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Central African Republic

The Central African Republic (C.A.R.) appears to have been settled from at least the 7th century on by overlapping empires, including the Kanem-Bornou, Ouaddai, Baguirmi, and Dafour groups based in Lake Chad and the Upper Nile. Later, various sultanates claimed present-day C.A.R, using the entire Oubangui region as a slave reservoir, from which slaves were traded north across the Sahara and to West Africa for export by the Europeans. Population migration in the 18th and 19th centuries brought new migrants into the area, including the Zande, Banda, and Baya-Mandjia.

In 1875 the Egyptian sultan Rabah governed Upper-Oubangui, which included present-day C.A.R. Europeans, primarily the French, German, and Belgians, arrived in the area in 1885. The French consolidated their legal claim to the area through an 1887 convention with Congo Free State, which granted France possession of the right bank of the Oubangui River. Two years later, the French established an outpost at Bangui, and in 1894, Oubangui-Chari became a French territory. However, the French did not consolidate their control over the area until 1903 after having defeated the forces of the Egyptian sultan, Rabah, and established colonial administration throughout the territory. In 1906, the Oubangui-Chari territory was united with the Chad colony; in 1910, it became one of the four territories of the Federation of French Equatorial Africa (A.E.F.), along with Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), and Gabon. The next 30 years were marked by smallscale revolts against French rule and the development of a plantation-style economy.

In August 1940, the territory responded, with the rest of the A.E.F., to the call from Gen. Charles de Gaulle to fight for Free France. After World War II, the French Constitution of 1946 inaugurated the first of a series of reforms that led eventually to complete independence for all French territories in western and equatorial Africa. In 1946, all A.E.F. inhabitants were granted French citizenship and allowed to establish local assemblies. The assembly in C.A.R. was led by Barthelemy Boganda, a Catholic priest who also was known for his forthright statements in the French Assembly on the need for African emancipation. In 1956 French legislation eliminated certain voting inequalities and provided for the creation of some organs of self-government in each territory. The French constitutional referendum of September 1958 dissolved the A.E.F., and on December 1 of the same year the Assembly declared the birth of the Central African Republic with Boganda as head of government. Boganda ruled until his death in a March 1959 plane crash. His cousin, David Dacko, replaced him, governing the country until 1965 and overseeing the country's declaration of independence on August 13, 1960.

On January 1, 1966, following a swift and almost bloodless coup, Col. Jean-Bedel Bokassa assumed power as president of the Republic. Bokassa abolished the constitution of 1959, 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 promulgation of the imperial constitution and the proclamation of the president as Emperor Bokassa I. His regime was characterized by numerous human rights atrocities.

Following riots in Bangui and the murder of between 50 and 200 schoolchildren, former President Dacko led a successful French-backed coup against Bokassa on September 20, 1979. Dacko's efforts to promote economic and political reforms proved ineffectual, and on September 20, 1981, he in turn was overthrown in a bloodless coup by Gen. Andre Kolingba. For 4 years, Kolingba led the country as head of the Military Committee for National Recovery (CRMN). In 1985 the CRMN was dissolved, and Kolingba named a new cabinet with increased civilian participation, signaling the start of a return to civilian rule. The process of democratization quickened in 1986 with the creation of a new political party, the Rassemblement Democratique Centrafricain (RDC), and the drafting of a new constitution that subsequently was ratified in a national referendum. General Kolingba was sworn in as constitutional President on November 29, 1986. The constitution established a National Assembly made up of 52 elected deputies, elected in July 1987. Due to mounting political pressure, in 1991 President Kolingba announced the creation of National Commission to rewrite the constitution to provide for a multi-party system. Multi-party presidential elections were conducted in 1992 but were later cancelled due to serious logistical and other irregularities. Ange Felix Patasse won a second-round victory in rescheduled elections held in October 1993, and was re-elected for another 6-year term in September 1999.

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. The French succeeded in quelling the disturbances, and an African peacekeeping force (MISAB) occupied Bangui until 1998 when they were relieved by a UN peacekeeping mission (MINURCA). Economic difficulties caused by the looting and destruction during the 1996 and 1997 mutinies, energy crises, and government mismanagement continued to trouble Patasse's government through 2000. In March 2000 the last of the MINURCA forces departed Bangui. In May 2001 rebel forces within the CAR military, led by former President and army General Andre Kolingba, attempted a military coup. After several days of heavy fighting, forces loyal to the government, aided by a small number of troops from Libya and the Congolese rebel Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), were able to put down the coup attempt. In November 2001, there were several days of sporadic gunfire between members of the Presidential Security Unit and soldiers defending sacked Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Francois Bozize, who fled to Chad. In mid-2002 there were skirmishes on the CAR-Chad border.

 

ECONOMY

Subsistence agriculture, together with forestry, remains the backbone of the economy of the Central African Republic (CAR), with more than 70% of the population living in outlying areas. The agricultural sector generates half of GDP. Timber has accounted for about 16% of export earnings and the diamond industry for 54%. Important constraints to economic development include the CAR's landlocked position, a poor transportation system, a largely unskilled work force, and a legacy of misdirected macroeconomic policies. The 50% devaluation of the currencies of 14 Francophone African nations on 12 January 1994 had mixed effects on the CAR's economy. Diamond, timber, coffee, and cotton exports increased, leading an estimated rise of GDP of 7% in 1994 and nearly 5% in 1995. Military rebellions and social unrest in 1996 were accompanied by widespread destruction of property and a drop in GDP of 2%. The IMF approved an Extended Structure Adjustment Facility in 1998 and the World Bank extended further credits in 1999 and approved a $10 million loan in early 2001. As of January 2002, many civil servants were owed as much as 16 months pay during the PATASSE administration, as well as 14 months pay from the KOLINGBA administration.

 

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

Central African Republic has provided data neither for United Nations nor INTERPOL surveys of crime; however, an estimate of crime is given in the United States State Department's Consular Information Sheet according to which street crime is uncommon in downtown Bangui, but armed gangs operate in outlying residential areas. Looting has occurred during periods of civil unrest. Armed highway robbery in rural areas is common, especially during the December through May dry season. When a crime does occur in Bangui, the victim may have to pay to send a vehicle to pick up police officers due to the shortage of police vehicles; the other option is to use a vehicle to take the police to the scene of the crime. On March 15, 2003, rebel forces that had been operating in the countryside outside Bangui took over the capital and seized power from the government. Although the situation in Bangui is calm, the security situation in the countryside remains unstable.

 

POLICE

The National Police under the direction of the Ministry of Interior and Public Security, the military forces, the National Gendarmerie, and the Special Presidential Unit (USP) under the Ministry of Defense and responsible for presidential security share responsibility for internal security. The civilian authorities do not maintain effective control of the security forces. Apart from the USP, the military, much of which mutinied in 1996 and 1997, is perceived widely to be of doubtful loyalty to the Patasse Government; the Government has not paid military salaries since October 2000. Members of the security forces were involved in the May coup attempt. On October 26, President Patasse removed General Francois Bozize as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces after accusing him of being part of the attempted coup. On November 2, an attempt to arrest Bozize resulted in fighting between government forces and soldiers loyal to Bozize. There were numerous reports that security forces committed serious human rights abuses during and following the coup attempt. Members of the security forces, and of the USP in particular, committed numerous, serious human rights abuses during the year.

 

Security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings, including government-approved executions of suspected bandits and killings reportedly committed for political reasons by members of the USP. In the days following the May 28 attempted coup, government forces engaged in military reprisals, open executions, and door-to-door "search and destroy" missions to eliminate suspected rebel sympathizers, particularly members of Kolingba's Yakoma ethnic group. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of deaths of prisoners due to police abuse. Police and security forces are immune from prosecution for extrajudicial killings.

The special police Squad for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) continued to operate and reportedly engaged in torture. There were no figures available on the number of extrajudicial killings by the OCRB during the year. In the previous year, police officials repeatedly publicized on radio and television the crimes of criminals apprehended by this squad, and the OCRB executed these criminals the following day without a trial; however, there were no public reports of such incidents during the year. Medical staff have confirmed that members of the OCRB often took the bodies of persons they have executed to the hospital and left them for the family to pick up. The OCRB's use of extrajudicial killing had both official government and popular support and was seen as an effective means of reducing crime and increasing public security. The Government tacitly approved the actions taken by the police squad to reduce armed robbery; no OCRB member has been prosecuted for extrajudicial killings or other abuses committed while on duty. Officials justify the unit's actions as a consequence of nonexistent prison facilities in Bangui. In September the OCRB took Aristide Ndakala-Mandapy to the government television station to record his confessions of committing several robberies. On September 19, the station broadcast the tape. On September 22, the OCRB shot and killed Ndakala-Mandapy and left his body at the hospital. No action was taken against the responsible OCRB officers by year's end. There reportedly were other OCRB extrajudicial killings during the year; however, details were unavailable. Unlike in the previous year, no detainees died as a result of torture.

There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated disappearances; however, after the coup attempt, thousands of persons went into hiding, making it difficult to determine whether security forces were responsible for any disappearances during that time.

Although the Penal Code prohibits torture and specifies sanctions for those found guilty of physical abuse, police continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners. Family members and human rights groups, including the Human Rights League (HRL) Executive Committee, pursued court complaints filed in previous years with the prosecutor, Joseph Bindoumi, regarding the deaths of several prisoners due to police abuse; however, government authorities continued not to take action on any of the cases. The HRL did not file any court complaints of police abuse during the year.

The law prohibits invasion of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases; however, on occasion police used provisions of the Penal Code governing certain political and security cases that allow them to search private property without a warrant. Security forces continued to carry out warrantless searches for guns and ammunition in private homes. The increase of banditry in Bangui has become a pretext for the police to carry out warrantless house searches. The Government continued to monitor the telephones of some opposition figures and to engage in wiretapping without judicial authority.

 

DETENTION

On January 15, gendarmes invaded the house of opposition leader Jean-Paul Ngoupande despite his immunity as a deputy in the National Assembly. Ngoupande escaped and went into hiding; supporters who were at Ngoupande's home were arrested and released 2 days later.

On January 19, gendarmes detained two of the French Ambassador's bodyguards, who had accompanied the Ambassador to the Ministry of Justice; the bodyguards were released without charge the same day.

In June the General Secretary of the USTC was arrested, questioned, and subsequently released after attending a meeting of the ICFTU-AFRO Congress in Nairobi.

Several journalists were arrested during the year. On February 14, USP soldiers arrested, detained, and tortured journalist Abdoulaye Aboukary Tembeley. Tembeley reportedly was denied access to his family while he was in detention. Tembeley was charged with "inciting the population to hatred and violence." In late February, Tembeley was released pending trial, which began on February 26; the trial had been delayed three times because of the injuries Tembeley received when he was tortured. Tembeley was sentenced to 2 years in jail and a fine of $210 (150,000 CFA francs); however, on March 8, President Patasse pardoned Tembeley.

Following the May 28 attempted coup, security forces arrested numerous persons on suspicion of complicity in the attempt. On August 25, Jean-Jacques Demafouth, the Minister of Defense, was arrested on suspicion of complicity in the attempted coup. Demafouth still was in detention without charge at year's end. On September 26, gendarmes arrested attorney Assingambi Zarambaud on charges of involvement in the coup attempt; however, numerous human rights organizations charged that Zarambaud's arrest followed the publication of a series of articles that were critical of the Government. In December 2000, police had issued an arrest warrant for Zarambaud in connection with a December 19, 2000 rally. Zarambaud went into hiding after the rally but came out of hiding during the year.

On June 8, the Government established a Mixed Commission of Judicial Inquiry to investigate the causes of the May 28 attempted coup and to bring those responsible to justice. Following the establishment of the Commission, the Government arrested and detained more than 100 civilian and military personnel in connection with the coup attempt. There were numerous reports that the Government used the Mixed Commission to target political opponents. In October in Bangui, the Mixed Commission arrested Father Tonino Falagoista, director of the Catholic radio station Radio Notre Dame, after the station criticized the killing of members of the Yakoma ethnic group (see Section 2.a.). Some of the persons detained by the Commission were released; however, there was no information available on the number of detainees who still were in detention at year's end. On October 9, Commission President Joseph Bindoumi presented a preliminary report to the President in a public ceremony; however, the Commission did not issue a final report by year's end. The Commission's mandate expired on December 11.

On December 19, 2000, security forces arrested 73 persons, including 4 members of the National Assembly and several children, following a demonstration in Bangui that had been banned previously by the Government (see Section 2.b.); 8 of the detainees, including the children, subsequently were released; however, 65 of the detainees remained in custody until January 8, when a civil court ruled that the Government's ban on the meeting was flawed procedurally. The court found the four National Assembly deputies and the president of a political party guilty of resisting arrest and sentenced them to 15 days in jail (which they already had served) and a fine. All 65 remaining detainees were released on the day of the trial. The Government did not appeal the decision.

 

COURTS

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, it is subject to executive interference. The judiciary consists of regular and military courts. The highest court is the Constitutional Court, which determines whether laws passed by the National Assembly conform to the Constitution. The Constitutional Court also receives appeals from the Court of Cassation and the Court of Appeals. Lower courts hear criminal and civil cases and send appeals to the Court of Appeals. The sole operating Criminal Court only met once for a period of 2 months during the year due to a lack of funds. As a result, there was a large backlog of criminal cases. The courts of justice and the juvenile court barely functioned during the year, and are unlikely to function properly due to inefficient administration, shortage of trained personnel, growing salary arrears, and a lack of material resources.

In general trial procedures, an officer of the judicial police writes a report of the investigation and sends it to the public prosecutor's office. If the prosecutor believes there is sufficient evidence that an offense has occurred and that the accused committed it, he places the accused under an arrest warrant. If there is insufficient evidence, the case is dropped. Trials are held publicly, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult a public defender. Defendants also have the right to question witnesses, to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and to have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case. There is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and if convicted, defendants have the right to appeal. No groups are barred from testifying; relatives of the accused may testify. The Government generally complies with these legal requirements; however, the judiciary does not enforce consistently the right to a fair trial, and there were many credible reports of corruption within the court system. A number of persons were subjected to prolonged detention without trial or were killed summarily and extrajudicially by the OCRB.

 

CORRECTIONS

Prison conditions are extremely harsh. In October the Government began renovating Ngaragba, Bangui's main prison that was destroyed during the 1996 mutinies. A number of detainees still were being kept in 10 police stations around Bangui; however, the number remaining in detention at year's end was unknown. Police station cells are overcrowded, and the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, and medicine, are in short supply and often are confiscated by prison officials for their personal use. Prisoners frequently were forced to perform uncompensated labor at the residences of government officials and magistrates. Male and female prisoners were confined in separate facilities in Bangui but housed together elsewhere. There were no separate detention facilities for juvenile prisoners who routinely were housed with adults and often subjected to physical abuse. Pretrial detainees were not held separately from convicted prisoners.

The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and religious groups routinely provide supplies, food, and clothes to prisoners. The ICRC has unrestricted access to prisoners.

 

WOMEN

Domestic violence against women, including wife beating, reportedly is common; however, inadequate data make it impossible to quantify. Spousal abuse is considered a civil matter unless the injury is severe. Victims seldom report incidents. The courts try very few cases of spousal abuse, although litigants cite these abuses during divorce trials and civil suits. Some women reportedly tolerate abuse to retain a measure of financial security for themselves and their children. The Government did not address this problem during the year.

The law prohibits female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health; however, girls continued to be subjected to this traditional practice in certain rural areas, and to a lesser degree in Bangui. Approximately 45 to 50 percent of adult females have undergone FGM. In 2000 the International Committee of African Women for Development (CIFAD), a central African-based women's rights organization, began a national campaign against FGM with financial assistance from a foreign donor. During the year, a Government-NGO campaign continued to reduce incidence of FGM in rural areas.

Women are treated as inferior to men both economically and socially. Single, divorced, or widowed women, even with children, are not considered socially to be heads of households. Only men are entitled to family subsidies from the Government. Women in rural areas generally suffer more discrimination than do women in urban areas. There are no accurate statistics on the percentage of female wage earners. Women's access to educational opportunities and to jobs, particularly at upper levels in the professions or in government service, traditionally has been limited.

Polygyny is legal, although this practice faces growing resistance among educated women. The law authorizes a man to take up to four wives, but a prospective husband must indicate at the time of the first marriage contract whether he intends to take additional wives. In practice many couples never marry formally because men cannot afford the traditional bride payment. Women who are educated and financially independent tend to seek monogamous marriages. Divorce is legal and may be initiated by either partner.

The law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of conflicting customary laws often prevail. A family code designed to strengthen women's rights was enacted in 1998; it has had a positive effect in strengthening women's rights, particularly in the courts. The Association of Central African Women Lawyers advises women of their legal rights. The organization also publishes pamphlets in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs on the dangers of FGM. In 2000 several active women's groups organized workshops and seminars to promote women's and children's rights and to fully participate in the political process; at least one such event was held during the year.

 

CHILDREN

Although there is no official discrimination against children, the Government spends little money on programs for them. Churches and NGO's have relatively few programs for youths. The failure of the education system, caused by a meager budget and salary arrears, has resulted in a shortage of teachers and an increase in street children. Education is compulsory from ages 6 to 14; however, parents rarely are prosecuted for their children's nonattendance. Moreover, in practice, the age that a child starts school often varies by 2 to 3 years in rural areas. At the primary level, girls and boys enjoy equal access to education, but the majority of young women drop out at age 14 or 15 due to social pressure to marry and bear children. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of urban women have attended primary school, whereas only 10 to 20 percent of their rural counterparts have done so. Only 20 percent of the students at the University of Bangui are women.

Many children beg and steal. Several charitable organizations strive to assist them. In some rural areas, teachers or principals use their pupils as farm laborers. According to numerous credible reports, male teachers in primary and secondary schools as well as at the University level routinely pressure their female students into having a sexual relationship in exchange for passing grades; the spread of HIV/AIDS is extremely prevalent between teachers and their female students.

The Government does not provide medical coverage for uninsured children.

The Penal Code forbids parental abuse of children under the age of 15 years. The Family Code was designed to strengthen children's rights. Illegitimate children have the same rights as those born in wedlock. A juvenile court was set up in 1998 and provided counseling services to parents and juveniles during the year.

Juvenile prisoners routinely were housed with adults and often subject to physical abuse.

FGM is performed primarily on young girls.

Some girls enter prostitution to earn money for their families. In previous years, the presence of international peacekeeping forces in the capital aggravated the problem of teenage prostitution. The Government did not address this problem during the year; however, between August 10 and 19, it organized a 1-week sensitization campaign for prostitutes and street children in preparation for the U.N. World Child Summit.

 

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were reports that persons, particularly children, were trafficked to and possibly within the country. The Government has recognized that trafficking in persons occurs; however, statistics and specific examples of trafficking are not available. Trafficking is confined primarily to children who are brought in by the foreign Muslim community from Nigeria, Sudan, and Chad to be used as domestic servants, shop helpers, and agricultural workers (see Section 5). Merchants, herders, and other foreigners doing business in and transiting the country also bring girls and boys into the country. Such children, who may or may not be related to their caretakers, are not afforded the benefit of a formal education, even though of mandatory school age, and work without remuneration for their labor. There is no evidence or indication of sexual exploitation, but there were reports that children were beaten publicly.

The indigenous Ba'Aka often are coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor within the country. The Ba'Aka often are considered to be the slaves of other local ethnic groups, and subjected to wages far below those prescribed by the labor code. Additionally there have been credible reports of three cases in which persons obtained a Ba'Aka child by deception and subsequently sent the child to Europe for adoption. One of the cases reportedly involved the implicit cooperation of government authorities.

The law does not prohibit specifically trafficking in persons; however, traffickers can be prosecuted under laws against slavery, labor code violations, mandatory school age laws, and laws against the exploitation of prostitution by means of coercion or fraud. Specific laws address the crime of prostitution and punish those who traffic women for the purposes of prostitution. The Government does not investigate actively cases of trafficking, nor does it use or have access to special investigative techniques in trafficking investigations. In 2000 the Government established a commission to study the extent of the trafficking problem, to identify those responsible, and to devise a plan to combat the problem; however, few resources have been devoted to the problem. The Ministries of Social Affairs, Interior, Labor, Rural Development, Justice, and Defense are involved in anti-trafficking efforts and are part of the commission. There are no known NGO's specifically working on the issue.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by Phy Long Ngov

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Dr. Robert Winslow
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San Diego State University