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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. 
 
(###)

[end of document]

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