Freedom in the World 2007 - Central African Republic

Population: 4,300,000
Capital: Bangui

Political Rights Score: 5
Civil Liberties Score: 4
Status: Partly Free


Security and humanitarian conditions worsened in the northwest region of the Central African Republic (CAR), where rebel groups, bandits, and government forces battle each other and indiscriminately target citizens. President Francois Bozize ruled by presidential decree from January to March 2006, ostensibly to address corruption, poor governance, and civil service reform.

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 exercised absolute power, and 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.

Mounting political pressure led Kolingba in 1991 to introduce a multiparty system through the creation of a national commission tasked initially with rewriting the constitution. 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.

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. Kolingba and other candidates claimed fraud.

UN peacekeepers withdrew in February 2000 and were replaced by a UN peacebuilding office. In May 2001, Kolingba led a failed coup attempt.

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.

An independent electoral commission was created to oversee elections in 2005, and 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 in March 2005. 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. Kolingba also ran, while former prime minister Martin Ziguele took up the banner of Patasse's MLPC. Bozize won with 65 percent of the vote in a runoff against Ziguele. Kwa Na Kwa obtained 42 of 105 parliamentary 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.

From January to March 2006, Bozize ruled by presidential decree with the approval of the National Assembly, ostensibly to fight corruption and money laundering in government, and to implement civil service reform. Though criticized by civil society groups, Bozize used his powers to meet recurrent economic challenges by, for example, raising prices on basic commodities in order to address months of civil service salary arrears.

Security and humanitarian conditions in the CAR worsened in 2006, particularly in the northwestern part of the country, where rebels seeking to overthrow the Bozize government, mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, bandits, and CAR security forces battled each other and indiscriminately targeted civilians. Between 150,000 and 200,000 citizens were displaced by conflict over the year. Thousands of citizens shelter precariously in the bush, while many others have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Military operations during the year by the regular army and troops of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) to secure the north have been largely ineffective. The French government announced in July 2006 that it would increase military aid to assist the government in restoring peace and stability to the region.

Despite abundant natural resources including diamonds, gold, uranium, and timber, the CAR is one of the least developed countries in the world, and approximately 80 percent of the population depends on subsistence agriculture to survive. Two decades of conflict led to economic and social collapse. The government began in late 2005 to address the arrears that had accumulated after years of nonpayment of civil service salaries, but the country's limited tax base cannot meet government expenditures. The economy suffered further in 2006 from declining security conditions and political turmoil, while population displacement has had a negative effect on agricultural yields. The International Monetary Fund approved $10.2 million in emergency postconflict assistance to support reform efforts in January 2006, and other donors have since increased aid flows.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The CAR is an electoral democracy. Approximately 300 international and domestic election monitors observed and reported favorably on the voting-day process for presidential and parliamentary polls in March 2005. An independent electoral commission comprised of 10 representatives of political parties, 10 from civil society, and 10 from the transitional government oversaw the election. President Francois Bozize won a six-year term, while representatives from seven parties and 34 independent candidates won five-year terms in the unicameral, 109-member National Assembly. The president has wide powers, and the executive branch of government predominates over the legislative and judicial branches. The president is limited to two elected terms in office.

Though Kwa Na Kwa is the country's dominant political force, other political parties operate freely, including former president Ange-Felix Patasse's MLPC and the party of General Andre Kolingba, the Central African Democratic Assembly.

Corruption is a serious problem in the CAR. The country is the world's fifth-largest producer of diamonds, but approximately half of its diamond exports are smuggled out of the country privately. 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. Three government ministers were fired in 2006 for fraud in the payment of civil service salaries. The CAR ranks at 130 out of 163 countries in Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The government generally respects the right to free speech, but many journalists practice self-censorship. Legislation adopted in late 2004 eliminated prison sentences in slander or libel cases, but journalists still face prison terms for inciting persons to hatred or violence. In late 2005, the government announced penalties for articles in the broadcast or print media deemed disrespectful of women. Broadcast media are dominated by the state, though private radio stations carrying mostly music- or religion-oriented programming exist. Private newspapers carry articles critical of the government, but have limited impact because of the cost and the country's low literacy rates. Security considerations prevent journalists from traveling beyond the capital or reporting on conditions in the volatile northwest. There are no restrictions on internet access.

Religious freedom is generally respected. Many university faculty members and students are politically active, and they are able to express their views without fear of reprisal.

The government generally respects the freedoms of assembly and association, and several hundred human rights and other civic organizations operate unhindered. The largest single employer is the government, and government employee trade unions are active. In December 2005, police sealed the headquarters of the largest trade union and prevented striking civil servants from holding a rally, though the labor minister subsequently acknowledged that the police had acted illegally in violating workers' rights. In 2006, human rights organizations, religious groups, trade unions, and women's and youth groups participated in peaceful protests against growing violence, especially in the northwest, and continued poor governance.

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. Although the penal code prohibits torture and specifies sanctions for those found guilty of physical abuse, police brutality is a serious problem. Conditions for prisoners, including many long-term, pretrial detainees, are sometimes life-threatening and aggravated by dilapidated facilities. The military, including members of the Presidential Guard, and armed groups committed serious human rights violations during 2006, particularly in northwestern parts of the country.

Members of northern ethnic groups, especially Bozize's Baya ethnic group, predominate within the military and at increasing levels of government to the exclusion of other groups. Discrimination against indigenous ethnic groups, such as the Aka, persists.

Instability in the country outside of Bangui restricts the movement of citizens, as well as the protection of property.

Constitutional guarantees for women's rights are not enforced, especially in rural areas. Violence against women is common, and the incidence of rape has increased in conflict areas. 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 have been reports in previous years that orphaned children were trafficked for the purposes of domestic servitude or for work in commercial enterprises.

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