Amnesty International Report 2004 - Central African Republic

Covering events from January - December 2003

Hundreds of women were raped and many of them killed by combatants involved in armed conflict. Some of the survivors contracted HIV and other diseases as a result of rape. Female genital mutilation was widely practised. Dozens of unarmed civilians were unlawfully killed. Numerous civilians, government opponents and detainees were tortured and ill-treated. Beneficiaries of an amnesty decreed by the new President included 25 people sentenced to death in their absence in 2002.


Fighting between government forces and an armed political group led by former army Chief of Staff François Bozizé, which had escalated in late 2002, culminated in March in the overthrow of the government. Rebel forces captured the capital, Bangui, on 15 March. President Patassé, who had been attending a heads of state summit in Niger, stayed in exile. François Bozizé declared himself President, and in April formed a government and established a new legislative body, the National Transitional Council.

The new government created a Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Good Governance, and a National Human Rights Commission. However, members of the security forces impeded the work of the Commission, including by denying its High Commissioner access to detainees.

In September representatives of political and civil society organizations joined a one-month "National Dialogue" to chart the country's political future. Former President André Kolingba and officials of the ruling party ousted in March were among former leaders who apologized for their part in political violence and mismanaging public affairs. The Dialogue's recommendations included establishing a conflict prevention, management and resolution structure; appointing an independent human rights commissioner; and creating a solidarity fund to compensate victims of conflicts. The Dialogue also called for the President and Prime Minister to share power under a new Constitution, and for general elections to be held by the end of 2004.

Foreign involvement in the armed conflict

Early in 2003 government forces were supported by Libyan government troops and by hundreds of combatants of the Mouvement pour la libération du Congo (MLC), Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, an armed political group from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Libyan forces left the country in January. MLC fighters withdrew as the forces led by François Bozizé, reportedly with the support of Chadian government forces, took control of Bangui.

Several hundred Chadian troops were subsequently deployed as part of a peace-keeping force backed by the Central African Monetary and Economic Community (CEMAC). The CEMAC force, supported by several hundred French soldiers, was still in the country at the end of 2003.

Widespread looting of public and private property by MLC and Chadian forces was reported.

Violence against women

In late 2002 and early 2003 combatants systematically raped hundreds of women. Many women, including the elderly and children, were said to have been raped by MLC fighters, who included child soldiers, others by forces loyal to François Bozizé. Some victims were reportedly killed while resisting rape, or died from their injuries. Some who survived were infected with HIV or other diseases, and were abandoned by their partners as a result. Others became pregnant. In most cases, no action was taken against MLC rapists by the government of President Patassé, or against rapists in the forces led by François Bozizé before or after he came to power in March.

  • After a woman testified on a privately owned radio station that she had been detained and raped by five members of a Presidential Guard unit in Bangui on 28 October, President Bozizé dismissed the alleged perpetrators and two accomplices from the army. The suspects were detained in a military barracks but had not appeared in court by the end of the year. The commander of the Presidential Guard was also removed from his post and transferred to a provincial governorship.

Female genital mutilation continued despite a 1966 law banning the practice and the existence of a government department with responsibility to campaign against it.

Extrajudicial executions

Both government and armed opposition forces unlawfully killed dozens of unarmed civilians they accused of supporting their opponents.

Numerous extrajudicial executions by forces loyal to former President Patassé came to light. They included the killings north of Bangui of at least 25 Muslims of Chadian origin for allegedly colluding with the armed opposition.

In Damara and Sibut, in the north, an improvised court martial set up by the armed opposition ordered the execution of at least 10 people. It did not respect fair trial procedures. In March a Chadian military commander reportedly ordered the summary execution of an unspecified number of civilians accused of looting. No investigation was known to have taken place and no action was taken against the officer responsible.

In August an army lieutenant reportedly shot dead two students who were among demonstrators demanding better conditions at Barthélémy Boganda College in Bangui. The officer was demoted as punishment, but was not charged or brought to trial for the killings.

Throughout the year armed men, usually in military uniform and believed to be members of the security forces, reportedly killed unarmed civilians. The victims included Barry Okonkwo Norason, shot dead in September. Soldiers at a roadblock north of Bangui robbed him and his brother as they returned from a business trip, then shot them both. His brother was injured.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were widely used by government and armed opposition forces. Chadian troops reportedly introduced a form of torture known as arbatachar, often inflicted on government opponents in Chad, in which the victim's limbs are tied tightly in 14 places, causing extreme pain and often resulting in death.

Soldiers tortured government officials accused of embezzling public funds and other offences soon after their arrest, threatening to kill some of them, including former government minister Gabriel Jean-Edouard Koyambounou. Nearly all the detainees were held unlawfully, often without charge, and were denied the right to challenge the basis of their arrest and detention.

Amnesty for coup plotters

In April President Bozizé decreed an amnesty for those convicted in their absence of offences related to the May 2001 coup attempt against former President Patassé. Among the beneficiaries were former President Kolingba and 24 others sentenced to death, and about 600 others sentenced to prison terms. Their trials in August 2002 had been unfair.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited the Central African Republic in September to conduct research, including into violence against women.

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