The Central African Republic (CAR) enjoyed several years of peace immediately following its independence in 1960. President Bokassa, who had served as military ruler since 1966 and proclaimed himself emperor in 1976, broke this era of peace in 1979. Bokassa had approximately 250 schoolchildren beaten, arrested, and jailed for protesting increases in school fees. Many of these children died while in prison. This led to an international outcry and the removal of Bokassa by France.

President Andre Kolingba came to power two years later in 1981. He packed the Central African Armed Forces with members of his Yakoma tribe in order to ensure their loyalty. Kolingba was defeated in an election by Ange-Felix Patasse, who distrusted the army and instead relied on use of multiple small militias. In 1996 a series of army mutinies and coup attempts began over the issue of salaries in the government. In 2001, Patasse began to question the loyalty of the army chief of staff, General Francois Bozize. This resulted in Bozize retreating to the north, assembling forces, and attempting to take the capital in a failed coup attempt in 2002. During this failed attempt Patasse was supported by the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, with whom Patasse maintained a patronage relationship. In helping to drive back the coup attempt, the MLC committed human rights abuses including the killing of 200 people and systematic rape campaigns, with 600 cases being documented.

After his defeat, Bozize retreated to Chad, where he won the support of Chadian President Idriss Deby, and returned with a force consisting primarily of Chadians, which he led in a successful coup in 2003. Bozize’s men are also thought to have committed human rights violations in both of these coups, though there has been no documentation of their crimes. Bozize’s time as president was marked by the development or appearance of a number of rebel groups, who claimed to be taking up arms due to government neglect and abuse. Among these rebel groups were the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which appeared in CAR in 2008 and began abducting, beating, and killing people and looting their property. In an attempt to put down one of these rebel groups, the government forces used brutal tactics on civilians, including burning 10,000 homes, which caused the displacement of 212,000 people. The rebel groups are also thought to have abused civilians through extortion, beatings, kidnapping, and summary executions.

Bozize was removed from power in 2015 by the Seleka rebel coalition after a power sharing agreement broke down, and fled the country. Upon seizing power, the rebel group set up a government of national unity led by Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye. The Economic Community of Central African States and other CAR partners gave de facto recognition of the power of the new government and set up an internationally supervised transition framework. The coup escalated the humanitarian and human rights crisis.

Transitional Justice Mechanisms

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in CAR by President Bozize in 2003 just six months after he took power. The commission existed under the broader National Reconciliation Commission, which was established under pressure from France. The commission operated for only six weeks and was tasked with promoting dialogue and reconciliation between different political, social, and religious affiliations. The commission was also to make recommendations to the government. In reality this commission functioned to allow sidelined politicians to return, ask forgiveness, and seek office in the new government. It was also used a means for Bozize to win over possible donors.

In the end the Truth and Reconciliation Commission achieved little as it had broad objectives, no real power, and no resources to compel testimony. As a result the commission gave vague recommendations, including greater inclusiveness in the transitional government and an end to impunity for government officials who had engaged in human rights violations.

Following the lack of success from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Bozize requested that the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate crimes within its jurisdiction that had been committed in CAR since 2002. The ICC opened its investigation in 2007 and also said it would monitor ongoing human rights abuses. The ICC had fairly quick success, arresting Bemba in 2007 and holding him in The Hague as he awaited trial. Despite this early success, some groups are not satisfied with the ICC as the sole form of transitional justice, citing the fact that there are new victims of violence every day in CAR and the continuing need for reparations and aid for those who continue to suffer physical and psychological harm. There was also an attempt by Bozize to stop the ICC investigations into ongoing human rights abuses, saying that it could stall reconciliation in the ongoing rebellions.

CAR has also attempted to use amnesty as a transitional justice mechanism. The Amnesty Law was passed and signed into law in 2008 and was intended to grant amnesty for all crimes except those under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Ultimately, this law was used as a political tool by Bozize to grant immunity to his forces while creating narrow terms for rebels to be granted amnesty that most rebel leaders regarded as unrealistic. As a result, the law merely increased suspicion between the government and the rebels.


At the time of writing, there were no truth-seeking activities underway by the government of CAR. The country has a long history of abuses by both government and rebel actors, and many of these abuses have gone undocumented. The only attempted truth commission was seen as a political tool to gain international favor rather than a true attempt to find the truth about events that took place and identify those responsible.


Aside from the arrest and detention of Bemba, impunity has been the norm in CAR. One issue is the virtual inaccessibility of national courts, which require citizens to go to Bangui and pay fees in order to make a complaint and bring a case. Further justice issues stem from historical attempts by persons in government to use the justice system to protect their supporters and prosecute their opposition. This trend can be seen in the 2008 Amnesty Law that granted near complete immunity to Bozize’s forces while making it difficult for any rebels to be granted amnesty.


Gender violence has been a continuing problem throughout the conflicts in CAR. Government and rebel forces have used rape as a weapon of war. The MLC campaign in 2002 documented 600 cases. Forced marriages and sexual violence toward girls have also reportedly been on the rise.

Children and Youth

Several rebel groups have been found to use child soldiers in their ranks.


There is a significant need for reparations in CAR to provide compensation and support for those who have been injured by the conflicts. This need has been recognized by the Organization for Compassion and Development for Families in Distress, which advocates for reparations for people who have been mentally and physically injured. There is also a need for compensation for the 212,000 civilians who were displaced when government forces burned 10,000 homes.

International Actors

The Economic Community of Central African States has been and continues to be involved in CAR. In 2012, it attempted to help negotiate a power-sharing arrangement to bring a stop to the Seleka rebellion. The United Nations is also involved in CAR in an attempt to restore long-term stability. In this role the United Nations has maintained a peacekeeping office tasked with implementing the transition process, support conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, support stability, promote and protect human rights, and coordinate international actors. The African Union also decided to deploy a peacekeeping force to help stabilize the situation in CAR.


GlobaLex, “Transitional Justice in Africa: The Experience with Truth Commissions,” 2012, http://www.nyulawglobal.org/Globalex/Africa_Truth_Commissions1.htm#_Central_African_Republic.

Human Rights Watch, “Central African Republic: Increase Commitment to Human Rights,” 18 December 2008, http://www.hrw.org/news/2008/12/18/central-african-republic-increase-commitment-human-rights.

Human Rights Watch, “State of Anarchy: Rebellions and Abuses Against Civilians,” 14 September 2007, http://www.hrw.org/node/10680/section/3.

International Center for Transitional Justice, Confronting Past Crimes at the National Level (2009).

International Crisis Group, “Central African Republic: Priorities of the Transition,” Africa Report 203 (11 June 2013).

Stan, Lavinia, and Nadya Nedelsky, “Central African Republic,” in Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice, vol. 2 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, “Mandate,” http://binuca.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=5215&language=en-US.

United Nations News Centre, “Central African Republic: Security Council Reinforces UN Office, Backs African Union Peacekeeping Role,” 10 October 2013, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46239#.Uob3V2SDRsN.

United Nations News Centre, “Central African Republic: UN Underscores Grave Humanitarian, Human Rights Situation,” 1 October 2013, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46157#.Uob3ZGSDRsN.

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