of the armed group Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic (APRD) tortured a man near Kaga Bondoro accused of bewitching his nephew. Under torture, the man named two other individuals whom he said helped him bewitch his nephew. The APRD subsequently arrested the two individuals and beat them to death. At year's end, the man who was originally tortured was awaiting trial on charges of witchcraft. Authorities had taken no action against those responsible for the two men's deaths.

In June several members of the UN Human Rights Council's (UNHRC's) Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPRWG) expressed concern over mob killings of so-called witches and the arrest of persons accused of alleged witchcraft. They recommended that the government remove witchcraft from the list of crimes under the penal code, launch a campaign against violence against perceived witches, and protect victims of such attacks. However, a new penal code adopted in September retained clauses criminalizing witchcraft.

On April 12, following the theft of cattle, street battles between M'bororo cattle raisers and beef wholesalers in Bangui resulted in more than 25 deaths. Women and children were among the fatalities. No additional information was available at year's end.

b. Disappearance

In late December, Charles Massi, a member of the armed group Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and a former minister, was reported missing. His wife and members of his political party told international media that the Chadian government arrested Massi and turned him over to Central African authorities, who they said tortured and murdered him. At year's end, there was no further information about his whereabouts.

During the year unidentified armed groups kidnapped M'bororo children and young adults and held them for ransom.

In November unidentified bandits in Birao abducted two expatriate NGO employees, and at year's end they continued to hold them for an unknown ransom.

By year's end authorities had not charged anyone for the temporary abduction of two doctors and four other medical personnel by unidentified gunmen in Bombole in February 2008 (see section 1.g.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the law and the constitution prohibit torture and specify punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, police and security services continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners, according to local human rights groups such as the association against torture (ACAT) and the Central African human rights league (LCDH). The government did not punish police who tortured suspects, and impunity remained a serious problem. Family members of victims and human rights groups, including the Central African human rights observatory (OCDH), filed complaints with the courts, but authorities took no action. Members of the military raped, robbed, and abused civilians in conflict and nonconflict areas.

According to ACAT, torture and beating of detainees occurred frequently in detention centers run by the SRI and the OCRB. Police most commonly employed a form of torture known as "le cafe," the repeated beating of the soles of an individual's feet with a baton or stick. Immediately after administering the beating, police would sometimes force the victim to walk on badly bruised feet and, if the individual was unable to do so, they continued beating the individual.

For example, in January police arrested Angele Ndarata, 16 years old, for sorcery. A court clerk illegally authorized the parents of the alleged victim to beat Ndarata on June 20. They burned her hands, arms, and sexual parts, and she received no medical care for two days. On June 29, the OCDH provided Ndarata with a lawyer and lodged a complaint against those who authorized and perpetrated the torture. At year's end Ndarata was home awaiting trial. Authorities briefly imprisoned the clerk, but did not take action against Ndarata's parents.

On February 27, a presidential guard member in Bossaboa used a machete to cut three fingers off a man's hand after accusing him of stealing electrical cable.

There was no further information about the severe beating of a man in Bangui by Corporal Zilo and five of his FACA colleagues in July 2008. The man remained incapacitated by his injuries, and at year's end the authorities had not investigated the incident.

Authorities took no action in any of the following cases of abuse by members of security forces in Bangui in 2008: the beating of a man and his sister by Lieutenant Olivier Koudemon, a member of the presidential guard, in August; the severe beating of a suspect at OCRB and SRI police headquarters in October; or the beating of several individuals by Koudemon in December.

Civilians continued to suffer mistreatment in territories controlled by armed groups (see section 1.g.).

Members of security forces, particularly the military, reportedly raped civilians, although throughout the country sexual assaults were rarely reported. Security personnel rarely were punished, and suspects either escaped from police custody or were released by fellow soldiers or other security agents.

There were no further developments in the ongoing ICC investigation into the 2005 charges against former president Ange-Felix Patasse and others for crimes against humanity, including rape, committed prior to and during the 2003 coup.

Civilians continued to take vigilante action against suspected thieves, poachers, and some persons believed to be Chadian combatants.

Civilians reportedly continued to injure and torture persons suspected of being sorcerers or witches. Mob violence was widespread and cases were underreported. By year's end authorities had taken no action against those responsible for the cases detailed below.

An international NGO reported that on June 8, in the village of Ngoumourou, APRD and village members tied a woman to a tree and beat her for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

An international NGO reported that on June 16, members of a community in Kaga Bandoro beat a woman accused of witchcraft and her child.

On August 28, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Dekoa intervened to rescue 13-year-old Vivian Ngoupande after a mob in her village beat and whipped her. The village chief accused her of, and interrogated her for, allegedly killing four persons. The gendarmes held her for three days but refused to provide her food because they feared her alleged powers. The regional prosecutor asked the UNHCR to make an emergency intervention, and a local priest assumed temporary charge of her. At year's end no addition information was available.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were extremely harsh and in some cases life threatening. Prison conditions outside Bangui generally were even worse than those in the capital. Police, gendarme investigators, and presidential guards assigned as prison wardens continued to subject prison inmates to torture and other forms of inhuman, cruel, and degrading treatment.

Prison cells were overcrowded, and basic necessities, including food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and often confiscated by prison officials. Prisoners depended on family members to supplement inadequate prison meals and sometimes were allowed to forage for food near the prison. According to a number of international observers and prison officials, prison detainees outside Bangui received no food from prison authorities and sometimes had to pay bribes to prison guards to secure food brought to them by their relatives. As in previous years, there continued to be reports of deaths in prison due to adverse conditions and negligence, including lack of medical treatment and inadequate food. According to credible sources, from November 2008 to February 2009, inmates in prisons located in Bouar, Baoro, Baboua, Carnot, Berberati, and Nola lacked all necessities. The situation led to the deaths of some inmates as well as multiple escape attempts.

A census conducted by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in Bozoum Prison in January and February indicated that 80 percent of prisoners complained of shortage of food.

Prisoners frequently were forced to perform uncompensated labor (see section 7.c.).

Male and female prisoners were held in separate facilities in Bangui. Elsewhere, male and female prisoners were housed together, but in separate cells. Juveniles were sometimes held with adult prisoners. For example, in September observers found minors between the ages of 12 and 16 among the adult prisoners at Ngaragba central prison in Bangui. In the same month, a 12-year-old boy from Ndele, arrested by the FACA during military maneuvers, was detained at the SRI for an extended period.

Pretrial detainees were not held separately from convicted prisoners.

As of December 31, there were 2,145 prisoners in the country. There were two prisons in Bangui, Ngaragba for men and Bimbo Central Prison for women. Inmates with infectious diseases were not segregated from other inmates. A nurse was available at both Bangui prisons for inmates needing medical care. Detainees and inmates at both prisons received one meal per day. Food was insufficient and prisoners complained of inferior ingredients. Inmates slept on the floor or on thin matting provided by families or charities. Authorities at both Bangui prisons permitted detainees' families to make weekly visits.

As of December, there were 308 inmates in Ngaragba Prison, most of whom are pretrial detainees. Several detainees had been held for seven months without appearing before a judge. The more crowded cells each held approximately 30 to 40 inmates. Prisoners there usually slept on bare concrete, and complained that water supplies were inadequate. In the section reserved primarily for educated prisoners and former government officials suspected or convicted of financial crimes, cells held four to eight persons.

As of December Bimbo central prison held 15 female inmates, most of whom were pretrial detainees. Several had been detained for months and had not appeared before a judge; few had lawyers. Prison officials allowed sick detainees to be treated by a nurse who visited regularly. Overcrowding was reportedly not a problem, and children younger than five were allowed to stay with their mothers at the prison. There were no reports of rapes or sexual harassment by the all-male prison guard staff.

Constructed in 1948, the eight-room Alindao prison in the community of same name, held 155 prisoners in August – three times as many as could be reasonably accommodated. Men and women were housed in the same facility but in different rooms. Of the inmates, eight were women, and all had been convicted of purported witchcraft. One woman stated that she had been convicted of stealing the soul of a village child.

Conditions in detention centers were worse than those in prisons and in some cases were life threatening. Bangui's police detention centers consisted of overcrowded cells with very little light and leaky buckets for toilets. Poor sanitation and negligence by authorities posed a serious health risk to detainees. According to local human rights groups, lack of training and poor supervision at detention centers were serious problems and continued to result in torture and beatings. Suspects in police and gendarmerie cells had to depend on family, friends, religious groups, and NGOs for food. Detainees with infectious diseases were not segregated from other detainees, and medicine was not available. Suspects generally slept on bare cement or dirt floors. Corruption among guards was pervasive. Guards often demanded between 200 CFA francs ($0.45) and 300 CFA francs ($0.67) to permit showers, delivery of food and water, or family visits.

International observers noted that the detention center in the gendarmerie in Bouar had neither windows nor a toilet, only a bucket that was emptied every other day. Detainees at the police facility in Bouar slept chained to each other, a measure the police justified by alleging the detainees were recidivists and undisciplined.

In Bangui male and female detainees were separated; however, this was reportedly not the case in detention facilities in the countryside. There were no separate detention facilities for juvenile detainees, who routinely were housed with adults and often subjected to physical abuse.

The government restricted prison visits by human rights observers. Although international observers were not entirely denied visits, the government delayed responses to visit requests, often for weeks or months. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and religious groups routinely provided supplies, food, and clothes to prisoners. The ICRC had unrestricted access to prisoners; however, access for some other observers was at times limited to certain areas of a given facility.

In June members of the UNHRC's UPRWG made recommendations regarding the penal system, including that the government "put an end to torture and mistreatment in prisons and police stations," "strengthen efforts to guarantee minimum conditions for those held in police custody and detention centers in accordance with international standards," and "ensure comprehensive training for prison staff in human rights law."

Adopted by the national assembly during the year, the 2010 government budget did not show a significant increase of resources devoted to prisons or detention centers.

In its national report submission in February to the UNHRC's UPRWG, the government flagged the following improvements: construction and renovation of prison facilities in large towns such as Sibut, Kaga-Bandoro, Bossongoa, Batagafo, Berberati, Bossembele, and Bozoum; training for prison wardens and directors; demilitarization of prison facilities; and separation of the sexes in Bangui prisons. However, by year's end these projects had not yet begun, due to a shortage of government funding. In addition, in the government's response within the UNHRC's June UPRWG report, the government indicated that it had begun a reform program to create a corps of nonmilitary prison guards to prevent further instances of military prison guards allowing the escape of incarcerated members of the military. However, at year's end, although the UNDP had obtained uniforms and training materials, a lack of funding for the Ministry of Justice prevented the government from hiring new prison guards.

In April approximately 15 domestic NGOs, with assistance from the UNDP, created the coordinated prison action (CAP), an awareness-building mechanism designed to increase monitoring of prison and detention center conditions. The Ministry of Justice said it supported the body in principle but demanded that representatives from the government be included, causing some NGOs to express concern about the CAP's independence. At year's end the Ministry of Justice had not yet agreed to the proposed monitoring framework or which prisons could be accessed, which prevented the project from beginning work.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law provides protection against arbitrary arrest and detention and accords detainees the right to a judicial determination of the legality of their detention; however, security forces frequently ignored such provisions, and arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The Ministry of the Interior and Public Security, through the director general of police, has oversight over the activities of the national police, including the OCRB. The Ministry of Defense oversees military forces, including the presidential guard, the national gendarmerie, and the SRI. The police and the military share responsibility for internal security.

Police were ineffective; they severely lacked financial resources, and their salaries were often in arrears. Citizens' lack of faith in police led at times to mob violence against persons suspected of theft and other offenses. Police corruption, including the use of illegal roadblocks to commit extortion, remained a problem; however, removal of some illegal roadblocks enabled more freedom of movement and easier transportation by year's end.

Mechanisms existed for redress against abuses by members of the police and military. Citizens filed complaints with the public prosecutor. The most common complaints involved theft, rape, brutality, and embezzlement. However, impunity remained a severe problem. Although the prosecutor had the authority to order the arrest of police officers suspected of committing abuses and exercised that authority during the year, the prosecutor's staff was small and severely underfunded. There were no prosecutions of police officers during the year, according to the deputy prosecutor.

The PMT convicted members of the military during the year (see section 1.a.).

In June the country's delegation at the UNHRC told the UPRWG that the country faced challenges executing military justice, particularly because prison guards who belonged to the military allowed or facilitated escapes for detained military personnel (see section 1.c.).

In June several members of the UNHRC's UPRWG made recommendations concerning the fight against impunity among security forces and the need for security sector reform. Recommendations focused on the need for the government to systematically investigate those accused of human rights abuses and suspend from duty, prosecute, and punish those responsible, without exception; undertake "severe vetting action linked to recruiting and promotion"; establish a permanent coordination structure for different security forces to consistently address issues such as training; and enhance training for the security forces in human rights and humanitarian law. By year's end, however, the government had taken few steps to effectively curb abuses by the military, particularly among the presidential guard.

During the year, in cooperation with the government, the Human Rights Section of the UN Peace Building Office in the Central African Republic (BONUCA) continued to collect complaints of human rights abuses committed by members of the security forces, including FACA soldiers. It continued to investigate abuses and share information with the public prosecutor to facilitate the fight against impunity. In addition, BONUCA provided more than 500 members of the security forces, including police officers, gendarmes, and FACA soldiers, with international humanitarian law and human rights training; it also provided training for the mission for the coordination of peace (MICOPAX) military personnel.

BONUCA maintained UN human rights observers in three regional UN offices in the northwestern and central parts of the country and planned to expand to two other cities over the next year. While BONUCA reported on human rights and worked with the local human rights community, local and international observers have criticized its human rights section in recent years for its inability or refusal to bring such abuses to light or demand redress. Due in part to previous criticism of its lack of public reporting, BONUCA continued finalizing human rights reports for 2008 and 2009, but it had not released them by the end of the year.

As part of its efforts to protect citizens and safeguard property, the government continued to support joint security operations in the capital and selected cities in the northwestern section of the country conducted by several hundred regional armed forces peacekeepers. The government also supported joint operations by the UN Mission in the CAR and Chad in the northeastern Vakaga prefecture.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law stipulates that persons detained in cases other than those involving national security must be informed of the charges against them, and brought before a magistrate within 48 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 96 hours. In practice authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to inefficient judicial procedures and a lack of judges. In several police detention centers, including the SRI, detainees were held for more than two days and often for weeks before bringing their cases before a magistrate. The law allows all detainees, including those held on national security grounds, to have access to their families and to legal counsel. Indigent detainees may request a lawyer provided by the government, although it was not known if this right was often invoked. Detainees are allowed to post bail or have family members post bail for them. In most cases lawyers and families had free access to detainees, but incommunicado detention occasionally occurred.

There were different standards for treatment of detainees held for crimes against the security of the state. National security detainees may be held without charge for up to eight days, and this period can be renewed once, for a total of 16 days. However, in practice such persons were held without charge for longer periods.

On September 30, the national assembly adopted a revised penal code and criminal procedure code. Due to these new reforms, detainees gained the right to have access to attorneys immediately after arrest.

According to BONUCA's human rights section, arbitrary arrest was a serious problem and was the most common human rights abuse committed by security forces during the year. In addition, in June a member of the UNHRC's UPRWG stated that "the judicial system is undermined by arbitrary arrests, detention, and delays in the administration of justice."

During the year the SRI released Bertin Aristide Kabamba, a former commandant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) military who had received refugee status in the country in 2003, and who was arrested for "security reasons" in April 2008. Kabamba remained in Bangui and complained that he received periodic threats from members of the security forces.

In May authorities released from detention Christian Mocket, an official who had worked at the presidency prior to his arrest in September 2008, for having sent a letter to the president criticizing corruption surrounding the presidency. The government had not charged or tried Mocket.

During the year authorities continued to arrest individuals, particularly women, and charged them with witchcraft, an offense punishable by execution, although no one received the death penalty during the year. Prison officials at Bimbo Central Prison for women stated that accused witches were detained for their own safety, since village mobs sometimes killed suspected witches. In late 2005 Bangui prison officials estimated that 50 to 60 percent of female detainees were arrested for purported witchcraft. All the women incarcerated in the Bozoum and Alindao prisons were serving sentences for purported witchcraft.

Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem. At year's end pretrial detainees constituted approximately 75 percent of Ngaragba central prison's population and an estimated 60 percent of Bimbo Central Prison's population. Detainees usually were informed of the charges against them; however, many waited in prison for several months before seeing a judge. Judicial inefficiency and corruption, as well as a shortage of judges and severe financial constraints on the judicial system, contributed to pretrial delays. Some detainees remained in prison for years because of lost files and bureaucratic obstacles.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary remained subject to the influence of the executive branch, and, despite government efforts to improve it, the judiciary was inadequate to meet its tasks.

The courts continued to suffer from inefficient administration, a shortage of trained personnel, growing salary arrears, and a lack of material resources. Less than 1 percent of the annual national budget was devoted to the Ministry of Justice. According to a Ministry of Justice source, during the year there were 182 magistrates for the entire country; however, the UNDP estimated there were only 120 judges working in the country, equivalent to one judge for every 36,000 inhabitants. Many citizens effectively lacked access to the judicial system. Citizens often had to travel more than 30 miles to reach one of the country's 38 courthouses. Consequently, traditional justice at the family and village level retained a major role in settling conflicts and administering punishment.

Judicial corruption remained a serious impediment to citizens' right to receive a fair trial. According to the UNDP, during the year the average monthly salary of a judge working in one of the highest courts (the final court of appeals) was approximately 600,000 CFA francs ($1,155); that of a junior judge was approximately 220,000 CFA francs ($482).

According to the LCDH, corruption extended from the judges to the bailiffs. Many lawyers paid judges for verdicts favorable to their clients. There were, however, some efforts to combat judicial corruption, including by several UN agencies and the European Union.

The president appoints judges after the superior council of magistrates nominates them. The judiciary consists of 24 tribunals of first instance, three courts of appeal, a final court of appeals (cours de cassation), a high court of justice, commercial courts, a military court, and a constitutional court. There are also children's and labor tribunals, as well as a tribunal for financial crimes. The highest court is the constitutional court, which determines whether laws passed by the national assembly conform to the constitution and hears appeals challenging the constitutionality of a law. The PMT judges only members of the military and provides the same rights as civil criminal courts.

There were numerous reports that, in reaction to judicial inefficiency, citizens in a number of cities organized to deal with cases through parallel justice and persecution, such as mob violence, or resorted to neighborhood tribunals and appeals to local chiefs. Citizens also sought such resort in cases of alleged witchcraft.

Trial Procedures

According to the penal code, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult a public defender. Juries are used for criminal trials. If an individual is accused of a serious crime and cannot afford a lawyer, the government has an obligation to provide one. In practice the government provided counsel for indigent defendants, although this process was often slow and delayed trial proceedings due to the state's limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and to have access to government-held evidence. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally complied with these legal requirements. The judiciary, however, did not enforce consistently the right to a fair trial, and there were many credible reports of corruption within the court system. One indigenous ethnic group in particular, the Ba'Aka (Pygmies), reportedly was subject to legal discrimination and unfair trials.

Purported witchcraft occasionally was tried in the regular courts and could be punishable by execution, although no death sentences were imposed during the year. Most individuals who were convicted of witchcraft received sentences of one to five years in prison; they could also be fined up to 817,800 CFA francs ($1,794). Police and gendarmes conducted investigations into alleged witchcraft. During a typical witchcraft trial, practitioners of traditional medicine were called to give their opinion of a suspect's ties to sorcery, and neighbors were called as witnesses. The law does not define the elements of witchcraft, and the determination lies solely with the magistrate.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Authorities granted BONUCA's human rights unit and human rights and humanitarian NGOs limited access to all prisoners and detainees, although bureaucratic requirements for visits and delays significantly restricted their frequency during the year.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, and citizens had access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation; however, there was a widespread perception that judges were bribed easily and that litigants could not rely on courts to render impartial judgments. Many courts were understaffed, and personnel were paid poorly.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases; however, police sometimes used provisions of the penal code governing certain political and security cases to search private property without a warrant. Security forces continued to carry out warrantless searches for guns and ammunition in private homes.

On June 10, four armed persons attacked the house of the Minister of Regional Development Marie Reine Hassen. The assailants fired 22 shots at the residence entrance. The next day the OCRB arrested Eldon Piri, who later denounced six others, including three he identified as attackers, Odilon Serefio, Tresor Gbemani, and Ligboko-Pela. All were active duty military members. By year's end none had been tried, although the deputy prosecutor said the investigation was complete and the case was pending.

Local journalists claimed that the government tapped their telephones and harassed them regularly by telephone.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Other Abuses in Internal Conflicts

Internal conflict continued in seven northern prefectures and the extreme southeast. Despite the signing of the comprehensive peace accord in June 2008 between the government and four armed groups – the APRD, the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC), the Movement of Justice for Central African liberators (MLCJ), and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) – and an inclusive political dialogue in December 2008 between the government, armed groups, the political opposition, and civil society, which resulted in the formation of a government of national unity on January 19, violence increased during the year. Government and opposition forces engaged in numerous serious human rights abuses in the course of their struggle for control of the north, where soldiers, armed groups, and bands of unidentified armed men attacked civilians. Many observers estimated that the government controlled little more than half of the country during the year. Although government forces and armed groups maintained a ceasefire for much of the year, one notable armed group, the CPJP, remained outside of the peace process at year's end and continued to fight the government's armed forces north of Ndele, causing many civilians to flee. Civilians were caught in the crossfire during fighting between the armed groups and the military, which often accused them of supporting the armed groups.

In addition, attacks on civilians by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the southeast and interethnic violence between the Kara and the Goula ethnic groups in the northeastern Vakaga region contributed to the humanitarian crisis.

UN efforts at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration remained stalled. The UN-led process continued to outline the restructuring and redeployment of military forces. The disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of armed groups began in August. In August 2008 the government started a project for the reduction and control of small and light arms.

The Ugandan Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) operated in the eastern sector of the country with the cooperation of the FACA in operations against LRA guerillas.

Armed groups, including unidentified ones, took advantage of weakened security and continued to attack, kill, rob, beat, and rape civilians and loot and burn villages in the north. Kidnappings by such groups continued at an alarming rate during the year, contributing significantly to the massive population displacement.

Killings

Extrajudicial killings continued. During military operations conducted against armed groups and highway bandits, government forces did not distinguish between the armed groups and civilians in the villages. Government forces often burned houses and sometimes killed villagers accused of being accomplices of armed groups or highway bandits.

UN observers noted numerous extrajudicial killings by security forces and the use of disproportionate force against suspect bandits and armed groups.

For example, on February 3 the FACA attacked the village of Sokoumba in response to attacks in the area by the CPJP. Attacking during a funeral, FACA soldiers killed at least 18 male civilians, including the village chief. According to press reports, some civilians were tied against a tree and shot in the head or stabbed to death, and at least one was decapitated. By year's end authorities had taken no action against those responsible.

In March outside of the northwestern town of Bozoum, government forces summarily executed four men suspected of banditry. They abandoned one of the bodies on the road and showed the others to two government officials from the Ministry of Defense visiting Bozoum. By year's end authorities had taken no action against those responsible.

On June 4, fighting between the FACA and the FDPC left two civilians dead on the Kabo-Moyenne Sido road in the Ouham prefecture. By year's end authorities had taken no action against those responsible.

At year's end no one had been charged in the summary executions committed by FACA soldiers on patrol in Bouar in March 2008.

By year's end authorities had not investigated or tried members of the FACA or presidential guard for killing large numbers of civilians in the northwest in 2006. In June a member of the UNHRC's UPRWG underlined the need for the government to follow up on the recommendations made in 2008 by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions (UNSRESAE) Philip Alston, including that the government investigate and prosecute those FACA soldiers responsible for the killings.

APRD armed combatants continued to carry out atrocities in areas under their control, including killings, pillaging, and extortion. For example, on April 14, an APRD officer in the northwestern town of Paoua publicly killed the local national herders organization's representative. The officer disappeared from Paoua, and by year's end authorities had not arrested him.

According to the national assembly member from Bocaranga II, on March 12, the APRD killed the chief of Tchoulao village in the Ouham Pende. By year's end authorities had not taken any action against those responsible.

Ethnic violence in the northeast resulted in several killings during the year. For example, in June fighting between the Kara and Goula ethnic groups in Birao, near the borders with Chad and Sudan, resulted in six deaths and the burning of nearly half of the town.

Starting in July, the LRA began attacks against towns located in the far eastern Haut Mbomou prefecture. For example, on August 21, LRA armed members attacked a truck operated by the international NGO Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI) near Mboki, killing two staff members and wounding two others. By the end of the year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that the LRA had killed approximately 50 civilians in the country. The attacks, some of which occurred in the DRC, resulted in 800 civilians from the DRC taking refuge in CAR and caused the internal displacement of 4,000 persons within CAR.

No further information was available on the June 2007 death of French humanitarian volunteer Elsa Serfass, who was participating in a mission with Doctors without Borders.

Abductions

General Baba Ladde, the leader of the Popular Front for Redressing of Grievances, reportedly took civilians hostage during the year near Kaga Bandoro to extort money from their families.

According to OCHA, the LRA abducted approximately 150 civilians in the southeast during the year.

There was little or no response by local authorities to multiple kidnappings of civilians by armed groups considered to be bandits or zaraguinas (see section 1.a.).

On November 21, unidentified armed individuals kidnapped two international NGO workers in the northeastern town of Birao, Vakaga prefecture. No additional information was available at year's end.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture

Government forces and armed groups mistreated civilians, including through torture, beatings, and rape, in the course of the conflicts. During military operations conducted against armed groups or highway bandits, the armed forces often burnt homes and did not distinguish between armed groups and local civilian populations they regarded as accomplices, although less often than in the previous year.

Civilians continued to suffer mistreatment in armed territories controlled by armed groups. On March 5, APRD members held and tortured a village chief in Bocaranga for refusing to pay a fee at an illegal roadblock. A few days later, the chief escaped the local APRD detention center. An evangelical pastor who tried to help the chief was subsequently arrested and tortured for three days by APRD members, resulting in his paralysis. No action was taken against those responsible by year's end.

International and domestic observers reported that, during the year, security forces, members of armed groups, Chadian soldiers, and bandits continued to attack cattle herders, primarily members of the M'bororo ethnic group. Many observers believed M'bororo were targeted primarily because of their perceived relative wealth and the relative vulnerability of cattle to theft. One UN agency reported that, according to its NGO partners in the affected region, the attackers often were themselves M'bororo.

M'bororo cattle herders were also disproportionately subjected to kidnapping for ransom. A UN agency working in the area indicated that the perpetrators often kidnapped women and children and held them for ransoms of between one million and two million CFA francs ($2,193 and $4,384). Victims whose families did not pay were sometimes killed. Armed groups in the country continued to conduct frequent attacks on the M'bororo population on the Cameroonian side of the border, despite the Cameroonian government's deployment of security forces.

Some observers noted the use of rape by both government forces and armed groups to terrorize the population in the northern prefectures. Given the social stigma attached to rape, any report would likely underestimate the incidence of rape in the conflict zones. Several NGOs and UN agencies conducted gender-based violence awareness and treatment campaigns during the year in northern prefectures and Bangui.

Child Soldiers

According to multiple human rights observers, numerous APRD groups included soldiers as young as 12. In addition, the UFDR admitted that many children served as soldiers in its ranks. According to an international observer, the UFDR and APRD stopped recruiting child soldiers during the year as a result of disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion activities, but in some remote areas, children were still used as lookouts and porters. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other observers noted that, while the child soldiers were willing to demobilize and were anxious to attend school, their communities lacked the most basic infrastructure.

UNICEF reported that between January and December, 623 APRD child soldiers were released, 572 of whom were boys. Approximately 30 percent were between 10 and 14 years old, and of those, 70 percent had served in combat. Although it had demobilized 450 child soldiers in 2008, the UFDR did not demobilize any child soldiers during the year.

Several NGO observers have reported that self-defense committees, which were established by towns to combat armed groups and bandits in areas where the FACA or gendarmes were not present, used children as combatants, lookouts, and porters. While the head of the self-defense committee of Bozoum denied the presence of children among his committee's ranks, he stated that there might be some children involved in the Bocaranga area and thus outside of his purview. UNICEF estimates that children comprised one third of the self-defense committees.

UPDF and FACA operations captured or received the surrender of 32 child soldiers during operations against the LRA during the year. A further six children, abducted by the LRA in the CAR in early 2008, returned to Bangui from the DRC with the help of UNICEF in mid 2009.

Displaced children have been forced to work as porters, carrying stolen goods for groups of bandits.

Other Conflict-related Abuses

In the northwest, members of the government security forces, including the FACA and presidential guard, continued to project a presence from the larger towns and occasionally engaged in combat with armed groups and bandits. While the ceasefire between government forces and armed groups allowed some displaced persons to return home, approximately 300,000 persons remained displaced in the bush or in refugee camps along the Chadian or Cameroonian borders.

In January government forces burned houses and other buildings along the Ndele-Garaba road. The area was considered sympathetic to the CPJP insurrection.

Internal movement was severely impeded, particularly in the north and northwestern areas that the government did not control, by bandits and armed groups, including former combatants who helped President Bozize come to power in 2003.

Sporadic fighting between government security forces and armed groups, attacks on civilians by armed groups, armed banditry, and occasional abuse by government soldiers kept many internally displaced persons (IDPs) from their homes. OCHA estimated the number of IDPs increased during the year from 101,000 in December 2008 to 162,000 at year's end.

The overwhelming majority of IDPs were in the northwestern prefectures of Ouham and Ouham Pende, where some civilians remained displaced from their villages out of fear and lived in the bush for much of the year, returning occasionally to their fields to plant or scavenge. NGOs and UN agencies observed anecdotal evidence that some civilians were returning in the northwest prefectures, but this was not a widespread phenomenon. Thousands of individuals remained homeless due to fighting in the north-central prefectures of Haute Kotto and Bamingui-Bangoran, and due to instability in the northeastern prefecture of Vakaga, where there was renewed fighting within the UFDR, as well as an ethnic conflict between the Goula, Kara, and Rounga communities.

Hygiene-related illnesses and chronic malnutrition continued. Attacks or fear of attacks prevented many subsistence farmers from planting crops, and attackers either stole most of the livestock or the farmers fled with their livestock to safety in Cameroon. Chronic insecurity also rendered the north occasionally inaccessible to commercial, humanitarian, and developmental organizations, contributing to the lack of medical care, food security, and school facilities, although less so than in the previous year. Humanitarian organizations continued to supply some emergency relief and assistance to displaced populations, although long-term development projects remained suspended due to the frequently changing security situations and sporadic fighting.

In March and again in late November, the government accused humanitarian workers of providing indirect support to armed groups and subsequently temporarily denied access to areas in the north controlled by armed groups, specifically to areas north of Kabo, Ouham prefecture, and north of Ndele, Bamingui-Bangoran prefecture. Although official restrictions were resolved by negotiation, access remained difficult due to frequent clashes and the military presence.

The government did not attack or target IDPs, although some IDPs were caught in the fighting between government forces and armed groups. The government provided little humanitarian assistance, but it allowed UN agencies and NGOs access to these groups to provide relief.

MICOPAX peacekeepers and government forces conducted joint security operations in an effort to secure the northern region and control the proliferation of small arms. Despite these operations, the government was not able to provide sufficient security or protection for IDPs in the north.

Refugees continued to flee the country during the year (see section 2.d.).

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press; however, in practice authorities continued to employ threats and intimidation to limit media criticism of the government. Unlike in the previous year, authorities did not arrest any journalists during the year. A media sustainability index (MSI) published during the year by IREX, an international NGO that promotes media independence, assessed the country's progress in meeting objectives for the establishment of a sustainable and professional independent media system. MSI concluded that " the country minimally met objectives, with segments of the legal system and government opposed to a free media system." Panelists involved in the MSI, including resident journalists from both government-run and independent media organs, "agreed that the state's fight against criticism has led to inhospitable and even dangerous conditions for journalists."

The independence of privately owned print and broadcast media was limited by low profitability. Private media outlets continued to be badly managed and unprofitable, according to journalists and other panelists consulted by the MSI. Partly due to a weak advertising market, revenues for domestic private media outlets remained low, and extremely low salaries for journalists left many vulnerable to bribes in exchange for favorable coverage.

Throughout the year, a number of newspapers criticized the president, the government's economic policies, and official corruption. There were more than 30 newspapers, many privately owned, which circulated daily or at less frequent intervals. Independent dailies were available in Bangui, but they were not distributed outside of the capital area. The absence of a functioning postal service continued to hinder newspaper distribution. Financial problems prevented many private newspapers from publishing regularly, and the average price of a newspaper, approximately 300 CFA francs ($0.66), was higher than most citizens could afford.

Radio was the most important medium of mass communication, in part because the literacy rate was low. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, Radio Centrafrique. For example, the privately owned Radio Ndeke Luka continued to provide independent broadcasts, including national and international news and political commentary. Its signal did not reach significantly beyond Bangui, although it was regularly rebroadcast by community radio for an hour or two each day. According to IREX, with the exception of Radio Ndeke Luka, which organized debates on current events, government-run and privately owned broadcast outlets based in the country tended to avoid covering topics that could draw negative attention from the government. International broadcasters, including Radio France Internationale, continued to operate during the year.

The government continued to monopolize domestic television broadcasting, and television news coverage generally supported government positions.

The high council for communications (HCC), which is charged with granting publication and broadcast licenses and protecting and promoting press freedom, is nominally independent. However, some of its members were appointed by government institutions, and according to several independent journalists, as well as the international press freedom watchdog committee to protect journalists, the body was controlled by the government.

The media continued to face many difficulties, including chronic financial problems, a serious deficiency of professional skills, the absence of an independent printing press, and a severe lack of access to government information. Journalists in the privately owned media were not allowed to cover certain official events, and in the absence of information, the majority of all news reporting by major domestic media organs continued to rely heavily on official or protocol-related information, such as government press releases.

During the year security forces often harassed and threatened journalists; there were also reports of government ministers and other senior officials threatening journalists who were critical of the government.

In a ruling issued January 9, the HCC suspended the privately owned daily newspaper Le Citoyen for one month for violating journalism ethics in an article published in January that criticized deputies in the national assembly and some opposition leaders for their inaction and referred to them as "dwarfs" and "mangy dogs." Privately owned newspapers protested the decision by going on a temporary strike.

On April 17 the HCC suspended L'Hirondelle for two weeks after it published an article by a former military officer calling for rebellion against the government. The HCC's suspension was for inciting violence against the state. L'Hirondelle also published the response to the manifesto by the Ministry of Defense in an adjoining column. Privately owned newspapers went on a two-week strike to protest the decision.

In July the army stopped a journalist from Le Citoyen north of Kaga Bondoro. A military checkpoint prevented him from further travel but did not explain why they impeded him.

There were no further developments in the case of Temps Nouveaux editor Michel Alkhady Ngady, who was arrested, fined, and imprisoned for two months in 2007 after he contested appointments to the HCC. Ngady remained free during the year and continued publication of his newspaper, but the charge of "disobedience to public authorities" remained pending before an appeals court.

In March, the Ministry of Communication suspended a radio program named " What You Want to Know" on the government-run Radio Centrafrique for severe criticism of opposition leaders and labor unions following complaints from opposition groups, private press, and the HCC. The suspension lasted a month, after which the station resumed its broadcasts.

There were no reports of authorities taking action against presidential guard member Olivier Koudemon, who beat Radio Ndeke Luka journalist Jean-Magloire Issa in February 2008.

In June a member of the UNHRC's UPRWG recommended that the government "adopt further measures to ensure, in practice, the protection of journalists against threats and attacks, including imprisonment."

Journalists continued to practice self-censorship due to fear of government reprisals. In addition, according to comments included in the MSI by the vice president of the Union of Central African Journalists, "the executive branch makes discretionary use of information in the public [government-run] press. Information agents appointed by the executive branch enforce censorship both in the newsrooms and at the level of all public authorities."

Imprisonment for defamation and censorship was abolished in 2005; however, journalists found guilty of libel or slander faced fines of 100,000 to eight million CFA francs ($219 to $17,520) and were on occasion arrested and detained. During the year IREX reported that media workers said the 2005 law decriminalizing media offenses has offered little protection for journalists accused of offenses such a libel, as authorities could still try journalists and sentence them to prison terms according to provisions in the criminal code.

The law provides for imprisonment and fines of as much as one million CFA francs ($2,193) for journalists who use the media to incite disobedience among security forces or incite persons to violence, hatred, or discrimination. Similar fines and imprisonment of six months to two years may be imposed for the publication or broadcast of false or fabricated information that "would disturb the peace."

The Ministry of Communications maintained a ban on the diffusion by media of songs, programs, or articles deemed to have a "misogynist character" or to disrespect women.

Bangui University, with support from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), continued to offer a journalism program, the country's only such program, through its department of journalism and communication, which was launched in March 2008 to train students and strengthen skills and ethics of senior journalists. During the year the department enrolled 30 undergraduate students and 10 professional journalists.

Internet Freedom

There were no reports that the government restricted access to the Internet or monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. The relatively few individuals who had access could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2008, approximately 0.44 percent the country's inhabitants used the Internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Assembly

The constitution provides for the right of assembly; however, the government restricted this right on a few occasions. Organizers of demonstrations and public meetings were required to register with the minister of the interior 48 hours in advance; political meetings in schools or churches were prohibited. Any association intending to hold a political meeting was required to obtain the Ministry of Interior's approval. In some cases the ministry refused permission "for security reasons."

In March a large-scale demonstration involving at least 2,000 individuals began after Lieutenant Olivier Koudemon and two other members of the presidential guard killed a police commissioner in Bangui. The rapid intervention squad of the presidential guard responded to the scene and dispersed the crowd by firing weapons into the air. Stray bullets reportedly struck eight persons. Similar crowd dispersion tactics had been used for smaller demonstrations, such as those associated with strikes.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. All associations, including political parties, must apply to the Ministry of Interior for registration, and the government usually granted registration expeditiously. The government normally allowed associations and political parties to hold congresses, elect officials, and publicly debate policy issues without interference, except when they advocated sectarianism or tribalism.

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, although it prohibits what the government considers to be religious fundamentalism or intolerance, and the government generally respected this right during the year. The constitutional provision prohibiting religious fundamentalism was understood widely to be aimed at Muslims, who make up 15 to 22 percent of the population, but this provision was not implemented by enabling legislation.

Religious groups (except for indigenous religious groups) were required by law to register with the Ministry of Interior. The ministry's administrative police monitored groups that failed to register; however, police did not attempt to impose any penalties on such groups during the year. The ministry could decline to register, suspend the operations of, or ban any organization that it deemed offensive to public morals or likely to disturb the peace; however, there were no reports of the ministry doing so during the year.

The government maintained a ban, begun in 2007, on the church "Eglise Jehova Sabaoth," led by Reverend Ketafio. According to the Ministry of Interior, a government investigation found that the pastor was using false documents and diplomas. Despite the ban, the pastor continued to preach from his home during the year.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Muslims continued to face consistent social discrimination, especially regarding access to services like citizenship documentation, where low-level functionaries reportedly created informal barriers for Muslims. Many citizens believed Muslims were "foreigners" and resented them due to their better-than-average living standard.

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government restricted freedom of movement within the country and foreign travel during the year. Security forces, customs officers, and other officials harassed travelers unwilling or unable to pay bribes or "taxes" at checkpoints along intercity roads and at major intersections in Bangui, although these roadblocks had decreased significantly by year's end.

In April the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested that all diplomatic missions inform the ministry before travel to any area deemed "under tension," although these locations were unspecified. In practice the government hindered travel by diplomats outside of the capital on multiple occasions.

During the year police continued to stop and search vehicles, particularly in Bangui, in what amounted to petty harassment to extort payments. Local human rights organizations and UN officials said the problem of illegal road barriers and petty extortion by soldiers was widespread. Merchants and traders traveling the more than 350-mile main route from Bangui to Bangassou encountered an average of 25 military barriers. While the fees extorted varied for private passengers, commercial vehicles reported paying fees of up to 9,000 to 10,000 CFA francs (18.7 to $20.8) to continue their journeys.

This extortion greatly discouraged trade and road travel and severely crippled the country's economy.

Freedom of movement, including of traders and delivery trucks, was also severely impeded in conflict zones.

With the exception of diplomats, the government required that all foreigners obtain an exit visa. Travelers intending to exit the country could be required to obtain affidavits to prove that they owed no money to the government or to parastatal companies.

The constitution does not permit the use of exile, and the government did not employ it in practice. Former president Patasse, convicted in absentia for embezzlement, remained outside the country during most of the year; however, he was allowed to return in October after six years in exile.

A significant number of members of the M'bororo ethnic group continued to live as refugees in Cameroon and southern Chad after violence in 2006 and 2007.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

Sporadic fighting between government forces and armed groups, attacks on civilians by armed groups, and armed banditry prevented the country's internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of whom were displaced in 2006, from returning to their homes. At year's end the number of IDPs totaled 162,000, including almost 100,000 in the northwestern prefectures of Ouham and Ouham Pende. The number of individuals who had fled the country totaled 138,000, including 74,000 refugees in Chad and approximately 64,000 refugees in Cameroon. By October violence in the north caused the internal displacement of more than 20,000 persons, and caused up to 18,000 to seek refuge in Chad. In January a significant number of members of the Rounga ethnic group fled villages along the Ndele-Garba road as a result of fighting between the FACA and the CPJP. In June ethnic conflict in the northeastern Vakaga prefecture displaced approximately 2,000 Kara. In the southeastern prefecture of Haut-Mbomou, attacks by the LRA caused the internal displacement of approximately 10,800 individuals by December.

In March the government accused humanitarian workers of providing indirect support to armed groups and subsequently temporarily denied access to areas in the north controlled by armed groups, specifically to areas north of Kabo, Ouham prefecture, and north of Ndele, Bamingui-Bangoran prefecture. Although official restrictions were resolved by negotiation, access remained difficult due to frequent clashes and the military presence.

In June the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees helped created the national committee for dialogue and coordination for the protection of the rights of IDPs in the country. The objectives of the committee were to ensure the coordination and monitoring of activities related to the protection of IDPs, to formulate a new IDP protection law, and to establish a framework for increased assistance for IDPs. The committee participated in all meetings of the country's protection cluster, the main forum for the coordination of civilian protection activities in the context of humanitarian efforts, and it was focused on human right abuses, but, according to OCHA, the committee had not yet carried out any of its assigned responsibilities by year's end.

The government did not provide protection or assistance to IDPs, citing a lack of means.

There were no reports of the government attacking or specifically targeting IDPs. The government occasionally blocked humanitarian access in areas frequented by armed groups. There were no reports of the government inhibiting the free movement of IDPs.

In June several members of the UNHRC's UPRWG recommended that the government immediately take measures to safeguard the rights of IDPs, including by enacting a law with provisions for the protection of displaced children; ensure the free circulation of humanitarian workers so they can access IDPs; and follow up on specific past recommendations of the UN secretary-general's representative on the human rights of IDPs. At year's end it was unclear if the government had taken steps to implement these recommendations.

Displaced children worked in fields for long hours and as porters for bandits or armed groups (see sections 1.g. and 7.d.).

Protection of Refugees

The country is a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. The country also is a party to the 1969 AU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of the Refugee Problem in Africa. The country's laws provide for granting asylum and refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened. The government accepted refugees without subjecting them to individual screening.

The government continued to cooperate with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting approximately 13,000 refugees in the country.

During the year security forces subjected refugees, as they did citizens, to arbitrary arrest and detention. Refugees were especially vulnerable to such human rights abuses. The government allowed refugees freedom of movement, but like citizens, they were subject to roadside stops and harassment by security forces and armed groups. Refugees' access to courts, public education, and basic public health care was limited by the same factors that limited citizens' access to these services.

Several international organizations worked with the government and UNHCR to assist refugees during the year. They included Doctors without Borders, Caritas, International Medical Corps, and COOPI.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in presidential and legislative elections in 2005, which election observers considered to be generally free and fair, despite some irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

In 2005 the country held two rounds of multiparty presidential and legislative elections that resulted in the election of General Francois Bozize as president; Bozize had seized power in a 2003 military coup, declared himself president, and headed a transitional government until the 2005 elections. Domestic and international election observers judged the elections to be generally free and fair, despite irregularities and accusations of fraud made by candidates running against Bozize.

In August President Bozize promulgated into law the text of an electoral code that the constitutional court had ruled in July as including provisions that were unconstitutional. After President Bozize signed a decree based on the disputed electoral code, establishing the independent electoral commission (CEI), the political opposition challenged the law. In October, after the constitutional court requested that President Bozize respect the decision it had delivered in July, President Bozize agreed to remove the disputed text from the electoral code and promulgate a new code. He subsequently signed two decrees that established the CEI, and 30 members of the CEI were drawn from the six groups that participated in the inclusive political dialogue of 2008. The members of the CEI were sworn in on October 16.

Despite a constitutional requirement that he do so by 2007, as well as a recommendation stemming from the 2008 inclusive political dialogue, for the third consecutive year the president did not call for municipal elections, citing lack of government resources.

In December 2008 the government hosted a political dialogue with the opposition parties, armed groups, civil society groups, and outside mediators with the goal of ending armed insurrection in the northeast and northwest and bringing all political parties and armed groups to the negotiating table. Most of the major political and armed group leaders attended the dialogue and recommended a new consensus government. While President Bozize pledged to implement the recommendations, he formed a new government composed primarily of members of his presidential majority. The president reappointed Faustin Touadera as prime minister at the head of a 32-member cabinet. Representatives from the APRD and UFDR movements filled two ministerial positions. The main opposition coalition, including the Movement for the Liberation of Central African People (MLPC) and Democratic Union of Central Africa political parties, were not part of the new government.

On multiple occasions during the year, police, gendarmes, and the FACA impeded the travel of members of the opposition MLPC party, delaying their travel for up to two days.

In his December report to the UN Security Council, the UN secretary general said he "remained concerned over reports of intimidation and restriction of the movements of some members of the political opposition by the security forces and by the call by some politicians for a constitutional amendment or political arrangement that would allow the elections to be postponed."

During the year the LCDH continued to criticize President Bozize for holding the position of minister of defense, on the grounds that the constitution prohibits the president from holding "any other political function or electoral mandate"; however, government officials said this criticism was based on a misinterpretation of the constitution. After political activist Zarambaud Assingambi filed a complaint with the constitutional court in 2008, the court ruled in June 2008 that it was not competent to try the case.

According to recommendations from a 2003 government-sponsored national dialogue, women are to occupy 35 percent of posts in government ministries and political parties; however, this provision was not respected during the year. There were 10 women in the 105-seat national assembly and three in the president's 32-person cabinet. There were no laws prohibiting women from participating in political life, but most women lacked the financial means to compete in political races.

There were 17 Muslims, including two members of the M'bororo ethnic group, in the national assembly.

The Ba'Aka (Pygmies), the indigenous inhabitants of the south, comprised between 1 and 2 percent of the population; they were not represented in the government and continued to have no political power or influence.

Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement these laws effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Misappropriation of public funds and corruption in the government remained widespread. The World Bank's worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a severe problem.

The government continued its campaign against embezzlement, money laundering, and other forms of financial fraud. Since May salary payments to government employees have been made through bank accounts instead of in cash. Additionally, during the year, the Ministry of Finance established a customer service office for employees to report any cases of harassment or fraud experienced in the processing of their documents or pay. Efforts were also made during the year to computerize financial information to increase transparency. However, the effect of these actions was not particularly evident to the public, and skepticism remained over whether these actions would serve to deter corruption. Extortion at road checkpoints and corruption among customs service officials remained major sources of complaints by importers and exporters.

The president continued to chair weekly committee meetings to combat fraud in the treasury. In March 2008 Prime Minister Touadera set up a national committee to fight corruption that included representatives from the government, trade unions, NGOs, private sector, religious organizations, and the media. The committee's investigations resulted in the arrest of 19 senior civil servants in the tax division of the ministry of finance on charges of embezzling up to 5 million CFA francs ($10,967) each. Six of those arrested were tried in 2008 and received jail sentences. At year's end the rest of those accused continued to await trial.

According to the constitution, senior members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are required to declare publicly their personal assets at the beginning of their terms. The members of the new government declared their assets upon entry into the government. The law does not require ministers to declare their assets upon departing government.

The law provides for access by journalists to "all sources of information, within the limits of the law"; however, it does not specifically mention government documents or government information, and no mention is made of access by the general public. The government often was unable or unwilling to provide information, and lack of access to information continued to be a problem for journalists and the general public. Furthermore, years of instability and conflict made information difficult for the government to collect, particularly in the countryside. Information on the humanitarian situation, for example, was difficult to obtain and sometimes contradictory.

Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with few government restrictions. A few NGOs investigated abuses and published their findings. However, due to ongoing financial needs, insecurity, and economic dislocation, domestic human rights NGOs, whose area of work was almost exclusively limited to Bangui, continued to lack the means to disseminate human rights information outside the capital or support their rural branches. These limitations contributed to widespread ignorance about human rights and the means of redress for abuses. Government officials in Bangui met with local NGOs during the year, but at least two local NGOs reported that the government was not responsive. Government officials continued to criticize local NGOs publicly for their reports of human rights violations that security forces committed. In June a member of the UNHRC's UPRWG recommended that "authorities give human rights defenders legitimacy and recognition through supportive statements, and that defenders be protected."

There were domestic human rights NGOs that demonstrated significant independence; however, several domestic civil society groups were led by individuals belonging to or closely associated with the ruling political party, which may have limited their independence. Citing the appearance of a conflict of interest, some international and domestic NGOs have expressed concern over the neutrality and independence of the country's only legally recognized NGO platform or umbrella group, the Inter-NGO Council in CAR (CIONGCA), which was led by the brother of a minister of state. In recent years, CIONGCA often represented domestic civil society groups in decision-making forums, including the follow-up committee of the inclusive political dialogue.

A few NGOs were active and had a sizable impact on the promotion of human rights. Some local NGOs, including the LCDH, the OCDH, the antitorture NGO ACAT, and the Association of Women Jurists (AWJ), actively monitored human rights problems; worked with journalists to draw attention to human rights violations, including those committed by the army; pleaded individual cases of human rights abuses before the courts; and engaged in efforts to raise the public's awareness of citizens' legal rights.

Domestic human rights NGOs reported that some officials continued to view them as spokespersons for opposition political parties. They also reported several cases of harassment by officials during their fact-finding visits around the country. One domestic human rights NGO reported during the year that its members located outside the capital remained afraid to investigate alleged abuses because security force members have threatened NGO activists suspected of passing information about abuses by security forces to international NGOs for publication. During the year, another domestic NGO, along with the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, reported to the UNHRC's UPRWG that "human rights activists are constantly intimidated in their activities" and recommended that authorities respect the UN's Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Bernadette Sayo, the founder of the Organization for Compassion and Development for Women in Distress (OCODEFAD), formed by victims of the widespread rapes that took place in 2002-03, accepted a ministerial position in 2008 after having reported that security forces had harassed her and her family due to her activist views. The coordinator who replaced Sayo at the head of OCODEFAD also reported several incidents of harassment by authorities.

International human rights NGOs and international organizations operated in the country without interference from the government. Armed groups sporadically targeted the small number of humanitarian workers operating in the northwest, northeast, and southeast, stopping their vehicles and robbing them. The entire north was occasionally inaccessible to NGOs due to increased violence.

Due in part to the government's inability to effectively address persistent insecurity in parts of the country, some international human rights and humanitarian groups working in conflict zones have either closed suboffices or left the country altogether. For example, an attack on COOPI by the LRA in late September, which resulted in the deaths of humanitarian workers, forced COOPI to suspend operations in the southeast.

Some international NGOs continued to raise human right awareness among authorities and security forces. For example, throughout the year, the International Rescue Committee organized a training session for security force instructors focusing on fundamental human rights principles, international humanitarian law, the rights of children, and women's rights, among other issues.

The government took very few substantive actions during the year to implement or follow up on recommendations announced in February 2008 by UNSRESAE Alston. Alston recommended, among other things, that the government publicly acknowledge the state's responsibility for abuses committed by security forces, particularly those committed between 2005 and 2007; suspend from duty, investigate, and prosecute members of security forces, particularly Lieutenant Eugene Ngaikosse, implicated in human rights abuses; establish an independent national human rights commission; and abolish the criminalization of witchcraft and ensure that those accused of witchcraft are not killed.

During the year the government continued to cooperate with international governmental organizations in the promotion and protection of human rights. The national prosecutor's office continued to work with BONUCA to investigate human rights abuses by the security forces, and the government continued to cooperate with BONUCA and UN agencies in their efforts to train security forces in human rights (see section 1.d.). The government also continued to allow BONUCA to conduct visits to prisons and detention centers and to conduct human rights training for government security agents. International observers witnessed small improvements after prison visits, but did not observe a significant change in policy toward prisons and prisoners rights during the year.

In June members of the UNHRC's UPRWG noted that the government had not submitted overdue reports to the council regarding various human rights abuses and follow-up actions related to recommendations by UN special rapporteurs who had visited the country in recent years. Several members recommended that the government issue a standing invitation to all of the UNHRC's special procedures (special rapporteurs on thematic human rights issues). Several working group members also recommended that the government increase efforts to reactivate the national human rights commission, which was no longer operational, and to ensure that it would enjoy adequate independence and material and personnel resources.

In December in a report to the UN Security Council on the political, security, and human rights situation in the country and the activities of BONUCA, the UN secretary general found the human rights situation remained worrisome. He underlined the importance of ensuring peaceful and credible elections in 2010, ending harassment of opposition parties, addressing impunity, and avoiding delays in the disarmament and demobilization process.

The office of the high commissioner for human rights and good governance, attached to the presidency, investigated citizen complaints of human rights violations committed by members of the government, and occasionally forwarded cases to the Ministry of Justice for possible prosecution. The high commissioner's office presented its national report on human rights to the UNHRC's UPRWG in May. While the commission was operational, it remained ineffective. The high commissioner's office claimed that it did not have adequate staffing or financial resources and lacked the means to train its investigators properly. Some human rights observers noted that it acted more as a spokesperson for the government than an office promoting human rights.

A human rights commission in the national assembly sought to strengthen the capacity of the legislature and other government institutions to advance human rights, but it had few resources. Credible human rights NGOs questioned the autonomy and desire of this commission to affect real measures, as the national assembly was not generally considered sufficiently independent from the executive branch.

The government continued to cooperate with the ICC, which continued its investigation into crimes committed in the country in 2002-03 by the previous government and by soldiers under the command of Jean Pierre Bemba, then a Congolese rebel leader. In May 2008, Bemba was arrested in Brussels.

Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution stipulates that all persons are equal before the law without regard to wealth, race, disability, or gender. However, the government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and significant discrimination existed.

Women

The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Police sometimes arrested men on charges of rape, although statistics on the number of individuals prosecuted and convicted for rape during the year were not available. The fear of social stigma inhibited many families from bringing suits. Released in June, the report of the UNHRC's UPRWG commended the government's 2007-11 national action plan to combat gender-based violence; however, the report featured several recommendations from working group members urging the government to adopt measures to enhance the fight against sexual violence.

Few assessments have been conducted on the prevalence of rape. However, according to a baseline study conducted in June and July by Mercy Corps in four nonconflict areas (Bangui, Bouar, Bambari, and Bangassou), sexual violence against women was pervasive. One in seven women reported having been raped in the past year, and the study concluded that the true prevalence of rape may be even higher. In addition, from February through November, an international NGO reported 255 cases of gender-based violence in the Nana Gribizi and Ouham Pende prefectures. The reports included male and female rape, as well as gang rape.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women, including wife beating, was common; 25 percent of women surveyed in the Mercy Corps study had experienced violence committed by their partner in the past year. Of them, 33 percent of men and 71 percent of women said it was acceptable to use violence against women when women had not properly performed their domestic tasks. Spousal abuse was considered a civil matter unless the injury was severe. According to the AWJ, a Bangui-based NGO specializing in the defense of women's and children's rights, victims of domestic abuse seldom reported incidents to authorities. When incidents were addressed, it was done within the family or local community. The deputy prosecutor said he did not remember trying any cases of spousal abuse during the year, although litigants cited spousal abuse during divorce trials and civil suits.

Some women reportedly tolerated abuse to retain financial security for themselves and their children.

The law does not prohibit prostitution; however, it prohibits coercing someone into prostitution or profiting from the prostitution of another. Prostitution was widespread and practiced mostly among young women and occasionally among men. The new penal code does not specifically prohibit prostitution, but it does criminalize procuring. Procurers can receive prison sentences ranging from one to five years and a fine ranging from 100,000 to 1,000,000 CFA francs ($222 to $2,222). The law imposes fines and imprisonment for three months to one year for sexual procurement (including assisting in prostitution). For cases involving a minor, the penalty is one to five years of imprisonment.

Some young women and girls reportedly engaged in prostitution for survival without third party involvement, although no data were available to indicate how common this practice was.

The law prohibits sexual harassment; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was a common problem.

The government respected couples'rights to freely and responsibly decide the number of children they had, as well as when they had them. Most couples lacked access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth. According to UNICEF data collected between 2000 and 2007, only 19 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 who were married or in union were using contraception, and only 53 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. The maternal mortality rate remained extremely high – 1,355 out of every 100,000 live births. There was little information available regarding whether women received the same level of care as men for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The government continued working with UN agencies to increase the use of contraception, including by women, and to assist in other prevention activities targeting sexually transmitted infections.

The law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of discriminatory customary laws often prevailed, and women's statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. The family code further strengthened women's rights, particularly in the courts, but access to the judicial system remained very limited throughout the country.

Women were treated as inferior to men both economically and socially. Single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, were not considered heads of households. Only men were entitled to family subsidies from the government. There were no accurate statistics on the percentage of female wage earners. Women's access to educational opportunities and to jobs, particularly at higher levels in their professions or in government service, remained limited. Some women reported economic discrimination in access to credit due to lack of collateral. Divorce is legal and can be initiated by either partner.

Women, especially the very old and those without family, continued to be the target of witchcraft accusations.

Released in June, the report of the UNHRC's UPRWG highlighted the "persistent discrimination against women" in areas such as political rights and education. The report recommendations urged the government to conduct a "rapid review of the family code to abrogate all discriminatory provisions against women" and to adopt measures to improve women's political participation, educational opportunities, status in marriage, and reduce the maternal mortality rate."

The Mercy Corps study found that lack of respect for women's rights was widespread, and that women were widely perceived to be inferior to men, with implications for women's health and their ability to contribute to their family's livelihoods. One of every three women surveyed said they were excluded from financial decisions in their households.

The AWJ advised women of their legal rights and how best to defend them; it filed complaints with the government regarding human rights violations. During the year several women's groups organized workshops to promote women's and children's rights and encourage women to participate fully in the political process.

Children

The government spent very little money on programs for children, and churches and NGOs had relatively few youth programs.

Citizenship was derived by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. The registration of births was spotty, though, and Muslims reported consistent problems in establishing their citizenship. Unregistered children faced limitations in their access to education and other social services. According to UNICEF, total birth registration was 49 percent, with 61 percent of children registered in urban areas and 28 percent in rural areas. Registration of births in conflict zones was likely lower than in other areas.

Education is compulsory for six years until age 15; tuition is free, but students had to pay for their books, supplies, transportation, and insurance. Approximately 75 percent of children started school, but many did not complete the first six years of primary school education. Girls did not have equal access to primary education; 65 percent girls were enrolled in the first year of school, but only 23 percent of girls finished the six years of primary school, according to a 2007 UNESCO study. At the secondary level, a majority of girls dropped out at age 14 or 15 due to societal pressure to marry and bear children. The ministry of plans estimated during the year that there was one teacher for every 99 students nationally.

Few Ba'aka (Pygmies) attended primary school during the year. Some local and international NGOs, including COOPI, made efforts with little success to increase Ba'aka enrollment in schools; there was no significant government assistance to these efforts.

The law criminalizes parental abuse of children under the age of 15. Nevertheless, child abuse and neglect were widespread, although rarely acknowledged. A juvenile court tried cases involving children and provided counseling services to parents and juveniles during the year.

The law prohibits FGM, which is punishable by two to five years of imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to 1,000,000 CFA francs ($225 to $2,250) depending on the severity of the case; nevertheless, girls were subjected to this traditional practice in certain rural areas and, to a lesser degree, in Bangui. According to the AWJ, anecdotal evidence suggested that the FGM rates declined in recent years as a result of efforts by UNICEF, AWJ and the ministries of social affairs and public health's efforts to familiarize women with the dangers of the practice.

According to UNICEF data collected between 2002 and 2007, the percentage of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 who had undergone FGM was approximately 27 percent.

The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage; however, an estimated 61 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18, according to UNICEF data collected between 1998 and 2007. The Ministry of Social Affairs had limited means to address this problem. Early marriage was usually reported in less educated and rural environments where the government lacked authority. The phenomenon of early marriage was more common in the Muslim community.

The new penal code does not specifically prohibit prostitution, but it does criminalize pimping. Pimps can receive prison sentences ranging from one to five years and a fine ranging from 100,000 to 1,000,000 CFA francs ($222 to $2,222).

There were no statutory rape or child pornography laws protecting adolescent minors or children.

Child labor was widespread; forced child labor, including the use of children as soldiers, occurred (see sections 1.g., 7.c., and 7.d.).

There were more than 8,000 street children between the ages of five and 18, including 5,000 in Bangui, according to the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs. Many experts believed that HIV/AIDS and a belief in sorcery, particularly in rural areas, contributed to the large number of street children. An estimated 300,000 children had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, and children accused of sorcery (often reportedly in connection to HIV/AIDS-related deaths in their neighborhoods) often were expelled from their households and were sometimes subjected to societal violence.

There were NGOs specifically promoting children's rights, including some, such as Voices of the Heart, which assisted street children.

The country's instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for almost 50 percent of IDPs during the year. Access to government services was limited for all children, but displacement reduced it further.

Trafficking in Persons

The 2009 penal code specifically criminalizes trafficking in persons. Although NGOs and government officials said that trafficking in persons was not widespread, no comprehensive analysis of trafficking in persons has been conducted and little concrete data existed on the extent of the problem. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for trafficking crimes.

The country was a source, transit, and destination point for men, women, and children trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation. The majority of victims were children trafficked within the country for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced ambulant vending, and forced agricultural, mine, market, and restaurant labor. Victims were also trafficked to Cameroon, Nigeria, and the DRC. During the year, BONUCA reported cases of trafficking of human organs by unidentified persons, as well as the forced harvesting of blood for medical and religious activities, in the east.

UN reports during the year indicated that self-defense committees, some of which were supported by the government, recruited child soldiers. UNICEF estimated that children comprised one-third of these committees. There were reports that domestic armed groups abducted children and conscripted them as soldiers in the northwest and northeast. Some observers also reported cases of children forced into labor by the LRA near the southeastern town of Obo. Villagers subjected Ba'aka (Pygmies), who were unable to survive as hunters because of depleted forests, to forced agricultural labor.

In recent years there were reports that children were trafficked from Cameroon and Chad and, to a lesser extent, from Sudan by nomadic pastoralists. Members of the foreign Muslim communities from Nigeria, Sudan, and Chad subjected them to forced labor. There were also reports that merchants, herders, and other foreigners doing business in and transiting the country trafficked girls and boys from Chad and Sudan into the country. Child trafficking victims could not attend school, despite mandatory primary school attendance, and worked without remuneration.

Some girls entered prostitution to earn money for their families, both as commercial sex workers and as mistresses to wealthy clients.

Under the new penal code, the penalty for trafficking is between five and 10 years of imprisonment; however, when a minor is the victim of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor similar to slavery, the penalty is life imprisonment with hard labor.

Using laws prohibiting kidnapping, in February 2008, the government prosecuted three individuals for trafficking a three-year-old Guinean girl in 2007. After their arrest, the three suspects were detained at the Ngaragba prison, awaiting their trial. According to an official from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the three suspects escaped from the prison and remained at large. The girl was taken to the Centre de la Mere et de l'Enfant, an orphanage in Bangui, and was returned to Guinea during the year.

Neither the government nor NGOs operated shelters that provided care to trafficking victims, and there were no known NGOs specifically working to combat trafficking. In some cases, police have jailed children found in prostitution for up to a month and then released them rather than provide them with rehabilitation and reintegration care. The government did not monitor immigration or emigration patterns for evidence of trafficking, and it did not investigate trafficking cases or implement procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as abandoned children or prostitutes, or rescue and provide care to victims. However, since 2008 government officials have traveled with UNICEF to the interior of the country to identify, rescue, and demobilize child soldiers conscripted by armed groups and to assist in releasing children from self-defense committees.

See also the State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities. It also requires that for any company employing at least 25 persons, at least 5 percent of its staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities, if they are available.

In addition, the law states that each time the government recruits new personnel into the civil service, at least 10 percent of the total number of newly recruited personnel should be persons with disabilities. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, the provision was not automatic and depended on the availability of applications from persons with disabilities at the time of the recruitment decision by the interested ministry.

There was no societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. However, there were no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities, and such access was not provided in practice. Approximately 10 percent of the country's population had disabilities, mostly due to polio, according to the 2003 census. The government had no national policy or strategy for providing assistance to persons with disabilities, but there were several one-off government and NGO initiated programs designed to assist persons with disabilities, including handicraft training for the blind and the distribution of wheelchairs and carts by the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs.

The Ministry of Family and Social Affairs continued to work with the NGO Handicap International during the year to provide treatment, surgeons, and prostheses to persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and armed groups against the M'bororo continued to be a problem, as they continued to suffer disproportionately from the civil disorder in the north. Their cattle wealth makes them attractive targets to the various bandits and armed groups that controlled the north. Additionally, since many citizens viewed the M'bororo as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, they faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections.

Indigenous People

Despite constitutional protections, there was societal discrimination against Ba'Aka (Pygmies), the earliest known inhabitants of the rain forest in the south. Ba'Aka constitute approximately 1 percent of the population. They continued to have little say in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba'Aka, in particular, were subject to social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government has done little to prevent. Despite repeated promises, the government took no steps to issue and deliver identity cards to Ba'Aka, lack of which, according to many human rights groups, effectively denied them access to greater civil rights.

The Ba'Aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They often were considered to be the slaves of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

During the year COOPI continued to promote the rights of the Ba'Aka by monitoring discrimination and seeking to increase their access to public services, including education, by helping them acquire birth certificates.

$$$ Refugees International reported in recent years that Ba'Aka were effectively "second-class citizens" and that the popular perception of them as barbaric, savage, and subhuman seemingly had legitimized their exclusion from mainstream society.

Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The penal code criminalizes homosexual behavior. The penalty for "public expression of love" between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a fine of between 150,000 and 600,000 CFA francs (between $334 and $1,334). When the relationships involve a child, the sentence is two to five years imprisonment, or a fine of 100,000 to 800,000 CFA francs ($222 and $1,775); however, there were no reports that police arrested or detained persons they believed to be involved in homosexual activity.

There was no official discrimination, but societal discrimination against homosexual conduct persisted during the year, and many citizens attributed the existence of homosexual conduct to undue Western influence.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subject to discrimination and stigma, although less so as NGOs and UN agencies raised awareness about the disease and available treatments. Nonetheless, many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status for fear of social stigma.

Section 7 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law allows all workers, except for senior level state employees and security forces, including the military and gendarmes, to form or join unions without prior authorization; however, only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised this right. The labor code provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status, including the right to file lawsuits. The government generally respected these rights in practice.

The labor code requires that union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours as long as the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. A person who loses the status of worker, either through unemployment or retirement, can still belong to a trade union and participate in its administration.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, and they exercised this right during the year; however, security forces, including the military and gendarmes, are prohibited from striking. Requirements for conducting a legal strike were excessively lengthy and cumbersome. To be legal, strikes must be preceded by the union's presentation of demands, the employer's response to these demands, a conciliation meeting between labor and management, and a finding by an arbitration council that union and employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days' advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The government has the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors, and provides workers protection from employer interference in the administration of a union.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year. The government generally was not involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement.

In the civil service, the government, which was the country's largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. Salary arrears continued to be a severe problem for military personnel and the 24,000 civil servants.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. The president of the labor court said the court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Employees can have their cases heard in the labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination were required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although employers found guilty of such discrimination were required by law to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although the labor code specifically prohibits forced or compulsory labor and prescribes a penalty of five to 10 years' imprisonment, the government did not enforce the prohibition effectively, and there were reports that such practices occurred. Women and children were trafficked for forced domestic, agricultural, mining, sales, restaurant labor, and sexual exploitation. Prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. In rural areas, there were reported cases of the use of prisoners for domestic labor at some government officials' residences. However, in Bangui and other large urban areas, the practice was rare, partly because of the presence of human rights NGOs or lawyers. Prisoners often received shortened sentences for performing such work. Ba'Aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor, and often treated as slaves.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code's prohibition of forced or compulsory labor applies to children, although they are not mentioned specifically. Other provisions of the labor code forbid the employment of children younger than 14 years of age without specific authorization from the ministry of labor; however, the ministry of labor and civil service did not enforce these provisions. Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas, and forced labor also occurred. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that children were employed on public works projects or at the residences of government officials. The labor code provides that the minimum age for employment could be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. The law prohibits children younger than 18 years old from performing hazardous work or working at night. The law defines hazardous work as any employment that endangers children's physical and mental health. However, children continued to perform hazardous work during the year. The labor code does not define the worst forms of child labor.

According to data collected by UNICEF in surveys between 1999 and 2007, approximately 47 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 years were involved in child labor. UNICEF considered a child to be involved in labor if, during the week preceding the survey, children five to 11 years old performed at least one hour of economic activity or at least 28 hours of domestic work, and children 12 to 14 years old performed at least 14 hours of economic activity or at least 28 hours of domestic work.

Throughout the country, children as young as seven frequently performed agricultural work. Children often worked as domestic workers and fishermen, and in mines (often in dangerous conditions). International observers noted that children worked in the diamond fields alongside adult relatives, transporting and washing gravel, as well as in gold mining, digging holes and carrying heavy loads. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor; however, this requirement was not enforced during the year, and many children were seen working in and around diamond mining fields.

Some girls worked in prostitution (see section 6).

In Bangui many of the city's estimated 5,000 street children worked as street vendors.

During the year armed groups recruited and used child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

Displaced children continued to work in fields for long hours in conditions of extreme heat, harvesting peanuts and cassava, and helping gather items that were sold at markets, such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code states that the minister of labor must set minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The minimum wages in the private sector are established on the basis of sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between the employer and workers' representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sphere varies by sector and by kind of work. For example, the monthly minimum wage was 8,500 CFA francs ($19) for agricultural workers and 26,000 CFA francs ($58) for government workers.

The minimum wage only applies to the formal sector, leaving much of the economy unregulated in terms of wages. The minimum wages did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, although wages increased during the year. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system (in the extensive informal sector), especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week, for both citizens and foreign and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace; violations of overtime policy were taken to the ministry of labor, although it is unknown whether this occurred in practice during the year.

There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the ministry of labor and civil service neither precisely defined nor enforced them. The labor code states that a labor inspector may force an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions, but it does not provide the right for workers to remove themselves from such conditions without risk of loss of employment. There are no exceptions for foreign and migrant workers.

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