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Central African Republic

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

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

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were several reports government officials employed them.

The UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic and HRW reported allegations that security forces, particularly members of the OCRB, mistreated individuals in pretrial detention and during the arrest of suspected criminals. For example, on April 28, the OCRB arrested a former anti-Balaka fighter accused of armed robbery. Former OCRB commander Yekoua-Kette ordered his men to beat the arrestee in public.

In February the government arrested a member of the FACA guarding Bimbo Women’s Prison, near Bangui, for the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl in the prison. On March 3, the suspect was remanded into custody and placed in Ngaragba Prison; he had not been brought before a judicial authority by year’s end. In March the UN independent expert expressed concern over allegations of rape of detainees at Bimbo Women’s Prison and raised the issue with the public prosecutor. MINUSCA subsequently took charge of national prison staffing in Bangui and Bouar and trained female prison officers to manage Bimbo Women’s Prison.

Forces from the ex-Seleka, anti-Balaka, LRA, and other armed groups abused, raped, and tortured civilians with impunity. Deaths due to torture occurred (see section 1.g.).

The United Nations reported it had received 50 allegations during the year (as of December 20) of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by UN peacekeepers deployed to MINUSCA, with 16 alleged incidents occurring in 2016, 31 in 2015, one in 2014, and two for which the dates of the alleged incidents were unknown. These allegations involved peacekeepers from Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, the Republic of the Congo, and Zambia. Of the 50 allegations, 34 involved minors, 43 remained pending investigation by the United Nations or the troop or police contributing country at year’s end, and four allegations were found to be unsubstantiated. Three investigations substantiated the allegations and resulted in a one-year sentence for a peacekeeper from Bangladesh for sexually abusing a minor, a court-martial and five-year sentence for an Egyptian peacekeeper for sexually assaulting an adult, and 45 days’ imprisonment for a Gabonese peacekeeper for sexual activity with a minor.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all countries that contribute peacekeepers to increase predeployment education and human rights training, enhance vetting procedures, conduct rapid and effective investigations, ensure consistent penalties for offenders, increase assistance to victims, and strengthen reporting of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.

On December 5, the United Nations announced that its Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) had completed an internal investigation into more than 100 allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers deployed in Dekoa, Kemo Prefecture, in 2014-15. During the investigation, which began in April, OIOS interviewed 139 persons and found that 45 were able to identify, via photographs and other corroborating evidence, 41 alleged perpetrators–16 of whom were from Gabon and 25 from Burundi. Of the 45 alleged victims, 25 were minors. Eight alleged victims, including six minors, made paternity claims. The United Nations announced it had shared the OIOS report with Gabon and Burundi, including the names of the identified alleged perpetrators, and requested appropriate judicial actions to ensure criminal accountability. The United Nations reported the alleged perpetrators had all been rotated out of the Central African Republic before the allegations surfaced. The United Nations requested a copy of the final national investigation reports to be transmitted urgently.

During the year MINUSCA continued to strengthen its prevention measures and reinforce its outreach among communities and peacekeepers across the country, especially in high-risk areas, to improve awareness and reporting on sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of misconduct. MINUSCA also regularly monitored conditions and behavior of peacekeeping personnel and partnered with UN agencies and implementing partners in the country that provide psychosocial, medical, and legal assistance to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.

There were credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses by members of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) deployed to the country since 2009 as part of the African Union Regional Task Force to counter the LRA. Preliminary investigations found at least 18 women and girls were subjected to sexual violence and harassment by UPDF members. There were an additional 14 reported cases of rape, including of victims who were minors. Several women and girls reported they had been taken from their villages by UPDF members and forced to become prostitutes or sex slaves or to marry Ugandan soldiers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the UN independent expert, detention conditions in the country’s prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman. The government operated two prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison for men (with an estimated 500 inmates) and Bimbo Women’s Prison (with an estimated 300 inmates). A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA troops, and judicial police guarded the men’s prison and its perimeter, while female prison officers, trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, guarded the women’s prison. There were also staffed prisons in 10 other towns. Conditions in other prisons not emptied or destroyed by recent conflict were life threatening and substantially below international standards. Basic necessities, including food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and often confiscated by prison officials.

MINUSCA’s contribution to prison administration resulted in a gradual demilitarization of facilities and a reduction in escapes.

Ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka forces held an unknown number of persons in illegal prisons and detention centers, but neither the government nor humanitarian agencies visited these sites, and their conditions were unknown.

Physical Conditions: Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and juveniles with adults. In prisons outside Bangui, it was common practice to hold men and women together.

Official prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electric lighting, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Prisoners seldom had access to health care, and disease was pervasive. In the women’s prison, authorities divided inmates into three large rooms with no ventilation or electric lighting, and all, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

Administration: There was no centralized recordkeeping system to track the number of prisoners. There was no ombudsman system. Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely did so, due to lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation by prison officials. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in the prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent observers, including the UN independent expert in March.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Between January and October 2015, the UN Population Fund reported the GBV Information Management System, established in 2014, recorded 60,208 GBV survivors, who received medical or psychosocial care or both. Among those were 29,801 cases of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual aggression. In 2014 the International Rescue Committee reported more than two-thirds of 125 women surveyed in Bangui had been gang raped, primarily by members of armed groups (see section 1.g.).

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common. A legal aid center in Bimbo for sexual and gender-based crimes reported receiving approximately 10 cases a week. The law considers spousal abuse a civil matter unless the injury is severe. According to the AFJC, victims of domestic abuse seldom reported incidents to authorities.

The government took no known action to punish perpetrators or otherwise combat rape and domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170 to $1,700), depending on the severity of the case. Approximately 24 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had been cut, according to multiple indicator cluster surveys reported by UNICEF in 2010; of that number 52 percent had undergone the procedure between ages 10 and 14. The government broadcast public awareness announcements concerning FGM/C on public radio.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Women, especially the very old and those without family, were in many cases accused of witchcraft (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Nevertheless, most couples lacked access to contraception, skilled attendance during childbirth, prenatal care, and essential obstetric care and postpartum care. According to estimates from the UN Population Fund, the maternal mortality rate remained extremely high: 500 to 999 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2015. With only 0.08 physicians per thousand residents, most births were unattended by qualified medical professionals, resulting in poor outcomes. UN sources estimated that in 2015 a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 27.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained about lack of access to these payments for women. Women’s access to educational opportunities and jobs, particularly at higher levels in their professions or in government service, remained limited. Some women reported economic discrimination in access to credit due to lack of collateral, but there were no reports of discrimination in pay equity or owning or managing a business.

The government did not take any steps during the year to combat discrimination against women. The AFJC advised women of their legal rights and how best to defend them. The AFJC filed an increased number of complaints during the year.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the low levels of birth registration, which led to violations of the right to a nationality for children whose births were not registered.

Education: Education is compulsory from six to 15 years of age. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies, and for transportation. In 2015, according to UNICEF, 38 percent of schools were attacked or looted during the crisis, and one-third of school-age children did not go to school. Girls did not have equal access to primary or secondary education. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. Some local and international NGOs made efforts, with little success, to increase Ba’aka enrollment in schools; there was no significant government assistance for these efforts.

According to an NGO nationwide survey in 2015, between 78 and 88 percent of schools were open. According to the United Nations, an estimated 10,000 children were prevented from attending school during the year, mostly due to schools being occupied by armed groups.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children under age 15. Nevertheless, child abuse and neglect were widespread, although rarely acknowledged. The government did not take steps to address child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. Nonetheless, an estimated 68 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 were married before age 18 and 29 percent before age 15, according to UNICEF data collected between 2005 and 2013. UNICEF reported forced marriages were on the rise among young girls in rural areas where the government lacked authority. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage. The practice of early marriage was more common in the Muslim community. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka members.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no statutory rape or child pornography laws to protect minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed. A legal aid center in Bimbo for sexual and gender-based crimes reported cases involving minor victims.

In the first half of the year, NGOs reported the LRA continued to target and abduct children. Abducted girls often were kept as sex slaves (see section 1.c.).

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see sections 1.g. and 2.d.).

There were reports of sexual exploitation of children and the inappropriate use of force by international and MINUSCA peacekeeping forces during the year (see section 1.c.).

Child Soldiers: Child soldiering was a problem (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions. Prior to the Seleka takeover in 2013, there were more than 6,000 street children between ages five and 18, including an estimated 3,000 in Bangui, according to data collected by the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs. Observers believed that HIV/AIDS and societal belief in sorcery, particularly in rural areas, contributed to the large number of street children. An estimated 300,000 children had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, and children accused of sorcery (often reportedly in connection with HIV/AIDS-related deaths in their neighborhoods) frequently were expelled from their households and were sometimes subjected to societal violence.

The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 60 percent of IDPs. Access to government services was limited for all children, but displacement reduced it further. Nevertheless, according to a humanitarian NGO, an estimated 140,000 displaced and vulnerable children participated in psychosocial activities, 3,000 children were released from armed groups, and approximately 3,500 survivors of sexual violence received comprehensive support.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities, if they are available. The law states at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities.

The government did not enact programs to ensure access to buildings, information, and communications. No information was available on whether any children with disabilities attended school during the year. The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

When persons with disabilities reached IDP camps, they faced difficulties accessing sanitation, food, and medical assistance.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Mbororo, primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the North. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Mbororo faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Mbororo began arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Mbororo’s grazing cattle. Several of the resulting altercations resulted in deaths.

Indigenous People

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who constituted 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, often were coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Refugees International reported the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity. The penalty for “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a fine of between 150,000 and 600,000 CFA francs ($255 and $1,022). When one of the participants is a child, the adult may be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 to 800,000 CFA francs ($170 and $1,362); however, there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted gays and lesbians. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization and social pressure to conform to a heterosexual lifestyle. Many citizens attributed the existence of homosexual activity to undue Western influence. There were no reports of LGBTI persons targeted for acts of violence, although the absence of reports could reflect cultural biases and stigma attached to being an LGBTI individual. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region former governments often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed anti-Seleka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, local priests, and an imam worked with communities to defuse tensions by making radio broadcasts urging members of their religious communities to call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings related to cattle theft occurred.

According to the UN independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft have been detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.” Accusations of witchcraft were usually brought against members of the most vulnerable population groups, including women, the elderly, children, persons with disabilities, and persons with albinism. According to the independent expert, “Persons suspected of witchcraft also were victims of mob justice, often carried out by anti-Balaka militias with the complicity of local authorities.”

According to an international NGO, between January and August, at least 110 persons were accused of witchcraft or quackery. These persons were subject to arbitrary arrests, executions by members of armed groups, killing by a mob, or expulsion from their communities.

For example, in Bossangoa, between August 6 and 15, three women accused of witchcraft were victims of vigilante violence. One of the three was seriously injured and transported to the local district hospital; the other two were kidnapped and released following the intervention of international forces.

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