Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a presidential republic. Voters elected Faustin-Archange Touadera president in a February 2016 run-off. Despite reports of irregularities, international observers reported the February 2016 presidential and legislative elections were free and fair. The 2016 constitution established a bicameral parliament, with a directly elected National Assembly and an indirectly elected Senate. The National Assembly convened in May 2016. Elections for the Senate had not taken place by year’s end.
Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve, but remained weak. State authority beyond the capital improved over the last year with the deployment of prefects and security services, in particular, in the western part of the country; armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, taxing local populations, providing security services, and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.
Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, forced disappearance, and sexual violence, including rape by ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups; arbitrary detention; delays in holding criminal sessions in the judicial system, resulting in prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, particularly in cities not controlled by the government and in illegal detention facilities not operated by the government; seizure and destruction of property and use of excessive and indiscriminate force in internal armed conflict by armed groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread corruption; lack of prosecution and accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including sexual violence and rape; criminalization of same-sex conduct; forced labor, including forced child labor; and use of child soldiers by armed groups.
The government started to take steps to investigate and prosecute officials in the security forces and in the government for alleged human rights violations. A climate of impunity, however, and a lack of access to legal services remained. There were allegations that United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeepers sexually abused children and sexually exploited adults. The United Nations investigated alleged perpetrators and the number of reported incidents decreased over previous years (see section 1.c.).
Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups escalated during the year. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the internal conflicts. Both ex-Seleka and the Anti-balaka committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press. The government generally respected these rights.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, such as Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.
Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups for expressing opinions opposing their ideologies.
The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.
In July unknown actors killed three Russian journalists near Sibut, a city 124 miles north of the capital. The motivation for the killing is still unknown.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events. The country’s sole university was open.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including the right to participate in political protests. The government, however, denied most requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place. In May the government briefly detained opposition leader Joseph Bendounga following a march in Bangui. The attorney general reiterated that the detention was justified because the march was not authorized.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights.
The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: Armed groups and bandits made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, armed groups, and criminals alike frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The country continued to face an acute humanitarian crisis. According to UNHCR, there were 614,679 IDPs and 572,081 refugees in neighboring countries at the end of July. Targeted violence against civilians by armed groups continued throughout the year. According to the Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Action (OCHA), attacks by armed groups against humanitarian organizations increased during the year. These attacks obstructed delivery of life-saving assistance to persons displaced by conflict.
Militia groups continued to target IDPs and threaten individuals and organizations attempting to shelter IDPs, including churches. For example, on September 7, the Bria IDP Camp was attacked by armed groups.
Throughout the year clashes between armed groups caused death and increased destruction of property. According to UNHCR, many newly displaced persons suffered fatal attacks, robberies, lootings, and kidnappings. Even after reaching safe locations, they often risked assault by armed groups if they ventured outside of camps to search for food. In many affected areas, humanitarian assistance was limited to strictly life-saving interventions, due to limited access and insecurity. The presence of armed groups continued to delay or block planned humanitarian deliveries.
Humanitarian organizations remained concerned about evidence that members of armed groups continued to hide out in IDP sites and attempted to carry out recruitment activities. This raised concerns for the safety of humanitarian staff and vulnerable displaced individuals residing in these areas.
The humanitarian actors provided assistance to IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government allowed humanitarian organizations to provide services, although security concerns sometimes prevented organizations from operating in areas previously controlled by the ex-Seleka, and targeted attacks on humanitarian operations impeded their ability to access some populations.
Since April the number of attacks in the country increased. OCHA recorded 118 incidents affecting humanitarian workers from April to June, compared with 63 in the first three months of the year. These included armed robberies, killings, and kidnapping.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Subcommission on Eligibility, however, had not held sessions since 2009, which contributed to a growing backlog of asylum applications.
During the second quarter of the year, the number of displaced persons declined but remained high.