U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Central African Republic

  The Central African Republic (C.A.R.), ruled since 1981 by a military regime under General Andre Dieudonne Kolingba, made a peaceful transition from a military regime to a democratically elected Government. On September 19, citizens elected Ange-Felix Patasse, head of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC), President, and a new National Assembly representing multiple political parties and viewpoints. Despite General Kolingba's last-minute efforts to subvert the process, and notwithstanding several incidents that marred the voting, an 80-person international observer delegation certified the validity of the outcome. In the National Assembly elections, the new President's party, the MLPC, did not gain a majority, winning only 33 of the 85 seats, while the Confederation of Democratic Forces (CFD) coalition gained 25 seats, and Kolingba's Central African Democratic Assembly party (RDC) won 14 seats. The National Assembly convened on November 8 and elected Hugues Dodozendi of the MLPC as president of its Executive Bureau. Besides Dodozendi, 5 other MLPC members hold seats in the 11-member Executive Bureau. The other five seats are held by members of five different opposition parties. The military and the national gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, share internal security responsibilities with the civilian police force, under the direction of the Ministry of Public Security. The Presidential Security Guard has been commanded by Central African officers since mid-1993, when French officers and trainers were relegated to advisory roles. There were two serious incidents of military unrest in 1993 over nonpayment of salaries, resulting in two short-lived mutinies and scattered human rights abuses. However, the comportment of security forces during the preelectoral period and the elections was professional. The C.A.R. is a landlocked and sparsely populated country, most of whose inhabitants practice subsistence agriculture. Its principal exports are coffee, cotton, timber, tobacco, and diamonds. Economic structural reforms begun in 1992 in cooperation with international donors have had little success because of unfavorable world economic trends and government corruption and mismanagement. There were sweeping public strikes over the issues of salary arrears and the pace of political reform. However, following the October installation of the new President, the strikes ended, and public sector personnel, including teachers and doctors, returned to the workplace. The human rights situation improved markedly as the year progressed, culminating in the democratic elections and the installation of a new Government on October 22. However, efforts by the Kolingba regime to halt the political reform process and two military mutinies resulted in a number of human rights abuses, including the killing of one person and the deaths of two others under uncertain circumstances. Police beatings of some detainees continued, and the Government is not known to have punished those responsible. Other human rights abuses included continuing discrimination and violence against women and discrimination against Pygmies.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Following a peaceful march on the Treasury by civil servants demanding pay, lawless elements of the population looted the downtown area as well as the market area west of town. Security forces used excessive force in containing these antigovernment riots on April 26 and 27, during which three persons died. On May 15, the Presidential Guard mutinied, and a member of the Guard shot and killed a woman whose car was commandeered. While the Prime Minister stated that the soldier responsible would face criminal charges, the Kolingba government took no action against him. The Government did not honor its pledge to conduct an inquest into the 1990 killing by security forces of Pierra Wanga nor its pledge to release a report on the 1992 beating death of opposition activist Jean-Claude Conjugo at the hands of security forces during an antigovernment demonstration. There were, however, no additional incidents of this sort in 1993.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearance.

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

Although the Penal Code prohibits torture and specifies sanctions for those found guilty of physical abuse, credible reports indicated that police beating and abuse of criminal suspects occurs. In one instance, a diplomat observed security forces administering a public beating to a detainee. As far as is known, the Government did not punish those responsible. Prison conditions are harsh, and inmates suffered from extensive overcrowding until September 1, when, to celebrate the 12th anniversary of his taking power, President Kolingba issued a general amnesty, releasing thousands of prisoners from 20 prisons, including former President (Emperor) Bokassa.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Central African law stipulates that persons detained in nonpolitical cases must be brought before a magistrate within 96 hours. In practice, this deadline is often not respected, in part due to inefficient judicial procedures. Political detainees may be held legally without charge for up to 2 months. Political detainees are defined in the law as "those held for crimes against the security of the State." The C.A.R. judicial system does not provide for bail, but persons are often released on their own recognizance. The Kolingba government abandoned the practice of arresting and detaining labor leaders and opposition supporters as threats to state security. It detained political activist Joseph Bendounga for part of one morning following an antigovernment riot and arrested Guy Mamadou Marabena of the MLPC for a brief period, allegedly for vandalizing the property of a political rival; he was released when the charges could not be substantiated. The Government released in the September 1 amnesty three Sudanese nationals, Hafiz Abdel Galil, El Rayh Ahmed, and Mohammed Zein Hassan from Ngaragba prison. They had been held without charges since March 1990, reportedly for refusing to pay a bribe to a local official. There were no known instances of incommunicado detention, and there were no known political detainees held by the Government during the year. Exile is not permitted by law and does not occur in practice. The Government repeatedly stated that any person in self-exile for strictly political reasons, rather than criminal, may return home without fear of persecution. Several took advantage of this policy. The best known remaining person in exile is Rodolph Iddi-Lala. He was originally sought for alleged criminal as well as political activities, and it was not clear at year's end whether the September 1 amnesty applied to those wanted for, but as yet not convicted for, criminal offenses.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary consists of regular and military courts, with the Supreme Court at the apex. In criminal cases, the accused have the right to legal counsel, trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present at their trials. These safeguards are generally respected in practice, but the judiciary suffers numerous shortcomings, including executive interference, institutional neglect, inefficient administration of the law, and shortages of trained personnel and material resources. The High Court of Justice, a body created to try political cases, did not convene and is virtually defunct. President Kolingba appointed by decree a new Chief Justice to the Supreme Court in June, following opposition accusations that his predecessor was corrupt. While it was widely assumed that Kolingba hoped to influence the Court through this appointment, the Court acquitted itself honorably in tabulating and proclaiming election results that led to a change of government. There were no political prisoners during 1993.

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

The Government rarely abused legal prohibitions on invasion of the home without a warrant in civil and criminal cases. In certain political and security cases, defined in Title IV of the Penal Code, i.e., for treason, police are statutorily permitted to search private property without written authorization and do so in practice. The Kolingba regime maintained its close watch, including telephone monitoring, on opposition figures as the elections approached.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

There was increased official respect in 1993 for the right of private citizens to speak publicly about political developments or to criticize the Government or political parties. In the election campaign, opposition leaders openly criticized the policies of the Government and opposition rival candidates at public rallies, in political broadsheets, and on the government-controlled national radio and television. One newspaper and both radio and television are government owned and controlled. Journalists working for these entities were not physically threatened, but few were permitted to offer dissenting points of view. The pro-RDC Minister of Communication initially refused the Prime Minister's instructions to open the media to the opposition during the electoral campaign, thus violating a key provision of the Electoral Code, but he later relented. During the preelectoral phase, the government media tacitly supported President Kolingba with ample coverage of him, his party, and his policies while neglecting other candidates, who received proportionately less print or air time to express their views. Prime Minister Lakoue's Social Democratic Party (PSD) also received disproportionate media attention. The media glossed over civil unrest and other politically relevant issues for much of the year. Under the new Government, the media are more open and objective. They cover opposition party rallies and meetings and air uncensored interviews in which opposition supporters and politicians are permitted to express their views. Opposition parties and groups published and distributed manifestos and policy statements, usually in stenciled and photocopied form without government restriction or censorship. Similarly, foreign journalists were not impeded in their work. Although a number of educators, including presidential candidate Abel Goumba, were actively involved in political activities, the University of Bangui remained on strike over nonpayment of teachers' salaries for most of the year, and issues of academic freedom were not tested.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right of assembly is constitutionally provided for but is restricted by regulations. A 1992 decree requires the organizers of all demonstrations and public meetings to register with the Government 48 hours before they occur. In May the Ministry of Public Security refused to permit an opposition rally. The police reportedly incited a riot the same month by firing tear gas into a crowd of civil servants who had been peacefully protesting arrears in payment of salaries. However, subsequently there was no government interference with political campaign rallies, and candidates and their supporters circulated freely throughout the country. The Government no longer enforced a 1961 law requiring all associations to register annually as a means of influencing the activities and policies of organizations opposed to the Government. A 1991 law compelling all parties to register with the Ministry of Public Security in order to participate legally in the political process remained in force, but in practice it had little effect on the political process. Registered political parties and apolitical associations were permitted to hold congresses, elect officials, and publicly debate policy issues.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is no state religion, and a variety of religious communities are active, including traditional African faiths, Christian denominations, and Muslims. Religious organizations and missionary groups are free to proselytize, worship, and construct places of worship. However, religious groups must register with the Government, and any group whose behavior is considered subversive in nature remains subject to sanctions, although no sanctions were imposed in 1993. The Government lifted its 1986 ban on the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses community, but there is continued ambiguity about the status of this group, since the document restoring the group's rights states that it must obey undefined relevant regulations and statutes. Human rights monitors argue that the ban was unconstitutional in the first place.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

People are free to move within the country, but police and other officials sometimes harass travelers unwilling or unable to pay bribes at checkpoints along major intercity roads and at major Bangui intersections. The Government has not taken effective measures to eliminate these practices. The Government recognizes the right of voluntary travel abroad and repatriation. Financial and educational constraints, rather than government controls, restrict foreign travel and emigration. There were no known cases of revocation of citizenship during the year. By the end of 1993, more than 28,000 Sudanese had fled civil strife in Sudan to seek safe haven in the remote southeastern corner of the C.A.R. In collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), other U.N. agencies, and private relief organizations, the C.A.R. National Commission for Refugees provided assistance to this group. The C.A.R. also hosted some 20,000 Chadian refugees, most of whom entered the C.A.R. in early 1993 to escape the actions of Chadian security forces in the south of that country. The Chadian refugees are also under the protection and supervision of the UNHCR. Refugee populations near the Chadian border were encouraged by the Government to resettle in a site further from the frontier, but neither the refugees nor any Central Africans were forced to resettle elsewhere. There were no reports of forced repatriations of refugees in 1993.

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

Citizens were able to exercise peacefully their constitutional right to change their government by democratic means following a protracted controversy between opposition parties and the Kolingba regime, which throughout much of the year used constitutional arguments and political subterfuge to impede the electoral process. In the wake of the failed elections of October 1992, the Government agreed in January to the formation of a mixed Electoral Commission composed of representatives of all political parties. This body drafted a new Electoral Code that was submitted for approval to the Provisional Political Council of the Republic, a quasi-legislative body appointed by Kolingba that included all presidential candidates from the annulled presidential elections of October 1992 save Abel Goumba, who did not participate. Following a riot and two military mutinies in May, President Kolingba in July accepted a mixed Electoral Commission proposal for August and September elections. There was heavy voter turnout (80 percent) for the first-round, multiparty presidential and legislative elections in August which pitted eight presidential contenders against each other and ended with the ouster of President Kolingba, who finished fourth with 12 percent of the popular vote. Public and external pressures, including from the French Government, blocked an attempt by Kolingba to annul the election results through a presidential decree altering the makeup of the Supreme Court. In lighter second-round voting (63 percent) on September 19, Ange-Felix Patasse of the MLPC prevailed over Abel Goumba and the Patriotic Front for Progress (FPP) with 52 percent of the vote. Patasse was inaugurated on October 22. The 85 deputies from 11 identifiable political parties were sworn in on November 3. An international observer group that monitored both rounds of voting described the electoral process as free, fair, and legitimate despite minor administrative irregularities and the unsuccessful attempts by unknown persons in Bangui and the town of Berberati to use violence to derail the elections. The time-consuming process of tabulating votes did not permit the Supreme Court to proclaim first-round legislative and presidential results within 8 days, as stipulated by the Electoral Code, but the Court did adhere to the spirit of the Electoral Code throughout the electoral process. Women remained underrepresented in the political process. Three female candidates were elected to the Parliament and two others were named to President Patasse's Cabinet. Pygmies (Ba'aka), who represent 1 to 2 percent of the national population, are not represented in the Government and have little political power or influence, although they voted in large numbers in the 1993 election. In general, the Ba'aka have little ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Central African Human Rights League (LCDH) is a nongovernmental organization with multiple goals, including publicizing human rights violations in the C.A.R. and pleading individual cases of human rights abuses before the courts. The LCDH raised its public profile with two public seminars and the advent of a publication dedicated to relevant human rights issues. The LCDH took the lead in calling for a unified opposition response when the Government repeatedly delayed announcement of electoral dates. Despite the LCDH's activist stance, the Government did not attempt to hinder its activities. The International Committee of the Red Cross visited the C.A.R. at least twice and was given access to prisons and refugee sites. There were no known requests from other international human rights organizations to visit in 1993.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution stipulates that all persons are equal before the law without regard to wealth, race, or religion, but significant discrimination exists.


Despite the Constitution, in practice women are not treated as equal to men economically, socially, or politically, and women in rural areas suffer more discrimination than women in urban areas. When school was in session, 60 to 70 percent of urban females went to primary school while only 10 to 20 percent of their rural counterparts did. Overall, at the primary level females and males enjoy equal access to education, but a majority of females drop out at age 14 to 15 due to social pressure to marry and bear children. At the University of Bangui, the sole university in the C.A.R., only 20 percent of the students are women. In rural communities, where farming is the chief livelihood, women continue traditional child-raising duties and perform most food-farming tasks while men seek salaried work or produce cash crops. Women not engaged in traditional agricultural activities often work in commerce as market vendors. Customs forbidding women and children to eat certain classes of food, including some meats, persist in some areas of the country. There are no accurate statistics on the percentage of female wage earners, but in cities many educated women find work outside the traditional patterns. Some hold clerical positions, and a modest but growing number are establishing private businesses or moving into the higher echelons of government. Women are in the military, the police force, and the gendarmerie. Polygyny is legal, although there is growing resistance among educated women to this practice. There is no legal limit on the number of wives a man can take, but a prospective husband must indicate at the time of the marriage contract whether he intends to take further wives. Women who are educated and financially independent tend to seek a monogamous relationship. Divorce is legal and may be initiated by either partner, but in practice many Central Africans never marry because men cannot afford the traditional bride payment. Central African law follows French law and does not statutorily discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights. However, a welter of conflicting customary laws (depending on region or ethnic background) often prevails. Violence against women, including wife beating, occurs, but it is impossible to quantify its extent as data are lacking, and cases are seldom officially reported. The courts hear very few cases of spouse abuse, although the issue does come up during divorce trials or in civil suits for damages. Some women reportedly tolerate abuse in order to retain a measure of financial security for themselves and their children. The Government did not address this issue in 1993. The Government chartered the Association of Central African Women Jurists in 1993. This group established a legal clinic to advise women of their legal rights and published pamphlets in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs that advised women of the legal prohibition and dangers of female genital mutilation. A second pamphlet, directed at women and young children, discussed food taboos.


There is no official discrimination against children, but the Government spends little money on programs for children. There are some church and other nongovernmental youth projects. Given crippling strikes in the education sector, children did not attend school in 1993. As a result, the number of Bangui's street children increased markedly. Current interpretation of Article 187 of the Penal Code forbids blows or injuries to children under the age of 15. The Government has never enforced a 1966 law forbidding female genital mutilation (circumcision) or Article 187, which is also interpreted as prohibiting this procedure. Circumcision has been condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. This traditional tribal practice is common in certain rural areas, and to a lesser degree in Bangui, and is performed at an early age. According to health officials, about 10 to 15 percent of C.A.R. females have undergone this mutilation. The Association of Women Jurists initiated an educational effort against the procedure with the support of officials in the Ministry of Health.

Indigenous People

Despite constitutional provisions, in practice some minorities are treated unequally. In particular, the indigenous forest-dwelling Ba'aka, commonly known as Pygmies, are subject to discrimination and exploitation which the Government has done little to correct. Pygmies often work for villagers at wages lower than those paid to other groups.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There are about 90 ethnic groups, and in the past there has been little ethnic balance at the higher levels of government. Under the Kolingba government, members of the minority Yakoma ethnic group held a disproportionate number of senior positions in the Government, military, and state-owned firms. Under the Patasse Government, this trend has changed. Although residents of the north of the country are a majority in his Cabinet, a much broader ethnic balance has been achieved.

Religious minorities

Muslims, particularly Mbororo (Peuhl) herders, claim to have been singled out for harassment, including police shakedowns and bandit attacks, due to popular resentment of their presumed affluence. Few Muslims hold senior executive posts in Government, but about a half-dozen Muslims won seats in the National Assembly.

People with Disabilities

There is no codified or cultural discrimination against the disabled. There are several programs designed to assist the disabled, including handicraft training for the blind and the distribution of wheelchairs and motorized carts by the Ministry of Social Services. There is no legislated or mandated accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the new Labor Code, last revised in 1990, all workers are free to form or join unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. The right of association has been widely exercised by the relatively small part of the population holding wage-earning jobs, notably persons in the large public sector, including teachers, civil servants, and postal workers. The current Labor Code does not refer to any trade unions by name, a change from previous versions. The International Labor Organization (ILO) had requested this change to reflect the proliferation of new unions. There are now five recognized labor federations, including the Organization of Free Public Sector Unions (OSLP) and the Labor Union of Central African Workers (USTC). The USTC and its member unions continued to assert and maintain their official independence from the Government and political parties. However, prior to the presidential elections USTC Secretary General Theophile Sonny-Cole expressed publicly his support for the candidate of the Confederation of Democratic Forces (CFD) and the USTC and CFD both participated in a so-called ghost town strike in April. In April the USTC executive bureau suspended from its ranks three of the six public sector union heads, following those unions' own suspension of their USTC activities at the end of 1992. The public sector unions formalized the break in October, with the creation of the OSLP, which the Government recognized almost immediately. The membership of the OSLP now outnumbers that of the USTC by nearly three to one (20,000 versus 8,000). Unions have the right to strike and exercised it in both the private and public sectors. 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 the union and employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. Strikes did not always meet these requirements, although whenever the Government sought to enforce them, the unions acceded to them. In June the acting Minister of Public Works sent a note to labor leaders in which he observed that the right to strike is an individual decision and, by implication, not one that collective union leadership can legally dictate. The Labor Code states that if employers initiate a lock-out which is not in accordance with the Labor Code, then the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lock-out. Other than this, no mention is made of sanctions on employers for acting against strikers. It is not known the extent to which this policy is actually followed. Repeated strikes by the public sector unions met with limited response. In most cases, the Government did not intervene, allowing health services to operate at a minimal level and schools to remain closed. In isolated cases, however, the Government sent in troops or issued provocative decrees to try to break the unions' solidarity. In April government troops occupied a labor union building following a strike officially called over salary arrears but influenced in large measure by the Government's reticence to hold long-promised presidential elections. In June the President and Prime Minister made statements that employees not showing up for work would not be paid. That statement resulted in a student uprising during which the Minister of Finance was briefly taken hostage. Federations are free to affiliate internationally. The USTC maintains international labor contacts, although it is not formally affiliated with any international bodies.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code accords trade unions full legal status, including the right to sue in court. However, by requiring a union official to be employed full time in the occupation as wage-earner, the Labor Code serves to restrict union organizing activities to after hours. The Labor Code does not specifically state that unions may bargain collectively. While collective bargaining has nonetheless taken place in some instances, the Government is usually involved in the process. Wage scales are set by the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, but have been only a tangential issue in labor negotiations; the outright nonpayment of salaries continued to be the major complaint of the unions, and the main impetus for the public sector strikes, which finally ended in November after a month's arrears were paid. The law expressly forbids discrimination against employees on the basis of union membership or union activity. However, leaders of public sector unions, particularly teachers, continued to complain of government discrimination against them and their members, most often through arbitrary reassignment to provincial posts. The Labor Code does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is specifically prohibited by the Labor Code, and there were no reports of such labor. The ILO in 1993 reiterated its longstanding concern that the C.A.R. Government amend or replace laws and ordinances dating from 1966, 1972, and 1975 that stipulate imprisonment involving compulsory labor for persons engaged in independent activities of a political nature. The Government stated these laws were in "abeyance" but indicated it was "aware of the need to bring its legislation and practice into conformity with international labor conventions."

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Employment of children under 14 years of age is forbidden by law, but this provision is only loosely enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. In practice, the role of children in the labor force is generally limited to helping the family in traditional subsistence farming or in retailing.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code states that minimum wages are to be set by decree of the Minister of Labor rather than by an act of the National Assembly. Minimum wages differ among the various sectors. In September 1991, minimum wages were raised for the first time since 1980 by between 10 and 50 percent, depending on the category of employee. The lowest paid workers received the largest percentage increases in the minimum wage, which assures a family the basic necessities but is barely adequate to maintain a decent standard of living in a country with a high cost of living. Agricultural workers are guaranteed a minimum of $26 (FCFA 7,800) per month, while office workers are guaranteed $60 (FCFA 18,000). Still more serious for public sector employees has been the outright nonpayment of wages due to the Government's chronic revenue shortfalls. Most labor is performed outside the wage and social security system, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector. The law sets a standard workweek of 42 hours for government employees and most private sector employees. Domestic employees may work up to 55 hours per week. The law also states that there must be a minimum rest period of 24 consecutive hours on Sundays, although in certain circumstances the Sunday requirement may be waived. There are also general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but they are neither precisely defined nor actively enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, a matter about which the ILO has expressed concern to the Government for many years. The Labor Code states that a labor inspector may force an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions, but it makes no mention of the right of workers to remove themselves from such work conditions.

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