The Central African Republic (CAR) suffers from pervasive insecurity and an absence of state authority in much of the country. A series of peace deals between the government and various armed groups have not produced improvements in the security situation and have been repeatedly breached by both parties. Violent attacks against civilians, including sexual violence, are an acute risk in many areas. There is little support for independent journalists, and workers with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), particularly aid workers, operate at great personal risk.
- In December, the Constitutional Court excluded former president François Bozizé from running in the presidential election. Bozizé took power in a coup in 2003 and had ruled until 2013; he currently faces an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide. The court also excluded several dozen members of armed groups from participating in the legislative elections. Earlier, in June, it struck down a draft law to delay elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it would have effectively extended President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s term.
- In December, the main signatories of the February 2019 peace agreement joined forces in a new rebel alliance, the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC). They said the government was incapable of holding free and fair elections, called for a national consultation, and engaged in armed battles with the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), supported by MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic), during election week.
- The presidential and legislative elections eventually took place as scheduled on December 27, amid widespread insecurity. Polls were marred by violence, threats of reprisals against voters by rebel forces, the inability of residents living in rebel-held areas to participate in the election, and allegations of ballot-box seizures and other fraud. Provisional results were expected in January 2021.
- According to statistics from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 4,971 positive cases of COVID-19 were reported during the year, and 63 virus-related deaths. The agency cautioned that this was likely an undercount, because relatively few coronavirus tests were performed. In March, the government implemented lockdown measures in Bangui, which lasted for several months, and Touadéra encouraged people to take precautions to protect public health.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0 / 4|
The president is chief of state and is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was elected in February 2016. Fears of widespread electoral violence were not realized, but there were many reports of serious fraud at the polls.
Despite delays and irregularities in the voter registration, and after more than a week of sporadic fighting outside the capital, the first round of the latest presidential election took place on December 27, 2020. While the government and its international partners described the election as credible and legitimate, opposition parties denounced the polls, which took place alongside legislative elections, as marred by widespread ballot-box stuffing and vote buying. Many citizens, moreover, were prevented from voting due to threats and attacks perpetrated by the new rebel coalition. There were no national or international independent observers outside of the capital, Bangui. The Constitutional Court was set to announce provisional results in January 2021.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the December election was marred by violence related to the country’s ongoing civil war, threats of reprisals against voters lodged by rebel forces, the inability of residents living in rebel-held areas to participate in the election, and reports of ballot-box seizures.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||1 / 4|
Members of Parliament are directly elected to five-year terms. The constitution adopted in 2015 stipulated the creation of a Senate, but it has not been established.
The current parliament was elected in February 2016, followed by a second round of by-elections that March. A first round had to be nullified following a slew of allegations of fraud and other misconduct.
Like the presidential polls, the first round of the legislative elections took place on December 27, 2020, and was plagued by insecurity, voter intimidation, and allegations of fraud.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1 / 4|
The electoral laws of the Central African Republic permit multiparty competition, and adult citizens enjoy universal and equal suffrage. However, electoral authorities operate in an opaque manner.
In April 2020, the ruling party proposed amending the Constitution and extending President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s mandate should elections need to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, the Constitutional Court rejected the draft law on grounds that it would entail changes to the presidential term limits.
A law regulating the National Elections Authority (ANE) was approved in July 2020, and among other provisions, sought to rapidly bring in new ANE commissioners to replace past ones whose performance had been criticized by the opposition. The new board named in October 2020 was still largely controlled by the ruling party. Separately, Parliament amended the electoral law to extend the period for voter registration in September, three months before the year’s elections. The opposition coalition contested the bill, instead calling for a national consultation. The election ultimately was marred by irregularities surrounding voter registration.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1 / 4|
While political parties are legally able to form and operate, party members conducting political activities are at risk of intimidation and violence by the national police in Bangui and other security bodies, and by armed groups in the areas they control.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1 / 4|
Several opposition parties exist in the parliament. The most prominent opposition leaders—including former President Bozizé—joined forces within the Coalition for Democratic Opposition (COD-2020), initiated in November 2019 and formally created in February 2020, to overcome increasing government repression.
However, most of the candidates to the 2020 presidential and legislative elections were not able to run their electoral campaign outside of the capital due to widespread violence and direct threats and aggression by armed rebel groups outside the capital. Also, the Constitutional Court rejected the pleas submitted on December 24, 2020, by six presidential candidates from the opposition, who invoked article 115 of the electoral code and asked the court to postpone elections due to the withdrawal of another candidate (Jean-Serge Bokassa) from the presidential race because of insecurity.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0 / 4|
Citizens are vulnerable to pressure and intimidation from national police and nonstate armed groups. Due to enduring insecurity, voters outside the capital are largely unable to participate in political processes.
A Russian military presence in Central African Republic persists. President Touadéra has named a former Russian intelligence agent as his special advisor and assigned his personal security to the Wagner Group, a Russian security company with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||0 / 4|
Enduring discrimination and an accompanying lack of access to political processes prevents members of many ethnic, religious, and other minority groups from achieving political representation. Sectarian violence against Muslims continues to affect their ability to participate in politics. Women are underrepresented in politics, and just 11 sit in the 140-seat parliament, though the electoral law passed in 2019 requires that 35 percent of candidates be women. Societal and legal discrimination against LGBT+ people prevent them from working to see their interests represented in the political sphere.
Due to the long-lasting tribalization of politics, the country’s public institutions and army are dominated by its ethnic majority, the Gbaya, to which belongs former President Bozizé. President Touadéra has followed the same path, promoting members of his groups, the Mbaka-Mandja, to key senior positions and to the presidential guard.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0 / 4|
Presidential and parliamentary elections held in early 2016 led to a peaceful transfer of power from the National Transitional Council to an elected government. However, while the elected representatives can determine the policies of the government, the weak authority of the state outside the capital severely limits the government’s ability to implement policy decisions.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0 / 4|
Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption is difficult given the lack of political will. Members of the president’s party appear to benefit from impunity. In March 2020, the vice president of the parliament, Jean-Symphorien Mapenzi, was reelected to his post despite the leak in February of an audio recording in which he was heard admitting to having fixed a parliamentary vote on a finance bill. The year before, the second vice president of the parliament, Mathurin Dimbélé-Nakoé, escaped sanctions in a case of corruption involving mining licenses granted to Chinese companies.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0 / 4|
Government operations are largely nontransparent, and civil society groups and others have limited opportunity to comment upon or influence impending policy decisions. Citizens outside of the capital have limited access to their elected representatives in the national legislature. In July 2020, the UN Panel of Experts reported on an expansion of the presidential guard that was not provided for in the national defense plan nor in the security sector reform process.
|Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?||-1|
Targeted religious- and ethnic-based violence continued in 2020 in northwestern and eastern regions of the country. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain internally displaced or confined to ethnic and sectarian enclaves.
|Are there free and independent media?||1 / 4|
There is little support for independent media, and in Bangui, outlets are increasingly aligned with national politicians and foreign governments, especially Russia. Media (and social media) often carry material meant to incite hate, discrimination, or violence, mainly against minority groups, with a spike in such material during the 2020 preelection period. Although the High Commission of Communication has played an active role in media regulation since 2017, the situation has not improved.
In July 2018, three Russian journalists were ambushed and killed near the city of Sibut (two hours’ drive from Bangui). The killing remains unpunished. In June 2019, two AFP journalists were arrested and beaten in Bangui by the police, during a demonstration by an opposition group.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||0 / 4|
Officially, Central African Republic is a secular state, but ethnic and religious cleavages often overlap with the country’s political divisions. Muslims and Christian residents in Bangui remain partially segregated in separate enclaves, and fears of identity-based or sectarian violence by armed actors impedes free religious expression.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2 / 4|
Although extremely dysfunctional, the educational system is generally free of extensive political indoctrination. However, clientelism and corruption are widespread in many schools and universities.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||1 / 4|
Public discussion and political debates are generally free from surveillance by state authorities. However, political instability and the risk of violent retaliation for challenging the presence of armed groups or expressing opinions on other sensitive topics inhibits free expression.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||0 / 4|
Although freedom of assembly and the right to political protest is guaranteed under the constitution, these liberties are curtailed due to government repression of the opposition in Bangui, and threats posed by armed groups that control areas outside of the capital. Limitations imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also hampered free association in 2020, though there were no major reports of abuses in enforcement of lockdown measures.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||0 / 4|
The operations of NGOs are limited by poor security conditions, and aid workers are particularly vulnerable. According to the International NGO Safety Organization (INSO), there were 361 recorded security incidents in 2020 involving relief workers, resulting in 2 aid workers killed, 13 injured, and 13 abducted.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1 / 4|
Trade unions and collective bargaining are permitted, although union organizers are sometimes subject to arbitrary detention or arrest. Small-scale agricultural organizations and cooperatives exist throughout the country, including organizations for women farmers.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1 / 4|
Courts are generally inefficient and frequently hampered by corruption. The government has limited authority to enforce judicial decisions. Judicial salaries have often gone unpaid. Judicial personnel are often untrained and are reluctant to be deployed outside of the capital. The Special Criminal Court (SCC), created in 2015, although considered relatively independent, had yet to complete any prosecutions at year’s end 2020.
The Constitutional Court continued to display a high degree of independence in 2020, including by striking down the draft law intended to extend presidential term limits, and by playing a watchdog role during the electoral process.
In February 2020, the parliament passed a bill establishing a Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TJRRC). The commission will be given a four-year mandate to investigate the violent events in the country over a period of 60 years (1959–2019). The commission was mostly conceived as a convenient vehicle to achieve political accommodation during peace negotiations, and it may never become fully empowered.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0 / 4|
Arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention are commonplace, and the state justice system has limited presence beyond Bangui. Impunity for violence, economic crimes, and human rights violations remained widespread in 2020.
In December 2019, former President François Bozizé returned to Bangui from exile despite UN sanctions and an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide. After entering the country in January 2020, former President Michel Djotodia, who overthrew Bozizé in the 2013 coup, announced in September his return to Bangui from exile, and engaged in political maneuvers to support President Touadéra.
In December 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against two former anti-Balaka militia leaders, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, arrested in 2018.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||0 / 4|
In Bangui, the officials of the Central African Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) are often accused of abuse of power and excessive use of force. Outside of the capital, armed nonstate actors continue to operate with impunity, despite the 2019 peace deal. These groups were responsible for violent attacks against civilians, often on the basis of ethnic and religious identity, as well as attacks against international peacekeeping forces and humanitarian workers.
Violent competition among insurgent groups for control of territory and natural resources kept about 681,930 Central Africans internally displaced in 2020, and there were 634,687 refugees living outside the country at year’s end. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that insecurity and fear of attacks ahead of the general elections had led 55,000 people to flee their homes. Conflict between farmers and nomadic pastoralists further destabilized the country in 2020.
In September 2019, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to relax an arms embargo established in 2013.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||0 / 4|
Same-sex sexual acts are illegal, and punishable by fines and imprisonment. While enforcement of these laws is uncommon, societal discrimination against LGBT+ people remains acute. Discrimination continues against the Muslim minority, nomadic pastoralist groups, and the forest-dwelling Ba’aka.
The independent High Authority for Good Governance is tasked with protecting the rights of members of minority groups and people with disabilities, though its reach is limited.
Due to the tribalization of politics, the Gbaya and the Mbaka-Mandja groups may continue to enjoy unfair advantages.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||0 / 4|
Free movement by citizens is inhibited by the lack of security and targeted violence. Transportation routes are threatened by banditry and theft in many areas. Limitations of movement imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have economically affected Central Africans during the peak of the pandemic. Schools were closed during parts of the year to prevent the virus’s spread.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||0 / 4|
Businesses and homes are regularly looted or extorted by armed militants, with little prospect for compensation or legal recourse for victims. The agricultural economy—the livelihood of the majority of the population—remains restricted by ongoing violence and insecurity.
The family code does not discriminate against women when it comes to inheritance rights. However, in practice, the possibility for women to inherit faces many challenges, including eviction from the family home after the death or disappearance of men during conflict.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||0 / 4|
Women and girls are by far the primary victims of sexual violence, but men and boys are also affected. Sexual violence is used as a deliberate tool of warfare, and attackers enjoy broad impunity. Such acts that are not related to ethnic conflict are most often perpetrated within communities by family or neighbors. Constitutional guarantees for women’s rights are rarely enforced, especially in rural areas. Sexual abuses by UN peacekeeping forces have been documented, but many instances have not been investigated or prosecuted.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||0 / 4|
Economic opportunity is heavily restricted by the widespread corruption and the presence of armed groups in many areas of the country. Many armed groups exploit gold and diamond mines, and forced labor and child recruitment for soldiering are common practices. The government has made significant efforts to eliminate trafficking, though it has not yet fully met minimum standards, according to the US State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report.