Central African Republic

Last Updated 26 August 2021

Since 2013, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been plagued by serious and violent sectarian conflict, constituting a civil war, including a military coup. Almost 80% of the country remains under the control of armed forces.1https://www.equaltimes.org/central-african-refugees-are#.YMCU6_lKg2w Sporadic outbreaks of violence, including in the wake of the December 2020 general election,2https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/briefing/2021/3/603dfeb64/unhcr-relocate-thousands-central-african-refugees-safer-locations.html have forced many to flee the country.3https://www.unhcr.org/uk/central-african-republic-situation.html

Estimates of religious demography vary depending on the source. The U.S. State Department estimates that 89% of the population is Christian (a mixture of Roman Catholic and Protestant), and 9% Muslim. A significant proportion of the Muslim population has been displaced to neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict, following systematic ethnic cleansing.4https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/central-african-republic/

Central African Republic requested full membership of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2002.

Note: Given the widespread conflict it should be noted that the security of everyone in CAR is severely threatened. The overall human rights situation is severe. We apply the boundary condition “Expression of core humanist principles on democracy, freedom or human rights is severely restricted” not in this case due to specific legal restrictions, but to reflect the de facto degradation of democracy, civil society and human rights as a result of the civil war.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The 2016 Constitution affirms its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter of Human Rights.5https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Central_African_Republic_2016.pdf?lang=en

The Constitution protects freedom of worship and freedom of assembly, and prohibits religious fundamentalism and intolerance.

Articles 24-25 establish CAR as a republic, with the separation of religion and State.

Article 10 states that:

“The freedom of conscience, of assembly, [and] of religion and of beliefs [cultes] are guaranteed to all within the conditions established by the law. Any form of religious fundamentalism [intégrisme] and intolerance is prohibited.”

Article 38 requires the President to swear an oath “before God and before the Nation” when assuming office, that includes a promise to fulfill the duties of the office without any consideration of “religious order”.

Religious groups are legally required to register with the Ministry of Interior. Registration is free and other than conferring official recognition, it grants a number of benefits such as customs duty exemption for the importation of vehicles and equipment. It is unclear if non-religious civil society groups would be afforded similar benefits. Registration may be denied to religious groups deemed offensive to public morals or likely to disturb social peace, and religious groups may have their registration suspended if their activities are deemed to be subversive.6https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/central-african-republic/

Religious instruction is not part of the public school curriculum. But private schools may give religious instruction.7https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/central-african-republic/

Family, community and society

Background to the civil war

Since 2013, the CAR has been consumed by violence between primarily Christian and Muslim militias, resulting in an increasingly sectarian environment where civilians have been targeted on the basis of their religious identity. In December 2012, an alliance of predominantly Muslim fighters known as the Seleka began an armed offensive that resulted in the ousting of former President Francois Bozize. The Seleka remained in power until around December 2013, when French and African Union forces were sent in to disarm them. During their time in power the Seleka were responsible for massacres, rape, torture, executions and looting, mostly targeting Christian civilians.

In response to the Seleka, a group of mostly Christian militias were formed, known as the anti-balaka. The anti-balakas staged a number of reprisal attacks against the Muslim population, resulting in large-scale displacement and human rights violations. Hate speech and incitement on social media have played a significant role in fuelling inter-communal bloodshed.8https://minorityrights.org/country/central-african-republic/ Human rights abuses and religious persecution continue to be reported in areas where the Seleka and anti-Balaka exercise control.

Though there were many attempted political coups over the years it was the Seleka that eventually overthrew President Bozize. What started as a political battle in 2012 has since turned increasingly sectarian on religious grounds to the point where Muslims are now considered to have been mostly ‘ethnically cleansed’ from the capital Bengui and other areas.


Article 149 of CAR’s penal code states that witchcraft or sorcery is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment, a fine or by hard labor.9https://acjr.org.za/resource-centre/penal-code-of-the-central-african-republic-2010/@@download/file/Penal%20Code%20of%20the%20Central%20African%20Republic%20(2010).pdf A high number of individuals have been arrested and had to face sentences from one to five years in prison or were subjected to a large fine by local standards (up to US$1,500). Accusations of witchcraft are often a result of interpersonal disputes, and in the absence of hard evidence, convictions are often based on accusations alone.10https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/CF/CAR1June2015To31Mar2016_en.pdf

Due to these malicious accusations, people may be buried alive or find their homes torched. Sending an accused child or a woman to prison may sometimes in effect constitute ‘protective custody’, sheltering the accused from mob violence within the community. Witchcraft is a common explanation for diseases such as HIV. Many accuse others of witchcraft when they fall ill in the belief that they have been cursed.

In February 2018, a women prison facility in Bimbo hosted 42 women. Of these inmates, almost half were imprisoned for witchcraft. It has been reported that “witch doctors” offer to immunize villagers against the practice of witchcraft by selling “herbal vaccinations” or by charging high fees to carry out exorcisms that often involve the brutalization of children.11enca.com/africa/the-crime-of-witchcraft-in-central-african-republic; african-volunteer.net/central_african_republic_witchcraft.html

Women’s rights and violations

The UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic reported in 2020 that, “harmful practices such as child trafficking, accusations of witchcraft, female genital mutilation and early marriage” remain prevalent.12https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G20/215/85/PDF/G2021585.pdf?OpenElement

Although the legal minimum age for civil marriage is 18, CAR has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa. Many young girls do not matriculate from primary school, adding to societal pressures to marry and have children.13https://www.unicef.org/wca/media/2596/file

Although rape is illegal, there is no minimum sentence for it and the law is not effectively enforced.14https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/central-african-republic/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

A history of ethnic and religious divisions, and fears of identity-based violence by armed actors, discourage freedom of expression, especially when it comes to questions of religion or belief.15https://freedomhouse.org/country/central-african-republic/freedom-world/2020

Media freedoms

CAR’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, but the right is limited in practice. Threats and intimidation are still commonly used to limit criticism of the government, which has been accused of harassing journalists and tapping their phones.16https://ifex.org/location/central-african-republic/ There are many reported incidents of violence and killings of journalists.17https://ifex.org/location/central-african-republic/ The effectiveness of news media is weakened by financial problems and a lack of access to state information.

Furthermore, inflated charges can be brought based on alleged defamation, incitement to ethnic or religious hatred, and the publication or broadcast of false information that could “disturb the peace.”18https://www.africafex.org/central-african-republic

The radio represents the most popular medium of information. There are about twenty privately-owned stations and many are run by religious organizations. There are two Protestant, one Catholic and one Islamic broadcasting stations. The Government grants religious groups one day a week, of their choosing, to make free broadcasts on the official radio station. Television is a state monopoly. Its news coverage is generally skewed in favor of the government.19https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13150043

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