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A. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports of some government elements or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings while serving as clandestine partisans of the anti-Balaka.
In May the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report documenting patterns of “serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed on the territory of the Central African Republic between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2015.” The report documented 620 such incidents.
Armed rebel groups, particularly members of the various factions of ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka, killed civilians, especially persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of opposing parties in the conflict (see section 1.g.). The killings, often reprisals in nature, included summary executions and deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operated in eastern regions of the country, and other armed groups, including Reclamation, Return, and Rehabilitation (3R), Revolution and Justice, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Democratic Front of the Central African People, were responsible for civilian killings (see section 1.g.).
The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and anti-Balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).
There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, anti-Balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).
There were many reports of disappearances committed by the LRA for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).
C. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture.
Inhuman treatment, akin to torture, by forces from the ex-Seleka, anti-Balaka, LRA, and other armed groups, including abuse and rape of civilians with impunity, resulted in deaths (see section 1.g.).
The United Nations reported it had received 12 allegations (as of August 31) of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), with seven alleged incidents occurring during the year, four in 2016, and one in 2014-15. These allegations involved peacekeepers from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Mauritania, and the Republic of the Congo. Of the 12 allegations, three involved minors, 11 remained pending investigation by the United Nations or the troop- or police-contributing country, and one allegation was substantiated. Officials repatriated one Mauritanian peacekeeper for having a sexually exploitative relationship with an adult.
In June the United Nations announced the withdrawal of the remaining Republic of the Congo peacekeeping forces following a request by the MINUSCA force commander. Republic of the Congo troops had been accused of multiple cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.
There were credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses by members of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) deployed to the country since 2009 as part of the African Union Regional Task Force to counter the LRA. Preliminary investigations found at least 18 women and girls were subjected to sexual violence and harassment by UPDF soldiers. There were an additional 14 reported cases of rape, including of victims who were minors. Several women and girls reported that UPDF members took them from their villages and forced them to become prostitutes or sex slaves or to marry Ugandan soldiers.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) independent expert and international NGOs, detention conditions in the prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.
MINUSCA detained and transferred to government custody several medium and high-level armed group members.
Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and the Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons. Three prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bouar, Berberati, and Mbaiki. In other locations, including Bambari, Bossembele, Bossangoa, and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Conditions in other prisons not emptied or destroyed by recent conflict were life threatening and substantially below international standards. Basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and often confiscated by prison officials. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.
In 2016 MINUSCA and international donors worked with the National Penitentiary Administration to begin a gradual demilitarization of facilities and a reduction in escapes.
Ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka forces held an unknown number of persons in illegal prisons and detention centers, but neither the government nor humanitarian agencies visited these sites, and their conditions were unknown.
Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender in government prisons. In Bangui men and women were held in separate prisons. In Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and other cities, the small prisons put men and women in separate cells; however, conditions were substantially below international standards. Officials segregated women into three large rooms with no ventilation or electric lighting. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.
No juvenile prison or separate cells in adult prisons for juveniles existed. The Ngaragba Prison housed 34 juveniles. Accusations ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes.
Official prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electric lighting, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Prisoners seldom had access to health care, and disease was pervasive. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prisons were not readily available.
According to MINUSCA’s Corrections Section, in the Bouar Prison, approximately 50 percent of inmates suffered from malnutrition, with 25 percent severely malnourished. There was no running water in the prison because authorities did not pay the water invoice, leading the water company to cut the water supply.
Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely did so, due to lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation by prison officials. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in the prisons.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent observers, including the UNHCR independent expert and international donors in January, February, and July.
Improvements: During the year MINUSCA and international donors began a three-year training program for new civilian prison guards with the objective of demilitarizing the prison guard corps.
D. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law provides protection against arbitrary arrest and detention and accords detainees the right to a judicial determination of the legality of their detention, but the government did not always provide for exercise of these rights. Obtaining and affording a lawyer, and the ability to get courts to act, remained serious impediments to such challenges. In the territories controlled by ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka, arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Police and gendarmerie have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order; however, both largely withdrew from the interior of the country during the violence in 2013 and maintained limited or no presence in many areas. Police and gendarmerie increased the number of towns in which they were present during the year, but deployed officers remained poorly trained, few had functioning arms, and there was little ammunition. Local commanding officers paid for basic necessities (office supplies) out of their own pockets.
Impunity persisted. Contributing factors included insufficient staffing, training, and resources; corruption; unpaid salaries for police, gendarmerie, and judiciary; and threats by local armed groups to any arrest or investigation of their cronies or members.
MINUSCA had a uniformed force, including military, civilian police, and military observers of 11,846, of whom 1,896 were police officers. The role of MINUSCA’s uniformed force was to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA police had the authority to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law stipulates that authorities must inform persons detained in all cases, other than those involving national security, of the charges and bring them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to a lack of recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and a lack of judges.
A bail system exists but it did not function. Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Detainees had access to a lawyer, but the cost was often beyond the ability of a detainee to pay. The law provides a lawyer for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed. Lawyers were not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.85) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.
Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee was minimal.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and some ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem, although specific reliable data was not available.
Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. The judges resisted holding sessions out of security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.
E. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence between the judiciary and political actors. In March the president issued a decree appointing eight members of the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. Courts in Bangui and some prefectures resumed operations, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was limited. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing.
Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, a shortage of trained personnel, salary arrears, and a lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.
The penal code presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities seldom respected these rights.
With assistance from MINUSCA and international donors, the government began the process of establishing the Special Criminal Court tasked to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations, with a focus on conflict-related and gender-based crimes. The internationally nominated chief prosecutor for the court took office in May. More than a dozen international and national positions within the court, including judges, prosecutors, and clerks, had also been filled.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Civil courts operated since 2015 and held regular sessions. One international legal NGO was able to assist citizens in filing more than 1,680 civil and penal cases and obtain judgments in more than 175. There is no system for the protection of victims and witnesses, who faced intimidation and insecurity. Victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were often unable to testify against perpetrators, especially since there was no guarantee of a credible judicial process.
Several civil courts were operational in Bangui and prefectures in western parts of the country.
F. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
G. Abuses in Internal Conflict
Serious violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property, were perpetrated by all armed groups in the conflict, including the ex-Seleka and the anti-Balaka, whose fighters operated freely across much of the country, facilitated by the widespread circulation of small arms.
MINUSCA documented 492 human rights violations or abuses, or violations of international humanitarian law, between February and June, including against 103 women and 172 children. These incidents included arbitrary killings, violations of physical integrity, conflict-related sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and abductions.
Killings: In May self-defense groups reportedly associated with anti-Balaka forces killed 115 persons in the town of Bangassou, Mbomou Prefecture. The conflict displaced several thousand persons, with some fleeing to the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo. Six UN peacekeepers were also killed. As of September 1, a total of 2,000 Muslim displaced persons were still sheltering at the Catholic seminary in the town.
On May 2, in the town of Niem between Bouar and the Cameroonian border, members of the 3R rebel group reportedly shot nine men in the head in a church, killing them.
Abductions: The LRA, ex-Seleka, anti-Balaka, and other armed groups abducted numerous persons. According to MINUSCA, abductions and hostage taking were used to extort money from relatives, press authorities into releasing incarcerated colleagues, and intimidate populations into allowing armed groups to impose authority.
Kidnappings by the LRA reportedly continued. For example, on February 11, in the village of Derbissaka in the eastern region, the LRA abducted two women, burned their homes, and burned and looted their businesses.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups reportedly continued to rape girls and women with impunity.
The ex-Seleka and forces associated with anti-Balaka groups reportedly mistreated, beat, and raped civilians in the course of the conflict. In an October 5 report, Human Rights Watch documented widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. It reported 305 cases of sexual slavery and rape carried out against 296 women and girls by members of armed groups between early 2013 and mid-2017. Anti-Balaka and Seleka armed groups used sexual violence as revenge for perceived support of those on the other side of the sectarian divide.
There were reports peacekeeping forces, including MINUSCA and international contingents, exploited women and children (see section 1.c.).
Child Soldiers: Reports of unlawful use and recruitment of child soldiers continued during the year. According to estimates by UNICEF, armed groups recruited between 6,000 and 10,000 child soldiers during the latest conflict through 2015; some remained with armed groups. NGOs reported that armed groups sent recruited children to fight, used them for sexual purposes, and as cooks, porters, or messengers. According to the UN independent expert, the LRA forced children to commit atrocities such as killing village residents, abducting or killing other children, and looting and burning villages.
According to the 2016 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, the United Nations documented 40 cases of child recruitment and use in 2015; more than half the cases were perpetrated by the LRA and more than a quarter by ex-Seleka factions of the UPC. Armed groups forced children to be combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks, and they used girls as sex slaves. In addition the United Nations documented the presence of children manning checkpoints and barricades alongside armed individuals reportedly sympathetic to or affiliated with anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka elements.
During the first phase of the pilot national Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Consultative Committee plan in September in Bangui, two minors (both age 17) applied to participate. One presented a firearm. UNICEF took both minors into its care.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.