a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. The Ministry of Justice investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions.
There were 170 instances of extrajudicial killings committed by state security forces, including the Armed Forces of the Central African Republic (FACA), and Russian-backed Wagner Group elements as of December. Many of these killings occurred when security forces and Wagner Group elements suspected civilians of being affiliated with armed groups. The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) released human rights reports covering January through April citing 42 cases of misconduct by FACA during noncombat operations, which resulted in five killings, including one incident while soldiers attempted to collect illegal taxes at a checkpoint. In May 2021, the government announced the creation of a special commission of inquiry to report on alleged abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by actors operating under the auspices of the Central African government during the previous year. When released during the year, the government report accused armed groups of war crimes and crimes against humanity but did not conclude that government forces committed human rights abuses. An independent report produced by MINUSCA’s Human Rights Division drew different conclusions. Their report found that extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and disappearances, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, occupation of public buildings, and hindrances to humanitarian access had also been committed by FACA and Wagner Group elements. As of September, government officials claimed that administrative action such as separation from the service had occurred for some individuals in connection with these allegations. There were no reports the government took any judicial actions against alleged perpetrators.
Throughout the year, armed groups carried out reprisal raids on civilian towns suspected of supporting rival forces, including the government. During a late December 2021 attack on the town of Boyo in Ouaka Prefecture, former anti-Balaka militants, accompanied by local men recruited and trained by Wagner Group elements and FACA, slashed, stabbed, and dismembered Muslim civilians, killing 20 and critically injuring at least 10 adults and two children, according to reports released in January by MINUSCA. These proxy forces committed acts of sexual violence and systematically looted and burned homes. In April a government investigation acknowledged the UN reports regarding the above incident but denied the involvement of FACA and Wagner Group elements, placing all blame for abuses on armed groups, contradicting conclusions by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
According to a MINUSCA investigation, in January Wagner Group elements killed five civilians and wounded 15 others in the village of Aigbado and killed 17 in the village of Yanga during an operation against the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC). Local and international media reported the combined civilian death toll between 30 and 70. Witnesses alleged Wagner Group elements, FACA members, and proxy forces recruited by security services shot indiscriminately into a crowd and summarily executed men suspected of supporting armed groups. During the operation, Wagner Group elements set fire to homes and emplaced land mines before withdrawing. Humanitarian relief organizations were unable to access Aigbado and Yanga for several months due to the land mines, halting humanitarian assistance for the affected population.
There were limited reports of disappearances committed by or on behalf of government authorities.
A 2021 government investigation acknowledged UN reports that government or Wagner Group elements participated in the disappearance of civilians and suspected armed group members. As of September, there was no indication that authorities took action regarding the disappearances.
According to local news reports, businessman and community leader Issa Manou disappeared in January 2021 on his way to a meeting with National Assembly President Simplice Mathieu Sarandji. After approximately two months of searching, Moussa’s children launched a public campaign urging assistance from government authorities. During the year, the family filed a complaint against Sarandji in the High Court of Bangui. Sarandji claimed not to know Moussa, despite signs of their affiliation on social media and evidence that their 2021 meeting had been scheduled. As of year’s end, the government had not opened an official investigation.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
The law prohibits the practice of torture and specifies punishment for torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. Although sentences for those convicted of torture range from 20 years to life in prison and forced labor, impunity persisted. As of September, there were no reports that the government conducted any official investigations into accusations.
MINUSCA’s Human Rights Division reporting claimed state actors, such as FACA, committed most of the recorded incidents of torture during security operations against armed groups. Nonstate armed group actors were responsible for most cases of other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatments and punishments, such as maiming and dismembering, and widespread sexual violence.
Impunity for cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment continued to be a significant problem throughout the country’s security forces, including FACA, Wagner Group elements, gendarmerie, and police. According to human rights advocates, factors that contributed to impunity included judicial backlogs and victims’ fear of retaliation. The government worked with bilateral mission partners and international organizations to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarmerie units. In August the Ministry of Defense demoted 11 FACA soldiers and officers from several units for misconduct related to human rights abuses. In March 80 FACA soldiers and officers were dishonorably discharged for similar abuses.
Military tribunals, courts martial, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any abuse by the military. The Military Tribunal hears cases punishable by less than 10 years, while the Court Martial hears cases punishable by 10 years or more. The Ministry of Defense does not make public the number or frequency of military tribunals. After a decade of inactivity, military courts resumed work in July 2021. The Bangui Military Tribunal held its second hearing in July, hearing 14 cases. In September the Court Martial held its first criminal session in Bangui.
In February the Justice Unit of MINUSCA organized workshops to educate FACA units in Bouar on the Code of Military Justice. The initiative aimed to strengthen rule of law and the fight against impunity. Local, civil, and military justice officials played leadership roles in providing this training. From January to June, MINSUCA trained 154 FACA, gendarmes, and police on human rights protection, international humanitarian law, torture prevention, and conflict-related sexual violence for security forces stationed in Obo, Bamabri, Bouar, and Bria.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
According to the National Commission for Human Rights and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), prison conditions did not generally meet international norms and were often harsh, life-threatening, and inhuman due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation.
Abusive Physical Conditions: According to MINUSCA, in August the imprisoned population numbered 1,945 men and 45 women. The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, the high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and a women’s prison in Bimbo with a total capacity of 1,088 persons. Three prisons elsewhere in the country reported exceeding their designed capacity: Ngaragba by 440 percent, Berbarati by 95 percent, and Banbari by 64 percent, according to the EU Advisory Mission. In other locations, including Bossembele, Sibut, and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody at police stations and gendarmerie brigades. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded the facilities.
Prison conditions remained extremely poor in almost all locations. Many detention facilities were extremely overcrowded. Necessities such as food, clothing, and medicine were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. The Ministry of Justice reported 431 cases of malnourishment during the year, mainly at the Ngaragba Central Prison. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. UN observers reported imprisoned men carried out sexual violence against their fellow inmates, including minors, with impunity. In August the High Authority for Good Governance visited Bangui-based detention centers to investigate living conditions. They reported the Bimbo women’s prison had adequate space but lacked drinking water and electricity, conditions affecting the well-being of both prisoners and guards; however, later in the year UN agencies provided a diesel electricity generator and solar-powered lamps. The Ngaragba prison, the investigators noted, had been built to house 400 inmates but during the year held 1,365. The investigators reported a gross shortage of corrections officers in both detention centers.
Detention centers affiliated with the Central Office of Gang Repression and the Investigation and Research Section, the criminal investigations bureau of the gendarmerie, were both cited as egregious examples of overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and health care, according to UN sources. Poor hygienic detention conditions linked to overcrowding and inadequate health care increased the likelihood of infection by communicable disease. In Bangui, prisoners were separated by gender, as well as in smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, M’Baiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa. Detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors. There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. Pretrial detainees, numbering 1,640, made up nearly 80 percent of the population and were held together with convicted prisoners.
Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment but rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police officers or gendarmes fees to file their complaints. Prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees known as “coinage visits.”
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by international donors, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent experts on human rights in the country. In addition, state organs such as the National Commission for Human Rights and the General Inspectorate of Justice were also authorized independently to visit detention centers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of quality, affordable legal services, and a poorly functioning justice system.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law provides that persons under arrest be informed immediately of the allegations against them. Detainees must be presented before a judge within 72 hours and may not be held longer than 144 hours without appearing before a judge. There are exceptions for those detained under national security laws and those in remote areas where there are no courts. In both cases, detentions may be extended up to eight days, renewable once. Poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and an insufficient number of judges meant authorities did not always observe these requirements. According to UN reports, police and the gendarmerie routinely violated the 48-hour custody limit, often on suspicion alone. Provisional release was available for those awaiting trial but not consistently granted. There was a functioning bail system. Suspects were often detained incommunicado.
The law requires that defendants in felony cases involving sentences of 10 years or more be provided a lawyer. The law does not require defendants in nonfelony cases access to state-funded attorneys. Many felony and nonfelony defendants could not afford counsel. Some NGOs made prisoners aware of their right to an attorney, but many remained unaware of their rights, especially outside of the Bangui. The practice of appointing lawyers was rare outside of criminal sessions supported by external donors. Lawyers are available to those who can afford the fees.
Arbitrary Arrest: Both security forces and armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals. Many arbitrary arrests occurred during offensive operations by security forces and Wagner Group elements, according to reports by the United Nations, the local press, and NGOs. In some cases, arbitrary arrests targeted ethnic and religious minorities on suspicion of alleged collusion with armed groups.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention, prison overcrowding, and prolongation of trial dates were serious problems. As of September, UN reports estimated 1,673 individuals remained in pretrial detention, a notable 10 percent increase from 2021. Lengthy pretrial detentions occurred in part because of a lack of affordable legal representation and low capacity of judiciary bodies. The law provides that preventive detention is possible if the penalty incurred exceeds one year’s imprisonment and if, for the needs of the investigation, it is essential to preserve evidence and separate parties involved.
Although record keeping of arrests and detentions was poor, slow investigation and processing of cases was the primary cause of lengthy pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained and understaffed, resulting in slow case-processing times. In many cases, the duration of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.
In May 2021, Remy Quignolot, a French citizen, was arrested on charges of espionage and detained in a military prison in Bangui. The law stipulates a 12-month maximum period of pretrial detention, with a possible extension of four months after judicial review. The courts did not issue a pretrial detention extension, yet he remained in prison until December. The government based the allegations on a set of photographs in which Quignolot appeared in front of ammunition stores. Human rights NGOs claimed authorities planted the photographs. Quignolot departed the country before his trial, and in response the court agreed to conduct a trial in absentia. No trial date had been set as of year’s end.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political actors exerted undue influence on it. The country’s judicial system had not recovered from 2013 attacks by Seleka rebels, who destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country. Despite improvements in the number of judges deployed outside Bangui, a shortage of justices hindered court operations nationwide. Many judges were unwilling to conduct proceedings outside Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries or access banks, and the lack of office space. UN legal experts explained that while some security concerns were legitimate, other justices simply refused to travel to areas lacking access to social services or adequate housing. Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, trained personnel shortages, and salary arrears. Authorities at all levels did not always respect court orders.
The Special Criminal Court (SCC), established in 2015, operated with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. During the year, the SCC formed a corps of 32 national and 16 international lawyers to assist with trial proceedings. According to the United Nations, investigations were often impeded by security constraints and insufficient political support.
In July SCC officials in cooperation with members of FACA and judicial police arrested Idriss Ibrahim Khalil in Alindao, south-central region of the country. Notorious under the nom de guerre “Ben Laden,” the self-proclaimed general of the Union for Peace (UPC) armed group was accused of directing and participating in multiple attacks on civilians and security forces, including an attack at a camp for internally displaced persons in 2018 that left 112 civilians dead. As of September, SCC authorities were holding Khalil in pretrial detention in Bangui, where he was awaiting a hearing.
In April the SCC Trial Chamber opened its first trial related to 2019 attacks on civilians in the prefectures of Koundjouli, Limouna, and Ouham-Pendé, allegedly perpetrated by the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) armed group. The court-appointed lawyers for the accused failed to appear at the initial hearing due to a salary dispute, but after a negotiated settlement, the trial proceeded during the year and reached a guilty verdict by in October, although an appeal remained pending as of year’s end.
The country’s Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC), is a transitional justice body charged with establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for abuses, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation through public hearings, and it operates under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Reconciliation. The TJRRC held public consultations in Bangui, Bouar, Bossangoa, Kaga-Bandoro, Bria, and Basse Kotto to educate the public concerning its processes and intent. The commission expected to carry out its first hearings in 2023.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but this right was not always enforced. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty, requires trials to be public, and states that indigent felony defendants facing sentences of 10 years or more have the right to consult a court-appointed attorney. Criminal trials use professional judges and juries selected from lists generated by magistrates in courts of appeal. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, question witnesses, and file appeals. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them (with free interpretation as needed) throughout all stages of the legal process, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. All defendants who do not speak the country’s main languages, French and Sango, are entitled to an interpreter. If this right is not respected, defendants have the right to appeal the decision of the court. Authorities did not always respect these rights due to systemic disfunction, including undertrained staff, budget shortfalls, and outdated technology in the court system.
There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity in the criminal and civil court systems. Witness protection was a major problem in criminal courts. Victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was neither assurance of their safety nor a credible judicial process.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in which to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. Civil courts, which are collocated with correctional courts, held regular sessions.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits home searches without a warrant during preliminary investigations, except for provisions in the law that permit searches with the defendant’s consent. Once the case is under investigation by an investigating magistrate, the presence of the defendant or witnesses is sufficient. The government did not always follow this requirement.
In June the gendarmerie and police conducted a large-scale military contraband search-and-seizure operation in private homes and businesses in Bangui. While the operation itself conformed to local law, local media reported large-scale theft of personal property, including cash savings, from individuals with no association to armed groups. One business owner claimed police stole seven million CFA francs ($11,400) from his store. On August 30, approximately 10 Russian-trained FACA soldiers broke into a mining site near the Cameroon border in a coordinated criminal attack. The soldiers abused seven Cameroonian mine workers before extorting 100,000 CFA francs ($163) and stealing mobile phones.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
There were numerous reports of serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses countrywide by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and armed groups. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, disappearances, rape, forced marriage, looting, destruction of property, unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups, and disruption of humanitarian access. According to UN agencies, there were increasing incidents of conflict-related sexual violence during the year.
Between January and July, a joint report by the UN Human Rights Office and MINUSCA recorded 451 cases of abuses of human rights and of international humanitarian law across the country, impacting 1,475 victims, including 893 civilians. FACA, internal security forces, and other security personnel, including Wagner Group elements, were responsible for 232 incidents (51.5 percent). Armed groups affiliated with the CPC were responsible for 48.5 percent of the incidents affecting a disproportionately higher number of victims. Wagner Group elements killed the most civilians overall. NGO and MINUSCA reports did not disaggregate collateral deaths during combat operations and noncombat incidents. Abuses included summary and extrajudicial executions, acts of torture and mistreatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, conflict-related sexual violence including sexual slavery, and serious abuses of children’s rights. The reports also included kidnappings, attacks on peacekeepers and civilians, and looting of humanitarian organizations’ premises by several rebel groups.
Killings: Military offensives north and northeast of Bria escalated in January, resulting in new waves of violence and displacement. These government-led offensives concentrated on securing control of resource-rich areas in Haute Kotto, particularly artisanal diamond mining regions, and resulted in the death of dozens of civilians and combatants. NGOs operating in the region could not verify the exact number of fatalities due to insecurity. FACA, Wagner Group elements, and demobilized combatants incorporated into proxy force units from the UPC carried out the attacks.
UPC and Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic (FPRC) forces reportedly targeted civilian populations in January, returning to communities following the withdrawal of security forces to carry out retaliatory attacks. In Yangou, Droundjam armed groups reportedly executed in January an unconfirmed number of men whom they suspected of spying for the government.
Abductions: The UN Human Rights Division verified 82 adult and 35 child victims of abduction and deprivation of liberty. In the second quarter of the year, all but one case was attributed to the UPC and 3R armed groups.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were numerous reports throughout the year that all parties to the conflict, including FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebel armed groups mistreated, assaulted, and raped civilians with impunity.
The UN Human Rights Division counted 65 abuses and 81 victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Of these cases, the vast majority were rapes. State actors were responsible for eight violations affecting eight victims. Armed groups, chiefly 3R combatants, were responsible for most of the cases and victims. The UN Human Rights Division documented two cases of sexual slavery, affecting two victims, one committed by Wagner Group elements and the other by the FPRC. The UN Child Protection Unit verified the kidnapping of a girl aged 17 in early February by two Wanger Group members in Bria. The kidnapped girl was raped multiple times and forced to perform domestic work.
The United Nations and NGOs reported incidences of conflict-related sexual violence. As a reprisal for the government offensives in January, armed groups raped 12 women and girls – one as young as age 12 – in Nzako, south of Haute Kotto prefecture after security forces withdrew.
In Bangui, MINUSCA supported a safe house operated by a local NGO to provide temporary protection to survivors of sexual violence. It also worked with the UN Country Team, a combined unit of UN agency representatives, to establish a working group to assist survivors in the areas of health, justice, and psychosocial and socioeconomic support. In October 2021, President Touadera named Minister Counselor of Child Protection Josiane Lina Bemaka-Soui as the country’s new focal point for sexual violence in conflict. Bemaka-Soui led efforts to pass the country’s first laws specifically targeted to human trafficking, sexual violence, and child exploitation in conflict. In September President Touadera signed “Law No. 22.015 on the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons in the Central African Republic.”
Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-Balaka, ex-Seleka, the CPC, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers. There were two verified cases of government-supported units recruiting and using soldiers during the year. In April the United Nations reported that Wagner Group elements recruited and trained children in Alindao, and FACA soldiers used children for petty labor at checkpoints in various locations around the country. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often forced to marry combatants or were exploited as sex slaves.
Despite signing the UN’s Standard Operation Procedures proscribing the use of child soldiers, the Central African Patriotic Movement, FPRC, and UPC continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children within these groups. From January to June, UN agencies reported 157 victims of child soldier recruitment by armed groups.
The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced up to 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition, the law establishes that a child who has served in an armed force or group is a victim and should not be subject to criminal prosecution or that service, and mandates social reintegration mechanisms for victims.
During the year, the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. The focal point for children’s affairs in the unit in charge of the national Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation program confirmed 29 former child soldiers were detained in Ngaragba Prison, because the government was unable to find alternative centers to hold and rehabilitate them. These children were all released and reunited with their home communities by presidential decree in November.
In April the minister of defense issued a directive prohibiting children from being near military facilities. In August the government, at the recommendation of Minister Counselor of Child Protection Bemaka-Soui, implemented a series of training sessions designed to sensitize security forces to problems related to trafficking in persons and the use of children in armed conflict. Officers from the armed forces, police, gendarmerie, fire brigades, and forest protection units received the training. Additionally, the government required Russian “instructors” stationed at a FACA base in Baragno to attend the training. The training covered the legal and ethical topics associated with human trafficking and utilizing children in armed conflicts and examined cases and best practices.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that humanitarian organizations’ ability to access remote areas worsened because of insecurity. Intimidation and extortion by armed actors remained the chief obstacle to delays in assistance delivery. Thefts, robberies, looting, threats of violence, and assaults accounted for 75 percent of incidents; the remainder involved interference with assistance operations. In April armed elements opened fire on humanitarian vehicles, injuring seven. In May following an ambush, armed group members detained nine humanitarian workers and stole their vehicles to transport looted humanitarian items, according to UN reports. The report did not mention to which group the perpetrators had affiliation. An acute fuel shortage from May to September affected humanitarian actors’ ability to deliver assistance by limiting air and ground travel and reducing MINUSCA peacekeepers’ ability to patrol and secure humanitarian corridors.
Between January and July, OCHA recorded 96 incidents affecting humanitarian workers, including one humanitarian killed and 18 injured. The 15 incidents recorded in July included two lootings, three attempted break-ins at humanitarian bases, and a roadside ambush of a humanitarian team. Ouham, Bangui, and Ouaka were the most affected prefectures.
UN observers reported the Wagner Group recruited former armed group members to join FACA from disbanded Anti-Balaka militias and UPC with stipends for service. This brought former rebels under the command of Wagner-directed FACA elements without the formal screening and selectivity of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Rehabilitation program. The lack of selectivity and the limited training provided under Wagner Group’s competing program, according to MINUSCA’s military analysis team, led to an increase in misconduct by government-affiliated units acting as proxy forces.