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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.
(###)

[end of document]

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