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Executive Summary

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Decades of political instability, state fragility, mismanagement, and a series of armed conflicts have led the Central African Republic (CAR) to a state of widespread violence and poverty. This study provides a better understanding of the scope and magnitude of violence in CAR and its consequences, as well as a snapshot of what the citizens of CAR believe is the best way to restore peace. It also examines the issue of justice and accountability for the serious crimes that were committed.

This report provides the findings from a survey of 1,879 adults, residents of CAR, randomly selected in the capital city of Bangui, and the prefectures of Lobaye, Ombella M’Poko, Ouham, and Ouham Pende. These prefectures represent a large geographic area that account for 52% of the total population of CAR and have experienced varying levels of exposure to the conflicts. Locally trained teams conducted the interviews between November and December 2009.

This report provides a detailed analysis of results on a wide range of topics related to population’s priorities and needs, exposure to violence, security, community cohesion and engagement, access to information, conflict resolution, reintegration of former combatants, transitional justice, and reparations for victims. Interviewers used an open-ended format and respondents could provide more than one answer to most questions.

The findings of the survey are as follows:

Building Peace:

  • Peace, which most respondents defined as the absence of violence and freedom from fear, is the main priority, followed by concerns over livelihood activities (work) and money. The lack of security was highlighted even in daily activities: over one in four respondents reported feeling unsafe while sleeping at night, walking at night, going to the nearest village, or meeting strangers. When asked who provides them with security, over half the respondents (54%) mention God, while 3 percent mentioned the police/gendarmes. Given the current dynamic of the conflict, the sense of insecurity was highest in the northern prefectures of Ouham and Ouham Pende. However, many respondents also reported feeling unsafe in Bangui.
  • The population has been exposed to widespread violence and human rights abuses.
    • Four out of five respondents said they had to flee their home at some point during the various conflicts since 2002. 
    • About three out of five had goods or property stolen or destroyed, were separated from household members, or thought their lives were threatened.

Many respondents were also directly exposed to violence:

  • Twenty percent said they had been beaten or physically attacked.
  • Ten percent said they had been abducted (5% for at least a week).
  • Fourteen percent said armed groups forced them to work; 5 percent were forced to loot, 2 percent to beat someone, and 1 percent to kill someone.
  • Over 10 percent of the respondents in the prefectures of Ouham and Ouham Pende reported having witnessed pillaging, and beating, having been forced to flee their home or village, having property stolen, or destroyed, and being threatened with death over the last 12 months.
  • Twenty-one percent of all respondents reported witnessing acts of sexual violence by armed groups.   
  • Six percent of the women surveyed reported an experience of sexual violence committed by armed groups, and six percent reported sexual violence committed by others than armed groups. Sexual violence was most frequently reported by women in Ouham Pende (14%), a rate that is similar to those found in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.[1]
  • In addition to conflict-related violence, domestic violence is pervasive: 22 percent of the women report having been physically beaten by a household member, most frequently for disobeying, or arguing.
  • Most respondents (61%) identify the root cause of the conflict as the struggle for power between political elites. Reflecting the notion that this is predominantly a political conflict, most respondents believe peace must be achieved through dialogue (56%), or by having elections (23%). However, there was some pessimism as to whether peace can be achieved; only half the respondents believed it is possible to live in peace in CAR (54%) and with neighboring countries (50%). One in four did not believe it was possible to have peace. Respondents in the northern prefectures were more likely to be pessimistic about prospects for a lasting peace.
  • Twenty-three percent of the respondents said having free and fair elections was a means for a durable peace. A large majority (94%) said they plan to vote in the next presidential elections, and most felt confident that they would be able  to vote freely.
  • Respondents expressed high expectations that Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program would contribute to a lasting peace.
  • Three out of four respondents felt uncomfortable interacting with former combatants in the following contexts: sharing a drink or living as neighbors or in the same household.
  • A quarter of the respondents felt that they knew nothing or very little about events in CAR and 41% said they never listened to the radio – the most common source of information in the country.

Seeking Justice:

  • The vast majority of respondents (98%) said those responsible for the violence should be held accountable. Respondents identified murder (91%), theft and destruction of property (66%), and sexual violence (52%) as the principal crimes committed by combatants. Respondents provided a long list of individuals or groups that should be held accountable, including current and former presidents, and leaders of rebel groups. When asked what should happen to those responsible for the violence, 46 percent said they should confront justice, 27 percent said they should go to jail, 21 percent said they should be killed with or without judicial proceedings, and 19 percent said they should be punished.
  • When provided with four options of trials for those who were responsible for violence, over half of the respondents (52%) said they should be tried in the national courts while 27 percent said they should be tried in CAR by an international court.  Fourteen percent preferred international trials outside of the country, while 7 percent preferred no trials at all. Thus in general trials conducted in CAR are the respondents preferred choice. However, only one third of respondents perceived the quality of the judicial system as good or very good. These findings are consistent with what was found in other post-conflict settings where the population wants justice to be close to where the conflict took place in order to be able to witness and participate in the process.
  • One third of the respondents have heard about the International Criminal Court, with figures by prefectures ranging from 7 percent in Ouham to 63 percent in Bangui. In general, the perception of the Court is positive, with most respondents expecting a positive impact, such as bringing justice, and helping prevent crimes.
  • When asked who are the victims of the various armed conflicts, respondents gave the following definitions: the civilian population (75%), women (54%), children (46%), and the elderly (25%). When asked what should be done for the victims, they said restitution(60%), followed by money (34%). About half the respondents said reparation should be both individual and communal, while 20 percent said it should be only individual.
  • It is important to the respondents to know the truth about what happened during the conflicts, and why it happened. Most (74%) also believe memorials are important.

These key survey results should be instructive to the Government of the Central African Republic, nongovernmental organizations, and other agencies as they develop policies to address the legacy of armed conflict in CAR. They are also a reminder that consulting the population and deepening our understanding of war-affected communities is essential to build a lasting peace.


The key recommendations to emerge from this study are:

To the CAR Government and Armed Groups:

  • Work together to implement the goals of the Inclusive Political Dialogue, including the effective disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants back into society and hold free and fair presidential elections. The citizens of CAR view combatant reintegration programs  and elections as integral steps for  building a lasting peace.
  • Stop preying on the population and collecting illegal taxes at road blocks. These instill fear among the population, which in turns hinder their ability to carry on with their daily lives.

To the CAR Government:

  • Reform the security sector and remove perpetrators of serious crimes from their positions. The police and gendarmes must be trained and supported to fulfill their mandate of protecting, and not preying on, civilians.
  • Bring those responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law to justice. The government should support the judiciary to ensure that courts can operate independently and fairly.  This will help raise public confidence in the judiciary and supporting the rule of law.
  • Give priority to the provision of basic services including education, health care, and transportation (e.g. road network).  

To the Civil Society and the International Community:

  • Put pressure on the government, political parties, and armed groups to ensure that elections and DDR processes are effectively implemented in a transparent, free, and fair manner.
  • Provide sufficient financial and technical support to the electoral process to guarantee free and fair elections and ensure a peaceful transition.
  • Work with the government to rebuild infrastructure and services and uphold the rule of law. The focus on humanitarian needs in the north should not prevent investment to address structural and chronic poverty in all of CAR. Respondents identified peace, employment, and basic services as priorities. If any of these are neglected, political and physical stability will be hard to establish and sustain.
  • Engage with the population to address domestic violence and other forms of violence at the community level
  • Continue to document violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and press for accountability.  The international community should continue to support civil society in its efforts to document human rights abuses and assist victims. The international community should also maintain a U.N. peacekeeping mission in CAR for the foreseeable future.  It’s presence will help guarantee a certain level of stability and allow for the completion of the DDR, the elections, and reform of the security sector.
  • Work to develop a regional security strategy to address cross-border issues and lawless border zones.

To the International Criminal Court

  • Continue and increase public information and outreach activities especially in the interior of the country.  The proportion of respondents who are aware of the ICC was relatively high, but there is still a great need to target groups with little or no access to media.
  • Reconsider holding in situ proceedings in CAR, so long as the conditions of security permit.  The survey found strong support for local trials.
  • Broaden the scope of investigations to include serious crimes committed throughout the country, especially in the North.
  • Work with national institutions to ensure that the investigations contribute to establishing a historical record of the events in CAR.

[1] Vinck P, Pham PN, Baldo S, Shigekane R Living with Fear: A Population-Based Survey on Attitudes about Peace, Justice and Social Reconstruction in Eastern Congo. Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley; Payson Center for International Development, Tulane University; International Center for Transitional Justice, New York; 2008.