Central African Republic
FCO Human Rights Report 2019
No specific reference to Freedom of Religion or Belief
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
According to the last census in 2003, 80% of the Central African Republic’s (CAR) population is Christian and 15% is Muslim. Animism is also practiced by a significant percentage of the population. The US’s CIA World Factbook gives lower figures for Christians (50%), classifying 35% of the population as “indigenous beliefs”. While widely cited, these figures, which recategorize part of the Christian population as “indigenous beliefs”, have been criticised by some Church sources for failing to understand the presence of certain tribal practices among converts to Christianity.
In terms of FoRB violations, some of the most vulnerable people are those who have exercised the right to change their belief. Because to the religious overtones to the intense and ongoing violence, both Christian and Muslim civilians have been victims of the violence perpetrated by militia groups.
Until recently, CAR’s multi-religious society had not experienced substantial tension, despite intermittent political violence and attempted coups. The government coup in March 2013, however, had a religious dimension.The Séléka (a majority Muslim coalition) overthrew the then Christian President Francois Bozize, replacing him with Michael Djotodia, the country’s first Muslim leader. In response to intense bouts of violence, both during and after the coup, anti-Balaka groups began to form. Although often described as “Christian militias”, anti-Balaka groups were predominantly constituted of pre-existing village defence groups, and also attracted former soldiers who remain loyal to deposed President Bozize, former Séléka fighters, disaffected youths seeking revenge for Séléka violations, and criminals.
Shortly after Michel Djotodia was declared president, he dissolved Séléka, but various members of the militia formed new factions and made bids to seize power at a local level. In areas controlled by former members of Séléka in the north of CAR, such as Kaka Bango, informal and ad hoc taxes are imposed, as well as restrictions on the free movement of people and goods. Christians and animists who are mostly subsistence farmers do not produce a surplus and are less likely to be able to pay the taxes. Where they are prevented from travelling to their farms, food insecurity and vulnerability increases. CSW noted, “The difference between the Muslim community’s ability to respond to Seleka’s demands compared to Christians and animists creates an atmosphere in which religious tensions can build” According to Church sources, minority Christian communities have not been allowed to meet together to carry out their religious practices, with some even forced to flee from their villages.
Many Anti-Balaka militias have also sought power for themselves, like former Séléka mercenaries they have also tried to gain control of the country’s mineral wealth. According to Bishop Nestor Nongo-Aziagba of Bossangoa, president of CAR’s bishops’ conference, 80% of the country is currently under rebel control. In the anti-Balaka-held regions in the south-west of the country, most religious groups, including Christians, are generally free to worship and express their faith in public and in private, but those Muslims who remain in these areas face far more restrictions. Anti-Balaka groups have also targeted Christian religious leaders who advocate for Muslims, attacking those involved in peacebuilding and reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.
The Church is positioned precariously between the two groups, with the anti-Balakas seeing the Church as traitorous for protecting Muslims while the “Séléka see the Church as complicit with the antiBalakas.”
Crucially, in spite of the positive work of Christian and Muslim leaders through the ‘Plateforme des Confessions Religieuses de Centrafrique’, CAR experienced a deterioration in FoRB in late 2018 and early 2019. Significant waves of violence in late 2018 stoked fears of an ‘all-out war’. On 15 November 2018, a group of ex-Séléka fighters calling themselves Unité pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) attacked, burned, and ransacked a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) located in the grounds of the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Alindao. It has been reported that 112 people – including two priests—were killed in the massacre with 18,000 civilians displaced.
On 4 December, another IDP camp run by the Catholic church in Ippy was attacked by the UPC, resulting in the deaths of two children. According to the UN, by the end of 2018 there were 640,969 IDPs.
Anti-Balaka groups engaged in severe violence throughout 2018. Most notably, CAR officials transferred anti-Balaka militia leader, Alfred Yekatom, over to the International Criminal Court in November 2018 after a UN commission of inquiry found that anti-Balaka groups under his guidance had ‘carried out war crimes and crimes against humanity by targeting Muslims’.
In response to the escalating violence in CAR, a new peace deal was agreed between the government and the 14 armed group leaders in February 2019 – the eighth agreement in two years. The deal included a commitment to religious freedom and human rights, giving rise to a new optimism surrounding the future of FoRB in CAR. However, despite this initial optimism, the peace
deal has faltered and violence resurfaced in May and June of 2019 – with the UN reporting in June that between 50 and 70 violations of the peace accord were taking place every week. For instance, on 21 May, gunmen from the ex-Séléka group ‘Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation’ (3R) attacked and shot an estimated 39 civilians in Ndjondjom, Koundjili and Bohong village, in the north-west of CAR – with some 12,000 people displaced from their homes. The day before this attack, a 77-year-old Spanish nun was found beheaded in the village of Nola. This renewed violence has magnified prior disagreements over representation in the CAR cabinet, and the peace agreement has once more come under significant strain.
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