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Central African Republic

Events of 2023

President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadéra (left) casts his ballot for a vote on a new constitution in Bangui, Central African Republic, on July 30, 2023.

© 2023 AP Photos

Fighting between the national army, alongside Russian mercenaries and Rwandan forces, and elements of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (Coalition des patriotes pour le changement, CPC) decreased, but was at times intense. In some attacks, civilians were killed. Schools and hospitals remained targets, and some that had been damaged during previous fighting remained so. According to the United Nations, “more than half a million children aged 3-17 … are out of school, or are at risk of having to leave due to a critical lack of qualified teachers and inadequate school facilities.”

Security conditions have hampered humanitarian relief, and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have resulted in high numbers of refugees and internally displaced people.

Russian mercenaries from Wagner, a mercenary outfit managed by Yevgeniy Prigozhin until his death in July, are deployed in the country. Prigozhin’s death in Russia has not diminished Wagner’s presence in the country and, to date, the group still controls mines outside Bangui, the capital, including the large Ndassima gold mine in Ouaka province. The group’s control over some road checkpoints makes travel outside of Bangui difficult. The UN reported several instances in which these mercenaries participated in active fighting and were implicated in serious human rights abuses.

The country veered toward authoritarianism with crackdowns on civil society, the media, and opposition political parties ahead of a constitutional referendum designed to remove term limits for the president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra. The referendum passed in July with diverging accounts of voter turnout.

The country remained dangerous for humanitarian actors, with 123 incidents ranging from harassment to abductions of humanitarian actors registered between January and August.


The national army, alongside Russian mercenaries and Rwandan forces, pushed non-state armed groups, including those from the CPC, further into border positions.

A new Zandé-based ethnic militia, which might, according to the UN, have received some support from South Sudan, increased attacks in the southeast border region of the country in response to other armed groups.

Gold mines were targeted, with the most serious attack occurring in March in Ouaka province, in the center of the country, where nine Chinese workers were killed. Central Africans also may have been killed in this attack, but this has not been confirmed.

Rise in Abductions

Armed groups increased hostage-taking, targeting national soldiers, UN staff, and civilians.

In January, CPC fighters captured 20 national soldiers near Sikikédé after combat. The CPC issued a set of demands for the release of the soldiers, including the departure of “Russian Wagner mercenaries” and the release of people associated with the group. The soldiers were released in early April without those demands met.

Two UN staff and a government employee were released in March after 117 days of being held hostage by members of the armed group Party for the Rally of the Central African Nation (Parti pour le rassemblement de la nation centrafricaine, PRNC).

Three Chinese workers were taken hostage on March 13 at a gold mine in Ndiba in the Nana-Mambéré province. They were released on April 2 after a ransom was paid.

Constitutional Referendum

Political tensions increased around the constitutional reform process. In 2022, Touadéra’s party, the United Hearts Movement (Mouvement Cœurs unis, MCU), began the process of changing the constitution to remove the two-term limit and allow the president to run for a third term. Touadéra was first elected in 2016 and was re-elected in 2020 amid a military offensive by the CPC. In September 2022, the Constitutional Court ruled that the steps taken thus far by the MCU and the president were “unconstitutional.” In October 2022, the Public Service Ministry began a process to forcibly retire the court’s president, Danièle Darlan, stating she had reached the age of retirement. She was pushed out later that month by a presidential decree. In January, the Constitutional Court—under a new court president—declared that a plan to initiate a referendum was legal, clearing the way for the constitutional reform.

In response to opposition, government institutions, including the police, threatened civil society advocates, accused them of collaborating with armed groups, and refused to allow political protests. Journalists and activists became more reluctant to criticize the government to avoid being labeled as political opponents and threatened. Two pro-MCU associations that mobilize youth, the Requins (French for “sharks”) and Galaxie Nationale (National Galaxy), campaigned for the referendum and harassed opponents, both online and in the streets.

The referendum was approved as the government claimed turnout was high, but reporters anecdotally spoke of a low turnout. The next presidential vote is due in 2025.

Justice for Serious Crimes

In July, the appeals chamber of the Special Criminal Court (SCC)—a war crimes court that is part of the domestic justice system but has both national and international staff and benefits from extensive UN and other international assistance—upheld the conviction of three members of the Return, Reclamation, and Rehabilitation (3R) armed group for crimes against humanity and war crimes for their roles in a massacre of 46 civilians in May 2019 in Koundjili and Lemouna in the northwest. Issa Sallet Adoum, Yaouba Ousman, and Mahamat Tahir were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment for the killings and other crimes.

In June, the SCC announced the death of Oumar Al Bachir in a hospital following an illness. Al Bachir was arrested in September 2022 for crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in 2014 at the Notre Dame of Fatima church in Bangui.

At the SCC, a case on crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Ndélé in March and April 2020 was approved to go to trial following a judicial investigation. The accused are Kalite Azor, Charfadine Moussa, Antar Hamat, Wodjonodroba Oumar Oscar, Général Faché, Younouss Kalamyal, Atahir English, Abdel Kane Mahamat Salle, Fotor Sinine, and Youssouf Moustapha, alias “Badjadje.”

In September, the SCC announced charges against Abdoulaye Hissène, a leader of the Front Populaire for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (Front populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique, FPRC). Hissène was an early Seleka commander and a minister while the rebels controlled Bangui in 2013. Later, he was a leader of a splinter group headed by Noureddine Adam, who is currently a fugitive suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Also in September, the SCC announced the arrest of Edmond Patrick Abrou, an anti-balaka leader, on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the village of Boyo, Ouaka province. From December 6 to 13, 2021, anti-balaka fighters allegedly under Abrou’s command carried out an attack on Boyo and killed at least 20 civilians, raped at least 5 women and girls, and burned and looted at least 547 houses.

Hassan Bouba, a government minister arrested under a warrant from the SCC in November 2021 but released a couple of days later despite court orders to the contrary, remained at liberty and continued his role as the minister of livestock and animal health. Bouba, a former leader of an armed group who was named a special councilor to the president in 2017 before being appointed minister, is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bouba’s group started committing serious abuses in Ouaka province in 2014, which continued in 2023. Bouba was expelled from the group in January 2021. There was no attempt to rearrest him in 2023.

In October, Maxime Mokom, a former military coordinator of a group of anti-balaka militia, was released by the ICC after the court’s prosecutor withdrew charges, citing a lack of evidence and witnesses. Mokom had fled to Chad after having taken part in the CPC’s unsuccessful bid to take Bangui in 2020. Mokom had been one of the highest ranked anti-balaka leaders in the country and in 2019, he was made the minister for disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and repatriation under a failed peace deal. His arrest warrant was issued in 2018.

At the ICC, the trials of Seleka commander Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Bangui in 2013, and anti-balaka leaders Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona and Alfred Yékatom, both charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between December 2013 and December 2014, continued.

In September, an appeals court in Bangui sentenced in absentia exiled former Central African Republic President François Bozizé, who became a CPC leader, to forced labor for life for conspiracy and rebellion. Bozizé was convicted with over 20 other co-accused, also found guilty in absentia, including armed group leaders Ali Darassa, Mahamat Al-Katim, Noureddine Adam, “General” Bobo, Maxime Mokom, Abakar Sabone, and Bozizé’s sons Jean-Francis and Aimé-Vincent, known as “Papy.” In March, François Bozizé moved from Chad to Guinea-Bissau, where he remains in exile.

Displacement and Humanitarian Needs

The year 2023 marked a decade of conflict and subsequent violence ravaging the country, and the civilian population continued to pay a heavy price. The total number of displaced people remained high because of fighting. Over 1.2 million people, according to the UN, were either refugees in neighboring countries (746,000) or internally displaced (486,000) as of September. Conditions for internally displaced people and refugees, many of whom stay in camps, remained harsh. Assistance to internally displaced people was seriously hampered by attacks on humanitarians and general insecurity in the country.

About 3.4 million people, out of a population of 6.1 million, needed humanitarian assistance. The humanitarian response plan was underfunded, with a budget gap of about US$283 million as of December.

Key International Actors

In June, the United States treasury imposed sanctions on two mining companies connected to the Wagner group and Prigozhin, Midas Ressources SARLU and Diamville SAU. Midas Ressources was given a mining exploitation permit for Ndassima in 2020, after the existing license for the area, held by Canadian company Axmin, was revoked.

The US also prohibited some military assistance to CAR under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, based on the government’s involvement in the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

In March, the United Kingdom imposed sanctions on Mahamat Salleh Adoum Kette for crimes allegedly committed by FPRC and CPC fighters under his command as part of a new package of sanctions aimed at violators, particularly those who target women and girls.

In November 2022, the UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic, Yao Agbetse, warned that the political situation could erode the peace and reconciliation process.

The UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, deployed 13,394 military peacekeepers and 2,415 police across many parts of the country. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the mission is authorized to take all necessary means to protect the civilian population from threat of physical violence and to “implement a mission-wide protection strategy.” In November 2022, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the mission for another year.

In June, a Tanzanian unit of peacekeepers deployed with MINUSCA was repatriated after sexual exploitation and abuse allegations. The UN reported that 11 members of the unit committed the abuse based on credible allegations from four victims.