Danièle Darlan, former head of the Constitutional Court in the Central African Republic, knew her post would be challenging when she assumed her role in 2017. The country, much of which was controlled by armed groups that committed human rights abuses with impunity, was emerging from presidential elections after establishing a new constitution.
Last week Darlan received the International Woman of Courage award from the US government, which recognizes her efforts to protect the constitution. She was called by her nickname, the “Woman of Iron.”
In 2020, Darlan certified election results after a vote in which armed group activity ensured low turnout, meaning another term for President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
She was then visited last year by Russian diplomats looking to change the country’s constitution to enable Touadéra to stay on. Darlan was quoted as saying, “I warned them that our instability stemmed from presidents wanting to make their rule eternal.”
Indeed, in 2015 Central Africans held a national dialogue saying “no” to eternal presidents and enshrined term limits in the 2016 constitution.
Last year, Darlan ruled that plans pushing for constitutional change were unconstitutional. Following her decision, groups of mostly young men showed up outside her office, calling for her removal. We spoke with some of these men last month who confirmed being paid by pro-ruling party youth associations to attend the protests, saying they didn’t really care about the court’s decision.
Seeing Darlan as a threat, the government moved to illegally remove her as the Court’s president, citing her age.
On January 3, the constitutional court, now under a new president, ironically declared that the decision to forcibly retire Darlan from the court was unconstitutional. However, the court ruled there was nothing to be done because Darlan had already announced she did not intend to return to the court. This has set off a judicial crisis that continues to challenge the legitimacy of a court that should be regarded as the guardian of the country’s constitution.
Darlan’s award is well deserved. She has shown real courage and continues to do so. But she also remains illegally removed from office and the court she used to lead has cleared the path toward changing the constitution.
The current government is turning its back on the commitment against eternal presidents. The Central African Republic needs more women of iron to ensure democracy is given a fair chance.