Freedom in the World 2006 - Central African Republic

Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 4
Status: Partly Free
Population: 4,200,000
GNI/Capita: $260
Life Expectancy: 44
Religious Groups: Indigenous beliefs (35 percent), Protestant (25 percent), Roman Catholic (25 percent), Muslim (15 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Baya (33 percent), Banda (27 percent), Mandjia (13 percent), Sara (10 percent), Mboum (7 percent), other (10 percent)
Capital: Bangui

Ratings Change
Central African Republic's political rights rating improved from 6 to 5, its civil liberties rating from 5 to 4, and its status from Not Free to Partly Free due to the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections judged credible by international and domestic observers, and improvements in the rights of freedom of assembly and association.


The Central African Republic (CAR) held presidential and parliamentary elections in 2005 that brought two years of military rule to an end and were judged credible by international and domestic election observers. In early December 2004, citizens overwhelming approved a new constitution by referendum. Despite marked political progress during the year, the CAR remains overwhelmingly impoverished, with an economy in a state of collapse after years of civil unrest and corruption. In August, massive flooding in and around the capital of Bangui displaced 25,000 people.

The Central African Republic (CAR) gained independence from France in 1960 after a period of brutal colonial exploitation. Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa seized power from President David Dacko in a 1966 coup. Bokassa abolished the constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, and issued a decree that placed all legislative and executive powers in the hands of the president. On December 4, 1976, the republic became a monarchy with the proclamation of the president as Emperor Bokassa I. His increasingly bizarre personal dictatorship was marked by numerous human rights atrocities. With the backing of French forces, former president Dacko led a coup against Bokassa in 1979. Dacko was in turn deposed by General Andre Kolingba in 1981, who assumed the presidency in a bloodless coup.

Mounting political pressure led Kolingba in 1991 to introduce a multiparty system through the creation of a national commission tasked with rewriting the constitution. Presidential elections were conducted in 1992 but were cancelled because of serious logistical and other irregularities. Ange-Felix Patasse, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC), won a second-round victory in rescheduled elections in October 1993. Salary arrears, labor unrest, and unequal treatment of military officers from different ethnic groups led to three mutinies against the Patasse government in 1996 and 1997. French forces quelled the disturbances, and an African peacekeeping force occupied the capital, Bangui, until 1998, when it was relieved by a UN peacekeeping mission.

The 1998 National Assembly elections produced a nearly even split between supporters of Patasse and those of his opponents, and Patasse was reelected to a six-year term in September 1999. Although international observers judged the 1999 vote to be free, there were reports of irregularities such as ballot shortages in some areas with a strong opposition following, and Kolingba and other candidates claimed fraud.

UN peacekeepers withdrew in February 2000 and were replaced by a peace-building office. In May 2001, Kolingba led a failed coup attempt that resulted in the death of least 250 people in Bangui and forced 50,000 others to flee their homes.

In the country's fourth coup since independence, General Francois Bozize deposed Patasse in March 2003 after six months of fighting between government troops and renegade soldiers loyal to Bozize. Patasse fled into exile in Togo, where Bozize's regime sought his arrest on corruption charges. Following the coup, Bozize created a National Transitional Council with delegates from the country's 16 provinces, as well as from all political, social, religious, and professional associations in the country. Bozize issued a general amnesty for the participants in the 2001 failed coup and lifted a 2002 death sentence imposed in absentia upon Kolingba, who had sought refuge in Uganda.

An independent electoral commission was created to oversee elections in 2005. A new constitution was drafted with the participation of a broad cross-section of the population. Voter turnout for a December 2004 constitutional referendum reached 77 percent, with 90 percent approving the new constitution.

Although marked by delays and disputes over eligibility requirements, the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections was held on March 18, 2005. Ultimately, only former president Patasse was barred from running for office. Despite earlier claims that he would not run for president, Bozize ran as an independent candidate with the backing of the National Convergence Kwa Na Kwa, a grouping of smaller parties, military officials, and political leaders. Former coup leader Kolingba also ran, while former Prime Minister Martin Ziguele took up the banner of Patasse's MLPC. Eight other candidates contested the presidential poll, while 909 contestants ran for 105 parliamentary seats. Approximately 300 international and domestic election monitors observed and reported favorably on the voting-day process. In a runoff against Ziguele held on May 8, Bozize won with 65 percent of the vote. Kwa Na Kwa obtained 42 seats in the National Assembly, while the MLPC won 11. Several of the smaller parties and independent candidates who won seats subsequently joined Kwa Na Kwa to assert majority control over the legislature.

CAR citizens remain vulnerable to attack by armed groups with access to weapons left over from decades of conflict, and an estimated 40,000 refugees are in neighboring Chad. In October, troops from the Economic Community of Central African States (CEMAC) deployed to the northeast part of the country to combat spreading banditry. There are increasing conflicts between pastoral nomads and farmers competing for scarce land resources. Flooding in and around the capital of Bangui left approximately 25,000 displaced in August 2005.

Despite natural resources that include diamonds, gold, uranium, and timber, the CAR is one of the least developed countries in the world, and approximately 80 percent of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are urging new Prime Minister Elie Dote, a former expert with the African Development Bank, to implement economic reforms to jump-start the economy and address widespread poverty and corruption.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens of the CAR can change their government democratically. In March 2005, voters exercised their right to vote in presidential and parliamentary polls generally seen as credible by international observers and domestic election monitors. An independent electoral commission composed of 10 representatives of political parties, 10 from civil society, and 10 from the transitional government oversaw the election. Newly elected President Francois Bozize won a six-year term, while representatives from seven parties and 34 independent candidates won five-year terms in the unicameral National Assembly. The executive branch of government predominates over the legislative and judicial branches, and the president appoints the prime minister. The president is limited to two elected terms in office.

Though Kwa Na Kwa has emerged as the country's dominant political force, other political parties operate freely, including former President Patasse's MLPC and the party of General Kolingba, the Central African Democratic Assembly.

Corruption remains a serious problem in the CAR, and is deeply rooted in the long-standing mismanagement of the country's natural resources for private gain. The CAR is the world's fifth-largest producer of diamonds, but its actual diamond exports are nearly double the official number reported. Some steps have been taken toward reform, and in September 2005, the government began cooperating with Transparency International to gather information on the scope of corruption in the country. In October, an investigation into the number of ghost workers on the civil service payroll was followed by the suspension of three government ministers over allegations of misappropriation of public funds.

The CAR's constitution provides for the right to free speech, and legislation adopted in late 2004 eliminated prison sentences in slander or libel cases. However, the government used verbal and physical threats in 2005, particularly during the political campaign period, to limit negative press coverage by independent news outlets. One editor was arrested and held without charge for 48 hours in February. The law still provides for terms of imprisonment for journalists charged with inciting persons to hatred or violence, and many journalists practice self-censorship. Broadcast media are dominated by the state, and the only licensed private radio stations are music- or religion-oriented, although some carry programming on human rights and peace-building issues. There are no restrictions on internet access.

Religious freedom is generally respected, but the government occasionally infringes on this right. Many university faculty members and students are politically active, and they are able to express their views without fear of reprisal.

The government afforded more respect to freedom of assembly in 2005. In contrast to the previous year, there were no reports that police beat or detained protestors or used force to disperse demonstrations. Several hundred human rights and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate unhindered. The CAR's largest single employer is the government, and government employee trade unions are active. In October, civil servants launched a series of strikes over pay arrears. The cash-strapped government negotiated with the union, but was not able to fully address the arrears.

Corruption, political interference, and lack of training hinder the efficiency and impartiality of judicial institutions. Judges are appointed by the president, and judicial proceedings are prone to executive influence. Limitations on searches and detention are often ignored. The Penal Code prohibits torture and specifies sanctions for those found guilty of physical abuse, but police brutality is a serious problem. Though limited, there were allegations of harassment, threats, intimidation, and abuse of authority by law enforcement agencies during the electoral period. Conditions for prisoners, including many long-term pretrial detainees, are sometimes life-threatening and aggravated by dilapidated facilities. Juveniles are not separated from adults. Serious human rights violations continued in 2005 beyond the capital, where armed gangs, some with ties to the military, rob and terrorize the population at will.

Members of northern ethnic groups, especially President Bozize's Baya ethnic group, predominate within the military and at increasing levels of government. Discrimination against indigenous Pygmies continues to exist.

Twelve women were elected to the National Assembly in 2005, though in general, discrimination relegates women to second-class citizenship. Constitutional guarantees for women's rights are not enforced, especially in rural areas. Hundreds of women and girls continue to suffer the consequences of the widespread, systemic rapes perpetrated by Congolese rebels in the CAR from 2002 to 2003. An NGO has filed a complaint against former president Ange-Felix Patasse and Congolese Liberation Movement leader Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court. Female genital mutilation is still practiced, but has been illegal since 1996 and is reportedly diminishing. Abortion is prohibited. The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were reports that orphaned children were trafficked for the purposes of domestic servitude or for work in commercial enterprises.

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