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Title: Central African Republic Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 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, was chosen President. Citizens also elected an 85-member National Assembly in which no party achieved a majority. In 1994 a Constitution providing for multiparty democracy was accepted in a national referendum. 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 responsibility. Security forces committed serious human rights abuses. 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. A 1994 devaluation of the currency had the effect of raising prices received by producers of these commodities, and thus boosted rural income. On the other hand, the devaluation raised the price of imports, which constrained consumption by civil servants and other workers. The Government is the country's largest employer. The overall human rights situation improved considerably with the installation of the elected Government in October 1993. However, serious human rights abuses continued in certain areas. Police beatings of some detainees continued, and there were credible reports of routine summary executions of suspected bandits by security forces. In one well-publicized case, a suspect was killed while in police custody in Bangui. Other human rights abuses included harsh prison conditions, prolonged detention, limits on judicial independence and efficiency, restraints on press freedom to criticize the Government, a pattern of discrimination and violence against women, and discrimination against Pygmies. Local human rights monitors expressed concern over the extended detention in excess of legal limits of ex-officials from the previous regime charged with corruption; some of these cases went to trial in September and were in progress at year's end. 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 and gendarmerie forces routinely conducted summary executions of suspected bandits in border regions. The Government did not prosecute any officials for these killings, or for similar killings in 1994. In April presidential security forces arrested a young man and jailed him at the headquarters of an antibandit police unit. He was later observed by his parents to be unable to walk after an apparent beating; he died the next day. No official was prosecuted. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated 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 otherwise abuse criminal suspects. There were reliable reports of abuse of prisoners. So far as is known, the Government did not punish those responsible. Prison conditions are deplorable. Cells are overcrowded, and the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, and medical care, are in short supply and routinely diverted by prison officials for their personal consumption. Prisoners are frequently forced to perform uncompensated labor at the residences of government officials. Male and female prisoners are confined in separate facilities in Bangui but housed together elsewhere. Minors are routinely housed with adults and subject to abuse. Approximately half the male prison population are pretrial detainees. There is no system of bail. 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, authorities often do not respect this deadline, in part due to inefficient judicial procedures. Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. 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. Although previous governments used the national security provision of the law to arrest opponents for exercising internationally recognized human rights, the Patasse Government did not detain any person for such actions. In September the criminal court began its first session in 2 years. On the docket were the cases of Kolingba regime (1981 - 1993) officials charged with corruption who, in some cases, had been detained more than 18 months without trial. These cases were still underway at year's end. A parliamentary commission also investigating Kolingba-era corruption had published no conclusions by year's end. 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 without fear of persecution. At the end of the year, there were no known political self-exiles. Former Empress Catherine, wife of former Emperor Bokassa, briefly returned from exile. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but there are reliable reports of periodic executive interference. The judiciary, which consists of regular and military courts, was reorganized in the 1994 Constitution. Legislation implementing this reorganization was pending at year's end. In criminal cases, the accused are presumed innocent and have the right to legal counsel, to public trial, and to be present at their trials and confront witnesses. The Government generally respects these safeguards in practice, but inefficient administration of the law, shortages of trained personnel and material resources hinder the process. The criminal court, for example, did not convene for 2 years for lack of money. It did convene in September and worked its way through a full docket of cases. Court proceedings are open to the public and frequently broadcast on national radio. There were no reports of political prisoners, although some observers note that anticorruption statutes at times appear to have been applied more rigorously to former officials of the previous regime than to current officials. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Government on rare occasion abused the law which prohibits invasion of the home without a warrant in civil and criminal cases. Police did, however, use Title IV of the Penal Code, governing certain political and security cases, which allows them to search private property without special authorization. The Government also monitored the telephones of some opposition figures. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Constitution provides for freedom of the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. 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 elsewhere. More than a dozen private newspapers published at varying intervals, openly discussing a wide variety of views on political and social issues. Government officials sued several journalists following accusations of corruption published by their newspapers. Many journalists regarded this as official harassment. In August the editor of former President Kolingba's Rassemblement Democratique Centrafricaine (RDC) party newspaper was sentenced to 2 years in prison for defamation after publishing an article which accused President Patasse of conspiring to murder a labor leader. The Government owns and controls one newspaper, which appeared only sporadically, a more regular wire service news bulletin, and a radio and television station. Government reluctance to allow opposition access to the media, criticized by the opposition as a blatant effort to impede its activities, lessened in the wake of an August televised opposition roundtable with the Minister of Communication. Although a church-run radio station, which had received authorization to broadcast in 1994, began operating in 1995, the Government refused to allow the establishment of other private radio stations for fear that they would become voices for the opposition. The Government did not impede foreign journalists in their work. University faculty and students belonged to many political parties and expressed their views without fear of reprisal. Academic freedom is respected. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the Government at times restricted this freedom. A 1992 decree requires organizers of demonstrations and public meetings to register with the Government 48 hours in advance and also prohibits political meetings in schools or churches. In August the Ministry of Territorial Administration denied the RDC permission to stage a march through Bangui, citing security reasons. After the RDC announced its decision to march anyway, the Government relented and the RDC held a peaceful march. In May, the Democratic Movement for the Renaissance and Evolution of Central Africa Party (MDREC) was forbidden to march by the Government which cited security reasons; MDREC subsequently held a public meeting at its headquarters without incident. Associations are required to register with the Government in order to enjoy legal status. All political parties must register with the Ministry of Public Security in order to participate legally in politics. While the Government usually grants registration expeditiously, in one case it revoked a party's registration after the Ministry of Justice mounted a legal challenge based on the party's religious nature. There are more than 20 registered political parties and a variety of nonpolitical associations. The Government allowed them to hold congresses, elect officials, and publicly debate policy issues without interference. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, but includes fixed legal conditions and prohibits what the Government considers religious fundamentalism and intolerance. 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 the Government considers subversive remains subject to sanctions, although it imposed no sanctions in 1995. Jehovah's Witnesses, which the previous Government had banned, encountered no difficulties. 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 harass travelers unwilling or unable to pay bribes at checkpoints along major intercity roads and at major intersections in Bangui. The Government effectively prevented former President Kolingba and members of his family from leaving Bangui. It denied former President David Dacko permission to travel abroad for medical treatment, but subsequently relented. Some citizens, when attempting to leave the country, were informed by immigration authorities that their names were on unspecified official lists which forbid their departure. There were no known cases of revocation of citizenship. The Government continued working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in hosting Chadian and Sudanese refugees. It expelled more than 100 recently arrived Rwandan citizens in September, although many subsequently returned. Approximately 500 others who were registered with the National Commission for Refugees remained in the country without difficulty. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens exercised their constitutional right to change their government by democratic means in 1993 presidential and parliamentary elections. International observers deemed the elections free and fair. The Constitution, adopted by national referendum in 1994, provided for multiple political parties and increased the powers and independence of the legislative and judicial branches at the expense of the executive branch. While running for office, President Patasse promised local elections in 1994, but these have never taken place. In the interim, the Government appointed three successive mayors of Bangui, which engendered criticism from prodemocracy forces as reneging on a commitment. By-elections were held in October to fill two empty Parliament seats. The opposition harshly condemned these elections for alleged irregularities. Women remained numerically underrepresented in politics. Three women candidates were elected to the 85-member Parliament. Two of 26 Cabinet members are women. 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. In August the LCDH distributed widely an open letter to President Patasse which, while citing an overall improvement in human rights since the elections, criticized his Government for harassment of the press, excessive pretrial detentions in violation of the law, summary executions of suspected bandits, and the death of a suspect while in police custody in Bangui (see Section 1.a.). 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. There were no known requests from 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, sex, or religion, but the Government does not effectively enforce these provisions and significant discrimination exists. Women 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 1995. Despite the Constitution's provisions, in practice women are not treated as equal to men economically, socially, or politically. Women in rural areas, moreover, suffer more discrimination than women in urban areas. Sixty to 70 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. There are no accurate statistics on the percentage of female wage earners. Polygyny is legal, although this practice faces growing resistance among educated women. 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 couples 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. The law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a welter of conflicting customary laws often prevails. Women's rights were strengthened in a new family code drafted by a Ministry of Social Affairs-sponsored conference. For example, common law wives would have stronger domestic legal claims. The proposed new Code awaited National Assembly approval at year's end. The Association of Central African Female Jurists' clinic advises women of their legal rights. It also published pamphlets in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs on the dangers of female genital mutilation and on food taboos (see the following subsection.) 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 education strikes 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 left school completely. Many Bangui street children make their way by begging and stealing. Several charitable organizations strive to assist them. Courts interpret the Penal Code as forbidding parental blows or injuries to children under 15. The proposed family code would strengthen children's rights; for example, illegitimate children would have the same rights as those born in wedlock. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. This traditional practice is found in certain rural areas, and to a lesser degree in Bangui, and is performed at an early age. A national health census indicated that 44 percent of females have undergone FGM, but its incidence was declining with time. 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. 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 members of other groups. Religious Minorities Muslims, particularly Mbororo (Peuhl) herders, claim to have been singled out for harassment by authorities, including shakedowns by police, due to popular resentment of their presumed affluence. Muslims also bear the brunt of government antibanditry campaigns in the northwest part of the country. While Muslims play a preponderant role in the economy, few hold senior executive posts in government. About six Muslims serve in the National Assembly. The 1994 constitutional provision prohibiting religious fundamentalism is widely understood to be aimed at Muslims. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities There are about 90 ethnic groups, and in the past there was 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. The Patasse Government has brought about a more representative ethnic balance in government. Even so, observers note that members of northern ethnic groups close to the President are a majority in Patasse's Cabinet and also receive favorable treatment in government appointments. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Under the 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 rights of association, chiefly wage earners such as civil servants. 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. The USTC organized and conducted a major march, demanding payment of salary arrears owed by the Government. It also accused the Government of firing USTC members for political and tribal reasons. Unions have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors. A contentious strike by sugar workers in Bambari was resolved peacefully early in the year. 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 union must also provide 8 days' notification in writing of planned strikes. The Labor Code states that if employers initiate a lockout which is not in accordance with the 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 is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The Labor Code accords trade unions full legal status, including the right to sue in court. It requires that union officials be employed full-time in the occupation as a wage earner, but they nonetheless conduct union business during working hours. The 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 1994 devaluation continued to be the major complaints of the unions. Public sector unions complained in September that, while negotiations were under way regarding salary arrears, the Government unilaterally announced that it would issue 5-year interest-bearing treasury bonds in lieu of cash payments to workers due arrears. 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. It punitively reassigned several union activists in the civil service following a series of strikes early in the year. 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. Uncompensated prison labor for government officials is required. 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, child labor is common in many sectors of the economy. 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. Agricultural workers are guaranteed a minimum of $15 (cfa 7,800) per month, while office workers are guaranteed $36 (cfa 18,000). Minimum wages differ among the various sectors. The minimum wage assures a family the basic necessities but is barely adequate to maintain a decent standard of living. 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 40 hours for government employees and most private sector employees. Household 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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