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TITLE: CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC The Central African Republic became a democracy in 1993 following free and fair elections in which Ange Felix Patasse, candidate of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC) was chosen President. Citizens also elected an 85-member National Assembly in which no party achieved a majority. In 1994 a multiparty democratic Constitution was widely discussed, debated, revised and finally accepted in a national referendum in late December. The military and the National Gendarmerie, under the Minister of Defense, share internal security responsibilities with the civilian police force, under the direction of the Minister of Public Security. Under President Patasse, the Presidential Security Guard was reduced in size and responsibilities. Outside of banditry in border regions, a brief university student demonstration, and an ethnically charged, nonpolitical fracas with Chadian merchants, there were no incidents of unrest nor disturbances of public security. The Central African Republic is a landlocked and sparsely populated country, most of whose inhabitants practice subsistence agriculture. Principal exports are coffee, cotton, timber, tobacco, and diamonds. Devaluation of the currency in January had the effect of raising producer prices, including these commodities, and thus boosted rural income. On the other hand, devaluation raised the cost of imported items, which constrained consumption by civil servants and other workers. Economic structural reforms began to take effect midway through the year, greatly improving the prospects for economic growth. The overall human rights situation improved considerably following the September 1993 elections and the installation of the new Government in October. Local watchdog groups, however, remain vigilant. They have expressed concerns that prosecutions of former regime figures for corruption not be tainted by political vendetta. Similarly, they criticized the Government's tendency to use police powers to intimidate opponents. Actions such as harassment of travelers, politically inspired searches and interrogations, and telephone monitoring have been used occasionally against political opponents. Several persons remained detained under national security criteria in excess of legal limits without their cases going to trial. Police beatings of some detainees continued, and the army's treatment of captured bandits was harsh. The Government is not known to have punished those responsible. Other human rights abuses included continuing discrimination and violence against women and discrimination against pygmies. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no known political killings, but there were credible reports that army troops captured and summarily executed several bandits after a firefight near the Chadian border. The Government investigated extrajudicial killings which had occurred in April 1993 and August 1992, when security forces used excessive force in suppressing anti-government forces. A military tribunal found four soldiers guilty of causing the deaths of civilians in those incidents. b. Disappearance There were no reports of disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Although the Penal Code prohibits torture and specifies sanctions for those found guilty of physical abuse, the police continue to beat and abuse criminal suspects. There were reliable reports that officials of the former regime held by authorities as criminals on corruption charges were among those mistreated. So far as is known, the Government did not punish those responsible. Prison conditions are harsh. Cells are overcrowded, and the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, and medical care, are in short supply. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The law stipulates that persons detained in cases other than those involving national security must be brought before a magistrate within 96 hours. In practice, this deadline is often not respected, in part due to inefficient judicial procedures. By law, national security detainees defined as "those held for crimes against the security of the State" may be held without charge for up to 2 months. Authorities in early 1994 arrested, interrogated, and incarcerated under this section of the law approximately 24 persons--half military, half civilian--suspected of harboring weapons and plotting against the Government. Police freed several following investigation and reduced charges against most others, but some detainees remain in jail awaiting trial or court-martial. Although previous governments used the national security provision of the law to arrest opponents for exercising internationally recognized human rights, the Government did not detain any person for such presumed infractions. There were no known instances of incommunicado detention. The judicial system does not provide for bail, but authorities do release suspects on their own recognizance. The Government arrested six politically prominent persons on apparently valid charges of corruption. It has been slow to bring them to trial, however, reflecting both the complexity of the cases as well as politically driven motives to ensure convictions. The law does not permit exile, and it does not occur in practice. The Government has repeatedly stated that any person in exile for strictly political, rather than criminal, reasons may return home without fear of persecution. At the end of the year, there were no known political self-exiles. Former politician Rodolph Iddi-Lala died in exile in 1994. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The judiciary consists of regular and military courts, with the Supreme Court at the apex. In criminal cases, the accused have the right to legal counsel, to public trial, and to be present at their trials. The Government generally respects these safeguards in practice, but the judiciary suffers numerous shortcomings, including executive interference, institutional neglect, inefficient administration of the law, and shortages of trained personnel and material resources. The military court, for example, did not convene during the first half of the year for lack of money. It did convene in September and worked its way through a full docket of cases. Military court proceedings are open to the public and are broadcast on national radio. Parliamentary critics condemned as unconstitutional President Patasse's action to grant amnesty, prior to completion of investigations and possibly trial, to persons accused of engaging in fraudulent manipulation of educational examination results. The Constitution is vague regarding authority to grant executive clemency prior to conviction. There were no known political prisoners in 1994. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Government rarely abused legal prohibitions on invasion of the home without a warrant in civil and criminal cases. Title IV of the Penal Code, which covers certain political and security cases, allows police to search private property without written authorization. Early in the year, police conducted such searches as part of investigations into illegal weapons caches. In at least one other attempt, when the police did not invoke national security provisions, irate neighbors thwarted a politically inspired search. The Government used telephone monitoring to maintain a close watch on opposition figures. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press Private citizens spoke freely and publicly about political developments, criticizing the Government, the President's handling of certain issues, and political parties. Opposition leaders, in particular, used press statements, manifestos, broadsides, and copies of open correspondence to the Government to circulate their views. Although not all of this documentation was published in the government-controlled media, the Government made no apparent effort to censure, seize, or halt circulation of these materials. The Government owns and controls one newspaper, which appeared only 6 times during the year, a more regular wire service news bulletin, and a radio and television station. Although the Government refused to provide unimpeded access to the media, it allowed some opposition statements and press conferences as news items. The political opposition felt that, under this policy, media coverage of political activities was unbalanced and unfairly limited the public's right to information. This point was particularly relevant for several days during the campaign leading to the constitutional referendum when the government press did not report opposition views. However, it subsequently relented and reported opposing perspectives prior to the voting. Several private newspapers began publication during the year, but only sporadically. In addition, the Government granted Radio Africa One, a private continentwide music-and-news radio station, permission to begin unrestricted local broadcasting in Bangui. Finally, a church-run radio station was authorized but had not yet started broadcasting by year's end. The Government did not impede foreign journalists in their work. University faculty members and students belonged to the full range of political parties and expressed their respective views without fear of reprisal. No issues of academic freedom were tested. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for the right of assembly, but this is restricted by regulation. A 1992 decree requires the organizers of all demonstrations and public meetings to register with the Government 48 hours in advance. The decree also prohibits political meetings in schools or churches. In September the political party responsible for the decree, the Rassemblement Democratique Centrafricain (RDC), led by former President Kolingba, scheduled a rally on school property, which the Government then prohibited. The RDC conducted the rally a week later on its own premises without difficulty. There were no other known instances of permissions for meetings being refused, nor did the Government interfere in or monitor such meetings. Associations are required to register with the Government in order to enjoy legal status. A 1991 law requires all political parties to register with the Ministry of Public Security in order to participate legally in politics. The Government permitted the 23 registered political parties, as well as a variety of nonpolitical associations, to hold congresses, to elect officials, and to publicly debate policy issues without interference. c. Freedom of Religion There is no state religion, and a variety of religious communities are active. Religious organizations and missionary groups are free to proselytize, worship, and construct places of worship. However, religious groups must register with the Government, and any group whose behavior is considered subversive in nature remains subject to sanctions, although no sanctions were imposed in 1994. Jehovah's Witnesses, which the previous Government had banned, encountered no difficulties during 1994. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation People are free to move within the country, but police and other officials sometimes harass travelers unwilling or unable to pay bribes at checkpoints along major intercity roads and at major intersections in Bangui, the capital. The Government has not taken effective measures to eliminate these practices. On several occasions police refused to let former President Kolingba or members of his family, who are not under any sort of restraining order, pass through the control barrier toward his farm some 20 miles from town. After protest, and without admitting responsibility for its actions, the Government permitted the former president to travel. In an unrelated case, authorities refused permission to the nephew of a presidential candidate to board a Paris-bound plane. Again after protest, the individual was allowed to depart. As part of an anticorruption measure, the Government decreed that former chief executives of state-owned companies would not be free to leave the country until auditors had certified that accounts were in order. There were no known cases of revocation of citizenship during the year. The Government continued to host refugees from Chad, Sudan and several dozen from Rwanda. It cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There were no reports of forced repatriation of refugees to countries in which they feared persecution. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government In 1993 citizens were able to exercise peacefully their constitutional right to change their government by democratic means. International observers deemed the elections free and fair. The new Constitution, which was adopted by national referendum in December, provides for multiple political parties and increased powers and independence for the legislative and judicial branches at the expense of the executive. Bye-elections for six empty parliamentary seats were also held in December. One of the six outcomes was again rejected because of irregularities. The ruling MLPC Party failed to gain seats. Most presidential candidates, including Patasse, promised municipal and local elections by 1994, but as yet none are scheduled. In the interim the Government moved to appoint a new mayor for Bangui, an action that engendered criticism from prodemocracy forces as reneging on a commitment. A constitutional challenge by an opposition party led to executive annulment of the appointment on the grounds that the appointee, an elected member of the National Assembly, was not eligible for a concurrent post. Women remained underrepresented in politics. Three women candidates were elected to Parliament, and two others were named as Cabinet ministers. Pygmies (Ba'aka), who represent from 1 to 2 percent of the national population, are not represented in the Government and have little political power or influence, although they voted in large numbers in the 1993 election. In general, the Ba'aka have little ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Central African Human Rights League (LCDH) is a nongovernmental organization with multiple goals, including publicizing human rights violations and pleading individual cases of human rights abuse before the courts. During the course of the year, several other nongovernmental organizations, including the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights and Humanitarian Action and the Central African Red Cross, actively pursued human rights issues, including prison visits. The Government did not attempt to hinder any such activities. A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the Central African Republic at least once during the year and was given access to prisons. There were no known requests from other international human rights organizations for visits. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Constitution stipulates that all persons are equal before the law without regard to wealth, race, or religion, but significant discrimination exists, as indicated below. Women Despite the Constitution, in practice women are not treated as equal to men economically, socially, or politically; women in rural areas suffer more discrimination than women in urban areas. Sixty to seventy percent of urban females go to primary school, while only 10 to 20 percent of their rural counterparts do. Overall, at the primary level females and males enjoy equal access to education, but a majority of young women drop out at age 14 or 15 due to social pressure to marry and bear children. Only 20 percent of the students at the University of Bangui are women. In rural communities, women continue traditional childraising duties and perform most subsistence farming, while men seek salaried work or produce cash crops. Customs forbidding women and children to eat certain classes of food, including some meats, persist in some areas of the country. There are no accurate statistics on the percentage of female wage earners, but in cities many educated women find work outside the traditional patterns. Some hold clerical positions, and a modest but growing number are establishing private businesses or moving into the higher echelons of government. Women serve in the military, the police force, and the Gendarmerie. Polygyny is legal, although there is growing resistance among educated women to this practice. There is no legal limit on the number of wives a man may take, but a prospective husband must indicate at the time of the marriage contract whether he intends to take further wives. In practice many Central Africans never formally marry 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. Central African law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a welter of conflicting customary laws (depending on region or ethnic background) often prevail. Violence against women, including wife beating, occurs, but it is impossible to quantify its extent as data are lacking, and victims seldom make reports. The courts try very few cases of spouse abuse, although litigants cite this abuse during divorce trials or in civil suits for damages. Some women reportedly tolerate abuse in order to retain a measure of financial security for themselves and their children. The Government did not address this issue in 1994. The Government chartered the Association of Central African Female Jurists in 1993. This group established a legal clinic to advise women of their legal rights and published pamphlets in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs that advised women of the legal prohibition and dangers of female genital mutilation. A second pamphlet, directed at women and young children, discussed food taboos. In 1994 the group sponsored theatrical presentations designed to educate the populace about women's rights. Children Although there is no official discrimination against children, the Government spends little money on programs for children. There are a few church and other nongovernmental projects for youth. Crippling strikes in the education sector caused 3 years of missed school. Schools restarted in late 1993 and have operated normally since that time. Nonetheless, most children are woefully behind in their studies, and a number have dropped out completely. Bangui contains a population of street children who make their way by begging and stealing. Several charitable organizations strive to assist them. Current interpretation of Article 187 of the Penal Code forbids blows or injuries to children under the age of 15. The project of drafting a strong family code designed to protect women's and children's rights was not completed in 1994. The Government has never enforced in court a 1966 law forbidding female genital mutilation (FGM) nor Article 187, which is also interpreted as prohibiting FGM. International health experts have condemned FGM as damaging to both physical and psychological health. This traditional tribal practice is found in certain rural areas, and to a lesser degree in Bangui, and is performed at an early age. Preliminary data from a national health census indicates that 44 percent of females have undergone this mutilation. Indigenous People Despite constitutional provisions, in practice some minorities are treated unequally. In particular, indigenous forest-dwelling pygmies are subject to social and economic discrimination and exploitation which the Government has done little to correct. Pygmies often work for villagers at wages lower than those paid to other groups. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities There are about 90 ethnic groups, and in the past there has been little ethnic balance at the higher levels of government. Under the former Kolingba government, members of the minority Yakoma ethnic group held a disproportionate number of senior positions in the government, military, and state-owned firms. Under the Patasse Government, this trend has changed. Although residents of the north of the country are a majority in his Cabinet, a broader ethnic balance has been achieved. Even so, observers detect noticeable favoritism towards northerners in government appointments and caution that the ethnic pendulum not swing too far in that direction. Religious Minorities Muslims, particularly Mbororo (Peuhl) herders, claim to have been singled out for harassment, including police shakedowns and bandit attacks, due to popular resentment of their presumed affluence. In October, following a confrontation between Muslim Chadian merchants and an off-duty policeman which left three persons dead, anti-Chadian rioting resulted in the looting of several dozen shops. Few Muslims hold senior executive posts in government, but around six Muslims serve in the National Assembly. People with Disabilities There is no codified or cultural discrimination against the disabled. There are several government-initiated programs designed to assist the disabled, including handicraft training for the blind and the distribution of wheelchairs and carts by the Ministry of Social Services. There is no legislated or mandated accessibility for the disabled. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Under the new Labor Code, last revised in 1990, all workers are free to form or join unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. A relatively small part of the population has exercised the right of association, chiefly wage earners, such as civil servants, which includes teachers and postal workers. The current Labor Code does not refer to trade unions by name, a change from previous versions. The International Labor Organization (ILO) had requested this change to reflect the proliferation of new unions. There are now five recognized labor federations, including the Organization of Free Public Sector Unions and the Labor Union of Central African Workers (USTC). The USTC and its member unions continued to assert and maintain their official independence from the Government and political parties. Unions have the right to strike and, although there were no significant strikes, they have exercised this right in both the private and public sectors in previous years. To be legal, strikes must be preceded by the union's presentation of demands, the employer's response to these demands, a conciliation meeting between labor and management, and a finding by an arbitration council that the union and employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The Labor Code states that if employers initiate a lockout which is not in accordance with the Labor Code, then the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. Other than this, the Code does not provide for sanctions on employers for acting against strikers. It is not known to what extent this policy is actually followed. Labor federations are free to affiliate internationally. The USTC maintains international labor contacts, although it is not yet formally affiliated with any international bodies. In October USTC members voted to seek formal affiliation with several international labor organizations. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The Labor Code accords trade unions full legal status, including the right to sue in court. However, by requiring a union official to be employed full-time in the occupation as wage earner, the Labor Code serves to restrict union organizing activities to after-hours. The Labor Code does not specifically provide that unions may bargain collectively. While collective bargaining has nonetheless taken place in some instances, the Government is usually involved in the process. Wage scales are set by the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service but have been only a tangential issue in labor negotiations; the nonpayment of salary arrears and higher consumer costs attributed to the devaluation continued to be the major complaints of the unions. The law expressly forbids discrimination against employees on the basis of union membership or union activity. However, leaders of public sector unions, particularly teachers, complained of government discrimination against them and their members, most often through arbitrary reassignment to provincial posts. The Labor Code does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. There are no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Forced labor is specifically prohibited by the Labor Code, and there were no reports of such labor. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children Employment of children under 14 years of age is forbidden by law, but this provision is only loosely enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. In practice, the role of children in the labor force is generally limited to helping the family in traditional subsistence farming or in retailing. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The Labor Code states that the Minister of Labor, rather than the National Assembly, must set minimum wages by decree. Minimum wages differ among the various sectors. In September 1991, minimum wages were raised for the first time since 1980 by between 10 and 50 percent, depending on the category of employee. The lowest paid workers received the largest percentage increases in the minimum wage. The minimum wage assures a family the basic necessities but is barely adequate to maintain a decent standard of living in a country with a high cost of living relative to family income. Agricultural workers are guaranteed a minimum of $14 (CFAF 7,800) per month, while office workers are guaranteed $32 (CFAF 18,000). Most labor is performed outside the wage and social security system, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector. The law sets a standard workweek of 42 hours for Government employees and most private sector employees. Domestic employees may work up to 55 hours per week. The law also requires that there be a minimum rest period of 24 consecutive hours on Sundays, although in certain circumstances the Sunday requirement may be waived. There are also general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service neither precisely defines nor actively enforces them, a matter about which the ILO has expressed concern to the Government for many years. The Labor Code states that a labor inspector may force an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions, but it does not provide the right for workers to remove themselves from such conditions. (###)
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