Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

General Andre Dieudonne Kolingba has headed the Government
since his accession to power in a bloodless coup on September
1, 1981. He holds all political power and is the final
arbiter on all government matters, but he has permitted some
increased popular participation in the political process,
particularly on local questions. In 1986 President Kolingba
announced plans for the creation of a single national
political party--the Central African Democratic Assembly
(RDC) . Later that year, he introduced a new Constitution
which was subsequently approved in a national referendum on
November 21, 1986. He was also elected to a 6-year term as
President in that vote. The new Constitution provides for a
bicameral Parliament which includes a National Assembly and an
Economic and Regional Council, representing the principal
economic and regional sectors of the country. General
elections were held on July 31, 1987 for the 52 seats in the
National Assembly. One-half of the delegates of the Economic
and Regional Council will be selected by the President, while
the other half will be elected by the members of the National
The Minister of Interior is in charge of the civilian police
force (gendarmerie). These police normally man barriers on
the major roads and keep records of the movement of vehicles.
The Presidency has its own security force, which has
collateral responsibility with the border police for airport
security. The Ministry of Defense also has a military police
force (gendarmarie national), in addition to the armed forces
which number about 3,800 soldiers.
The Central African Republic is a poor, landlocked, and
sparsely populated country. Most of its inhabitants derive
their livelihood from subsistence agriculture. Only about 1
percent of the population is university educated. The
essentially free enterprise, agrarian economy, one of the
world's least monetized, has suffered in the past from
inadequately coordinated and implemented government policies,
occasional drought, and a poorly trained work force.
Expatriates dominate the small manufacturing and commercial
sectors of the economy.
There was some improvement in the human rights situation in
1987. In particular, the 7-month trial of former emperor
Jean-Bedel Bokassa in a civilian court dominated the 1987
headlines. Bokassa, who received the death sentence, had four
defense lawyers--two Central African and two French--and was
given ample time for preparing his defense, calling and
cross-examining witnesses, and presenting his version of
events in open sessions. The trial was fully reported in the
local news media, including full television replays each
evening, and in the international press. This long trial set
a precedent in Africa in recording abuses of limitless power.
At the end of 1987, the Supreme Court was reviewing technical
aspects of the trial.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
There were no reports of killing or summary executions for
political motives by government forces. However, the
Government again faced sporadic challenges from dissidents in
the northwest corner of the country, although at a much
reduced level from previous years. In the action, the army
reportedly killed two rebels near Paoua in May, and guerrillas
killed a village mayor from the same region in late July.
Some reports allege that the two dissidents killed near Paoua
might have been attempting to negotiate a surrender. In the
northeast. Central African military forces ambushed a large
band of "poachers" in May, killing some and arresting others.
Also in this region a dissident group killed a gendarmerie
commander from Birao in a shoot-out in March.
     b. Disappearanceppearance
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearance.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishmenture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
The penal code prohibits torture and provides for sanctions
against persons guilty of physical abuse. There are
infrequent reports of beatings in prisons, where conditions
are generally harsh and medical attention is sometimes
inadequate. However, family members, legal counsel, doctors,
and clergy generally have access to prisoners. It is not
uncommon for selected prisoners, including prominent political
detainees, to receive special privileges, including permission
to leave the prison periodically.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Laborrary Arrest, Detention, Exile, or Forced Labor
In the past, the Government has frequently detained suspected
opponents without charge or trial. In 1986 according to
Amnesty International's 1987 report, "few arrests of
opposition political party supporters were reported in
comparison to previous years." This trend continued in 1987.
While some political detainees were still being held at the
end of 1987, it is difficult to say precisely how many.
Under local law, political detainees can be held without
charge for as long as 2 months, but at that point detainees
must either be formally charged or released. If they are
charged, local judicial procedures (which are modeled on
French procedures) allow for open-ended preventive detention
while the public prosecutor prepares the State's case against
the accused. In practice, some political detainees are held
much longer than 2 months without formal charges being brought
against them. In the case of common criminals, the law
requires that they be brought within 96 hours before a
magistrate who decides whether formal charges will be filed.
Approximately five well-known political opponents live in
exile. Several of them have been sentenced to death in
absentia for crimes against the State.
The Government has been cited by the International Labor
Organization (ILO) for being in violation of ILO Conventions
29 and 105 for allegedly imposing compulsory labor on prisoners
jailed for unauthorized political activities. However, the
ILO case dates back to the early 1980's, and there are no
reports since then of political prisoners being forced to
perform compulsory labor. There is a local penal practice
called "corvee," which administratively (and virtually
automatically) sentences men without proper identification
papers to 2 days' labor—usually clearing roadside weeds.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial of Fair Public Trial
In most cases involving common criminals, the Government
permits French-modeled legal procedures to be fairly and
openly applied and the laws to be properly executed. The new
Constitution continues the provisions of the constitutional
decree of September 21, 1985, which states that the judiciary
"is guaranteed independence (from) the legislative and
executive (power)." However, the President is the guarantor
of that independence, notably in his role as "President of the
Supreme Magistrative Council."
A Special Tribunal comprising civilian magistrates and
military advisers adjudicates political cases. The Special
Tribunal differs from ordinary courts in that there is no
appeal process although the possibility of presidential
clemency does exist. Trials must be specifically authorized
by the President. Political detainees have a right to legal
counsel at all stages in the formal procedures before the
Special Tribunal. Trials are open to the public, and the
proceedings are often reported in the local media. President
Kolingba has authorized the meeting of the Special Tribunal on
a fairly frequent basis.
On October 23, 1986, former emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa
unexpectedly returned to the Central African Republic from his
exile in France. Bokassa, who was sentenced to death in
absentia in 1980 for crimes including murder, cannibalism, and
embezzlement, was immediately detained on his return.
Subsequently the 1980 verdict was annulled, and he was retried
in the Bangui Criminal Court. Of the 14 charges against him,
he was found guilty of 4--complicity in assassination, arrest
and imprisonment of children, arbitrary arrest and
sequestration, and diversion of public funds and goods--and
sentenced to death. At the end of 1987, the proceedings were
undergoing judicial review by the Supreme Court, which has the
right to overturn the verdict if technical flaws are found in
the trial. Lacking that, only presidential clemency remains
as a means of changing the sentence.
The number of political prisoners is unknown. Major Gregoire
Miango, a prominent political prisoner arrested in late 1983
and released on April 14, 1986, remains restricted to his home
town, where he currently resides with his family.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondencerary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
With the significant exception of political and security
matters, the Government does not normally interfere in the
private lives of citizens. The law formally prohibits the
invasion of the home without a warrant, and this prohibition
is not generally abused in civil and minor criminal cases.
However, if a political crime is involved. Ordinance 81/035,
which instituted the Special Tribunal, authorizes searches at
any time and at any place. These searches have been conducted
without specific warrants. There is no forced membership in
the RDC--the only legal party. There is no interference with
the right to marry or have children as one chooses. Parents
are free to teach their children religious beliefs and
practices, with the exception of the Jehovah's Witnesses
(Section 2 . c)
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Pressof Speech and Press
The right to speak publicly about political developments or to
criticize the Government is circumscribed although most people
feel free to comment privately on political affairs. The
Government prohibits the distribution of tracts and literature
deemed to be subversive. A Central African journalist working
for the Government, Thomas Kwazo, was sentenced in August to
prison for an article he filed with a foreign press service,
without the approval of his supervisor in the Ministry of
Communication, about an alleged meeting between President
Kolingba and ex-emperor Bokassa.
Since July 1, 1986, there has been only one regularly
published newspaper, which, along with others that appear
sporadically, is carefully monitored by the Government. Radio
and television are also controlled by the Government.
     b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Associationof Peaceful Assembly and Association
Despite Constitutional guarantees of the right to assembly,
only assemblies of a nonpolitical nature can take place
without government approval. Government forces guickly
disband unlawful assemblies and in some instances participants
have been arrested. Groups that register with the Department
of the Interior can hold meetings. (Also see Section 3.)
In May 1981, former President David Dacko suspended the
General Union of Central African Workers, and no effective
labor movement has existed in the country since that time.
The Kolingba Government, which came to power in September of
that year, never rescinded this suspension. The Government
tacitly approves of an apolitical labor federation that exists
mostly on paper and has no collective bargaining authority.
The ILO has a case pending before it involving the Central
African Republic's alleged violations of the right to freedom
of association under ILO Convention 87. The Government has
yet to provide the substantive information reguested by the
ILO committee reviewing the case.
The right to strike exists in principle, although fear of
government reprisals has dampened the enthusiasm of potential
strikers. In response to a month-long student strike in
March-April 1986, the Government has banned boycotts of
classes and all demonstrations by school children and
university students, except for those authorized by the
Ministry of the Interior. Those violating this prohibition
face up to a 3-year prison term.
     c. Freedom of Religionof Religion
With one notable exception, the Government does not generally
interfere with religious activities. Religious organizations
and missionary groups are provided religious freedom by
Central African custom. No single religion predominates, nor
does the Government appear to discriminate in favor of or
against specific religions.
There was a major departure from the Government's policy of
noninterference in religious activities when the Minister of
the Interior formally prohibited the activities of the
Jehovah's Witnesses in February 1986. This decree was aimed
primarily against the foreign missionary Jehovah's Witnesses
who had refused to participate in government-sponsored
activities or to encourage allegiance to the Government. As a
result, most foreign missionary Jehovah's Witnesses have left
the country, and the four who remain avoid proselytizing,
limiting their activities to administrative matters.
Native-born adherents to the sect continue to meet and worship
and have not experienced official interference for the past
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreignof Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
People are generally free to move about within the country,
although there are road checkpoints and periodic civil
conflict in the north. The right of voluntary travel and
repatriation is recognized. Financial and educational
constraints rather than government controls act to restrict
most foreign travel and emigration. No case of revocation of
citizenship was reported in 1987.
The country remains relatively hospitable to foreigners; the
largest foreign population living either temporarily or
permanently in the country is from Chad. Approximately 10,000
Chadians live in Bangui, where they are generally engaged in
small commerce, and along the northern border area, where they
are engaged in farming and cattle herding. Due to the
increase in political stability in Chad during the past 2
years, most of the nearly 45,000 Chadian refugees living in
the Central African Republic in 1984 and 1985 were voluntarily
repatriated in 1985 and 1986. As of late 1987, the total
Chadian refugee population in the Central African Republic was
less than 3,000.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Gonvernment
Citizens do not have the right to change their government.
However, since 1984, Kolingba has progressively reduced the
military presence in favor of a civilian government, presently
composed of 18 ministers, 5 secretaries of state, and 5 high
commissioners. Although in practice he allows his Cabinet
considerable leeway in the day-to-day activities of government
administration, he makes all important policy decisions.
The 1986 Constitution calls for a Parliament consisting of a
National Assembly and an Economic and Regional Council. For
the first time since he took power in 1981, Kolingba in 1987
allowed public and private assembly for political purposes
when 142 candidates for the newly created National Assembly
were given 2 weeks to campaign for 52 seats--3 from each of
the 16 prefectures and 4 from Bangui. Although the candidates
were vetted by the Ministry of the Interior before they were
eilowed to run, they were not required to be RDC members, and
there is no indication any potential candidates were prevented
for political reasons from running. Election results were
announced on August 8, 1987 for all but two prefectures.
While the delay in the northeastern province of Vakaga was due
to transportation difficulties, voters returned to the polls
on August 30, 1987 in the Nana-Mambere region as the first
election was marred by irregularities. The results from these
two prefectures were announced subsequently.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government does not welcome international or
nongovernmental investigation of alleged human rights abuses
but does not prohibit such investigations. Representatives of
Amnesty International and the International Committee of the
Red Cross visit Bangui periodically.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
There are more than 80 ethnic groups in the Central African
Republic, each with its own language. About 70 percent are
Baya-Mandjia and Banda. While President Kolingba appears to
desire an ethnic balance in his Cabinet, preference for high
government positions has occasionally been given to members of
his Yakoma ethnic group (approximately 10 percent of the
The Constitution mandates that all persons are equal before
the law without regard to race, ethnic origin, region, sex, or
religion. The law notwithstanding, women have traditionally
been accorded a lower status than men. For example, there is
less emphasis on the importance of education for women, which
is reflected in the low literacy level of the adult female
population (19 percent), as compared with the adult male
population (49 percent). The requirements of their work at
home and in the fields prevent many women from receiving any
formal education.
Although polygamy is common, the legal system and traditional
practice support the rights of the wives and all children of
such marriages. A national women's organization exists and is
supported by the Government. While there are no women
ministers, secretaries of state, or high commissioners in the
Kolingba Government, four women were candidates in the July
1987 legislative elections.
Employment of children under 14 years of age is forbidden by
law. While it is only loosely enforced, jobs are in such
demand that children in the labor force are generally limited
to working as helpers in family businesses, such as selling
food products or cigarettes.
Minimum wages have been established by the Government, and a
social security system exists. The minimum wage for a manual
laborer, for example, is about $40 per month, and about $140
per month for a stenotypist. However, much labor is performed
outside the wage and social security system, especially in the
large subsistence agricultural sector, and probably does not
meet the established minimum levels. The law sets maximum
working hours for government employees and most people in the
private sector at 40 hours per week. Domestic employees may
work up to 55 hours. There are also general laws of health
and safety standards in the work place, but they are neither
precisely defined nor actively enforced