Freedom in the World
Central African Republic
President François Bozizé was reelected for a second term in January 2011 with 64 percent of the vote. The National Convergence Kwa Na Kwa, which backs Bozizé, won the majority of the seats in concurrent elections to the National Assembly. Although members of opposition parties challenged the results, citing irregularities at the polls, the country’s Constitutional Council ruled in favor of Bozizé. Insecurity continued to plague much of the country during the year, as the Lord’s Resistance Army continued its attacks against civilians, though the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace rebel group signed a ceasefire with the government in July.
The Central African Republic (CAR) gained independence from France in 1960 after a period of brutal colonial exploitation. General André Kolingba deposed President David Dacko in 1981. Mounting political pressure led Kolingba to introduce a multiparty system in 1991, and Ange-Félix Patassé, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC), was elected president in 1993. With French assistance, he survived three attempted coups between 1996 and 1997. French forces were replaced by African peacekeepers in 1997, and the United Nations took over peacekeeping duties the following year. Patassé won a second six-year term in 1999, and UN peacekeepers withdrew the following year. Patassé was ousted by General François Bozizé in 2003, allegedly with backing from President Idriss Déby of Chad.
Bozizé initiated a transition back to civilian rule, and voters approved a new constitution in 2004. With the backing of the National Convergence Kwa Na Kwa (KNK) coalition, Bozizé ran for president as an independent, winning 65 percent of the vote in a May 2005 runoff against MLPC candidate Martin Ziguélé. The KNK won 42 of 105 seats in the National Assembly, securing a majority with the help of several smaller parties and independents. The MLPC, the second-largest grouping, won just 11 seats.
Between 2005 and 2007, several major insurgencies were launched against the government by rebel groups such as the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD), supported by forces loyal to Patassé; the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR); and the Central African People’s Democratic Front (FDPC). An estimated 200,000 Central Africans were internally displaced as a result of the fighting or fled to neighboring countries as refugees.
After a series of failed attempts, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the government, the UFDR, and the APRD in June 2008. The National Assembly also passed a law in September 2008 providing government and rebel forces with immunity for abuses committed after March 15, 2003. The Inclusive Political Dialogue, which was held between the government, the opposition, and rebel groups in December, established an interim government until 2010 elections could be held, and outlined a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program. By December 2009, all rebel groups, except the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), were participating in the peace process, but the demobilization of these groups has been slow and partial.
In September 2007, the UN Security Council authorized a new UN Mission in CAR and Chad (MINURCAT) and a European Union peacekeeping force in northeastern CAR. MINURCAT’s mandate ended on December 31, 2010, and troops had left northeastern CAR by mid-November. The CPJP took control of Birao for one week in November, forcing many civilians to flee, but Chadian forces drove them out on November 20, 2010.
In January 2010, half of the members of the Independent Electoral Commission quit in protest over the appointment of its president, Joseph Binguimalet, whom they claimed favored Bozizé. Presidential and legislative elections were postponed twice in early 2010 as a result of inadequate funding, insecurity in the north, and incomplete voter lists. By August, all political parties and civil society groups signed onto a new election calendar scheduled for January 23, 2011. A law passed by the National Assembly in May 2010 allowed Bozizé and members of the Assembly to remain in power until elections were held.
In January 2011, President Bozizé, with the backing of KNK, ran against four candidates and won 66 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, ex-president and independent Ange-Félix Patassé, captured 20 percent of the vote. Opposition leaders and candidates challenged the results, which were upheld by the Constitutional Court, but revised by lowering the percentage of Bozizé’s votes to 64 percent. MKNK won 63 out of the 105 seats in concurrent elections to the National Assembly. These elections were considered free, and security officers did not intimidate voters to the degree they had in previous elections. However, the opposition criticized both the presidential and parliamentary elections as unfair, citing fictitious and displaced polling stations, problematic electoral rolls, and numbers on voting cards not matching those in the voting stations rolls.
In June, the CPJP signed a ceasefire with the government, but no timetable was established for the implementation of its demobilization. Meanwhile, former UFDR rebels occupied the city of Sam Ouandje in July, and in September, they started fighting with CPJP rebels over control of the diamond trade. The two rebel groups signed a ceasefire on October 9.
Decades of conflict and poor governance have led to economic and social collapse. The CAR was ranked 179 out of 187 countries in the UN Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Index. However, according to the International Monetary Fund, the economy has recovered slightly, mainly as the result of investments in the diamond and forest industries.
The CAR is not an electoral democracy. The 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections were marked by irregularities and criticized by opposition candidates as unfair. The president, who is elected for a five-year term and eligible for a second term appoints the cabinet and dominates the legislative and judicial branches. Members of the unicameral, 105-seat National Assembly are elected by popular vote for five-year terms.
Though the KNK coalition is the country’s leading political force, other parties operate freely. However, the government sometimes withheld approval for meetings of political opposition groups in 2011.
Corruption remains pervasive, despite some steps toward reform in recent years. Diamonds account for about half of the country’s export earnings, but a large percentage circumvent official channels. CAR was ranked 154 of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government generally respects the right to free speech, but many journalists practice self-censorship. It is illegal to broadcast information that is “false” or that could incite ethnic or religious tension. The state dominates the broadcast media, but private radio stations exist. Several private newspapers offer competing views, though they have limited influence due to low literacy levels and high poverty rates. There are no government restrictions on the internet, but the vast majority of the population is unable to access this resource.
The constitution guarantees religious freedom. However, the government prohibits activities that it considers subversive or fundamentalist, and the constitution bans the formation of religious-based parties. Academic freedom is generally respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are constitutionally protected and generally upheld in practice. However, permission is required to hold public meetings and demonstrations, and authorities sometimes deny such requests on the grounds that they could stoke ethnic or religious tensions. The rights to unionize and strike are constitutionally protected and generally respected, though only a small percentage of workers are unionized, primarily those in the public sector.
Corruption, political interference, and lack of training undermine the judiciary. Judges are appointed by the president, and proceedings are prone to executive influence. Limitations on police searches and detention are often ignored. While the penal code prohibits torture, police brutality remains a serious problem. The military and members of the presidential guard continue to commit human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, with impunity. Prison conditions are poor.
Insecurity restricts the movement of citizens and greatly undermines the protection of private property. Attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, continued in 2011. A United Nations Development Programme report stated that thousands of villagers were displaced, 83 killed, and 334 abducted in the first three months of the year. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the number of internally displaced persons at 176,000, the number of refugees in CAR at 18,000, and the number of Central African refugees abroad at 130,000 as of December 2011.
Constitutional guarantees for women’s rights are not enforced, especially in rural areas. There is no specific law criminalizing domestic abuse, which is widespread and there is a high incidence of sexual violence against women by state and nonstate actors. Abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. Women were elected to only 13 percent of the seats in the National Assembly in 2011. The U.S. State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report downgraded CAR to Tier 3 as a result of the ongoing trafficking of children for forced labor and sexual exploitation, as well as their use in armed conflict.