Dozens of men, women and children were abducted by members of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) armed group, who raped women and girls and ill-treated many other people. Government forces and armed political groups unlawfully killed civilians. Many detainees were ill-treated while being unlawfully held in life-threatening conditions, after arbitrary arrests. Human rights defenders and a journalist were threatened or detained for carrying out their professional activities. One person against whom an arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) was arrested and handed over to the court.
Prime Minister Elie Doté resigned in January when the National Assembly threatened to censure him. He was replaced by Faustin Archange Touadéra.
The government signed peace agreements with several armed political groups as a prelude to a national conference, known as the National Inclusive Dialogue, to pave the way for national reconciliation, political stability and to create conditions for general elections in 2010. The agreements culminated in the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in June. In February, the Benin government released two armed group leaders at the request of the Central African Republic (CAR) government. Abakar Sabone and Michel Djotodia had been detained without trial in the Benin capital, Cotonou, since November 2006. In October, the government released 12 suspected members of armed political groups.
Former President Ange-Félix Patassé, former Defence Minister Jean-Jacques Demafouth and several armed group leaders returned from exile in November and December to participate in the national conference which started on 8 December, chaired by former Burundian President Pierre Buyoya. The conference ended on 20 December with a resolution to form a government of national unity charged with preparing general elections.
"...female victims were feared to have been used in sexual slavery, while men and boys were turned into fighters.
Despite the peace agreements, sporadic clashes between government forces and armed political groups continued to be reported. Government and opposition forces attacked civilians suspected of supporting their opponents, killing and wounding many of them, as well as destroying or looting their property. Tens of thousands continued to be internally displaced as a result of the violence.
At least 200 members of the EU military force (EUFOR) and three military liaison officers of the UN Mission in Chad and the CAR (MINURCAT) were deployed in the CAR to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in north-eastern CAR. In September, the EUFOR and MINURCAT mandates were extended to March 2009. In July, the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) replaced the Multinational Forces in CAR (FOMUC) with the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central Africa (MICOPAX), led by a commander from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). MICOPAX was joined by 120 Cameroonian soldiers.
As part of the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement, parliament adopted in September a general amnesty law. This covered crimes by government and armed political forces between 15 March 2005, when President François Bozizé came to power, and 13 October 2008, when the law was promulgated by the President. Although the amnesty was not supposed to cover crimes committed between October 2002 and March 2003, it granted immunity to several political and military leaders of the 2002-3 armed conflict. They included former President Ange-Félix Patassé who was in power during the period, his former Defence Minister Jean-Jacques Demafouth and former presidential security aide Martin Koumtamadji. Such an amnesty law would not preclude the ICC from pursuing prosecutions for crimes under international law.
Abuses by armed groups
In late February and early March, several hundred armed men, thought to be members of the LRA, abducted more than 100 men, women and children in eastern CAR. The gunmen, who were believed to have come from north-western DRC, also raped women and girls and destroyed or looted property. Although some of the victims were released or escaped, more than 100 were believed to be still held by the LRA in December. The female victims were feared to have been used in sexual slavery, while men and boys were turned into fighters.
In mid-December, the Ugandan authorities announced that their forces, supported by troops from the DRC and South Sudan, had launched military operations against the LRA. There were fears that many children and other civilians previously or newly abducted by the LRA would be killed during clashes.
Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former leader of an armed group and politician from the DRC, was arrested in Belgium on 24 May and transferred into the custody of the ICC. The pre-trial chamber of the ICC had issued a sealed arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, committed in the CAR by members of his armed political group in late 2002 and early 2003. In December, the pre-trial chamber postponed to January 2009 the examination of the validity of the charges against Jean-Pierre Bemba and remanded him in custody.
Human rights defenders and journalists
Journalists and human rights defenders were arrested or threatened for their professional activities.
- Faustin Bambou was arrested in January after his newspaper, Les Collines de l’Oubangui, published an article in December 2007 alleging that government ministers had embezzled funds intended to pay government employees’ salary arrears. Following an unfair trial, he was sentenced on 28 January to six months’ imprisonment. He was released on 23 February after being granted an amnesty by President Bozizé.
- In June, an unidentified man who claimed to be a member of the security forces told Nganatoua Goungaye Wanfiyo, a lawyer and leader of the Central African Human Rights League, that he might be assaulted or even killed. The security forces reportedly suspected him of pursuing efforts to have President Bozizé investigated and prosecuted by the ICC. Nganatoua Goungaye Wanfiyo was arbitrarily arrested and detained for one day in September. He was accused of hindering a presidential convoy although he was not charged with any offence. He died in a traffic accident at the end of December.
Human rights activists Bernadette Sayo and Erick Kpakpo received anonymous death threats for their work in supporting victims of the 2002 and 2003 armed conflict atrocities seeking justice.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Detainees in various detention centres and prisons around the country were reported to have been subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Some of the detainees, described by law enforcement and judicial officials as recalcitrant, were chained and deprived of food and water for several days at a time. Some detainees spent more than two weeks without being allowed to take a bath.
Detainees who became ill in custody or injured as a result of beatings were not allowed access to medical care. In at least one case in Bouar, detainees were held in a windowless and constantly locked cell where they used a bucket as a toilet which was emptied once every two days. Detention centres where these abuses took place included Bossangoa and Bouar in the north and the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry in the capital, Bangui.
Throughout the year, government forces and members of armed groups were reported to have unlawfully killed civilians suspected of supporting their respective opponents. Those responsible enjoyed impunity. In at least one case in March in Bouar, government forces paraded in the streets with freshly severed human heads which they claimed were of bandits. The authorities are not known to have taken action against government forces reported to have been involved in unlawful killings.
Arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions
Government forces carried out arbitrary arrests without the authority of a judicial official and held detainees without charge beyond the 48 hours allowed by the country’s Code of Penal Procedure.
- On 12 January an officer of the Presidential Guard arrested Vincent Tolngar, mayor of the northern town of Markounda, on suspicion of warning the local population to flee before the arrival of the Presidential Guard. Vincent Tolngar was first detained in Bossangoa before being transferred to Bossembélé. He was released without charge or trial on 7 February.
Dozens of alleged sorcerers, most of them women, remained in custody with no prospect of being tried or released. Some were held in the Ngaragba and Bimbo prisons in Bangui. By the end of December, some had been detained for three or more years without trial.