The constitution provides for freedom of religion under conditions set by law and equal protection under the law regardless of religion. It prohibits all forms of religious intolerance and “religious fundamentalism,” which is not defined in law. It specifies an oath of office for the head of state made “before God” that includes a promise to fulfill the duties of the office without any consideration of religion.
Religious groups, except for indigenous religious groups, are required to register with the Ministry of the Interior, Public Security, and Territorial Administration. To register, religious groups must prove they have a minimum of 1,000 members and their leaders have adequate religious education, as judged by the ministry.
The law permits the ministry to deny registration to any religious group it deems offensive to public morals or likely to disturb social peace, and to suspend the operation of registered religious groups if it finds their activities subversive. Registration is free and confers official recognition and certain benefits, such as customs duty exemptions for vehicles or equipment. There are no penalties prescribed for groups that fail to register.
The law does not prohibit religious instruction in public or private schools, but it is not part of the public school curriculum.
The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to media reports and religious and civil society leaders, civilian authorities failed to maintain effective control over the security forces, a situation that has persisted for a number of years. Human rights organizations stated the government again failed to take steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses that targeted members of various religious groups. These individuals were in the security forces and elsewhere in the government, and the human rights organizations stated this was a long-standing problem and one that fostered a climate of impunity.
During a government and UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) military operation to question and arrest local Muslim militia leader Yossouf Malinga, security forces killed Malinga in a February 7 shootout in Bangui’s predominantly Muslim PK5 neighborhood. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, his death was followed by several violent incidents, including the fatal stabbing of a Protestant minister at his church by supporters of Malinga’s militia group, the burning of two other churches, and the killing of a Muslim civilian, reportedly by anti-Balaka elements in retaliation. In addition, 300 residents of the Fondo neighborhood, also in the same district, fled their homes and took shelter at the recently closed IDP site at nearby M’Poko International Airport.
Muslims continued to report harassment outside of the PK5 enclave and exclusion from national decision making. Muslim leaders cited situations where Muslims were treated as outsiders or as a different class of citizens, especially when requesting government services.
Some government officials stated they intended to focus efforts on reconciliation among religious groups, although observers stated they made limited progress for a second year. The national Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission was created in December 2016, but its members had not been named by the end of 2017. Following the announcement of its creation in 2016, local peace committees began meeting in several areas. On August 23, President Faustin-Archange Touadera appointed new administrators for all of the country’s 16 prefectures; none of the appointees were Muslim. Critics stated the appointments lacked religious diversity. On September 12, Touadera named a new cabinet that included seven Muslims among the 34 ministers. The previous cabinet included four Muslims among 23 ministers. The percentage of Muslims in the cabinet increased from 17 to 21.
In February the government completed the closure of the IDP camp located at M’Poko International Airport. More than 28,000 residents, predominantly Christian, were unsure of where to go after the camp’s closure, according to UNICEF. Many of the IDPs previously lived in the PK5 neighborhood.
In July the Ministry of Social Affairs provided Muslim IDPs living on the grounds of Bangui’s Central Mosque with 50,000 CFA francs ($88) each to assist them with finding housing, mostly in the PK5 neighborhood.
The government continued to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as official but unpaid holidays. Unlike in the previous year, the government did not host an iftar.
Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors
Armed groups, which generally operated freely in certain areas of the country, continued to commit many of the actions affecting religious freedom. The government remained incapable of imposing its authority throughout the territory, preventing abuses, or ensuring the rule of law and the administration of justice, according to many observers.
Armed groups, particularly the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka, continued to control significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, according to media and UN reports.
Police and the gendarmerie failed to stop or punish abuses committed by the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka militias, including killings, abductions, physical mistreatment, extortion, and gender-based violence.
MINUSCA was deployed to multiple areas within the country in response to violence between anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka elements during the year.
According to UN Independent Expert Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum, in mid-February anti-Balaka fighters reportedly killed at least 16 civilians from the predominantly Muslim and nomadic Peulh community near Ippy, Ouaka Prefecture, during an ambush on a truck carrying persons trying to reach safety in Bambari. Between March 7 and 15, attacks carried out by anti-Balaka elements on the village of Site Chinois, to the south of Bria, reportedly resulted in the deaths of an estimated nine Peulh civilians and massive population displacement.
On May 11, the local branch of the Red Cross in Alindao, Basse-Kotto, reported that 37 bodies had been recovered and 110 persons injured in the locality following attacks carried out against the population between May 8 and May 10, reportedly by predominantly Muslim Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique – Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) militias. According to MINUSCA, a group of assailants believed to be associated with anti-Balaka forces attacked a UN convoy near the town of Bangassou in the southeast on May 8, killing five peacekeepers. This was part of a series of attacks that included attacks on the Muslim population in Bangassou.
According to the July report from the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic, on May 13, anti-Balaka fighters attacked the Tokoyo neighborhood of Bangassou and the MINUSCA base, resulting in 72 persons killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced. During the attacks 1,000 persons took refuge in a mosque in Bangassou, and 500 took refuge in a hospital. According to the UN Panel, attackers specifically targeted members of the Muslim community sheltering inside a Catholic church after peacekeepers left the church and returned to the MINUSCA base to protect it, leaving the Muslims at the church unprotected. One UN peacekeeper was killed. On May 14, UN forces were able to regain control of the area and those who sought refuge were freed. The Red Cross reported that it found the bodies of 115 individuals, the majority of whom were likely Muslim, in Bangassou on May 17, following the several days long anti-Balaka attacks. Approximately 2,000 Muslims remained in the Catholic mission after the attacks. Their Muslim neighborhood was destroyed by the anti-Balaka, and many homes were burned down. Additional anti-Balaka attacks targeting Muslims took place in June, leading to the displacement of additional civilians, approximately 21,000 altogether.
According to MINUSCA, on July 21, anti-Balaka militias targeted a Roman Catholic seminary in Bangassou which was providing refuge to an estimated 2,000 internally displaced Muslims. During the attack, two children were seriously hurt. A Muslim woman was also kidnapped, presumably by anti-Balaka militia; in response Muslim groups detained six Christians. Two of the Christians were reportedly released on July 22, and the whereabouts of the others remained unknown at year’s end.
According to international media reports, in mid-May the predominantly Muslim armed group Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC) entered the town of Bria and faced off with anti-Balaka militants, displacing tens of thousands of persons, mostly Christians. A month after the FPRC forces entered, approximately 41,000 persons, mostly Christians, continued to live in IDP camps. The PK3 camp, close to the UN base in Bria, had more than 26,000 inhabitants.
On August 8, 50 Christians were killed by the ex-Seleka in Gambo after anti-Balaka forces were cleared from the area by the MINUSCA.
According to the July UN Report of the Independent Expert, the Human Rights Division of MINUSCA documented 45 cases of violence committed against persons accused of witchcraft, involving 77 victims – 38 men, 32 women, and seven children. According to the report, most individuals accused of witchcraft and charlatanism were women and children, and a large number went to prison. The report said false allegations were made by members of armed groups to terrorize and extort money from the population. The report recommended the prosecution and punishment of all perpetrators of violence against persons accused of witchcraft.
In October a Bangui newspaper reported that a “network of sorcerers” had been dismantled in the village of Ndangala, outside Bangui. Villagers reportedly handed over to authorities in the town of Bimbo for investigation 12 individuals whom they accused of attempting to kill a woman through witchcraft.