UN expert warns constitutional referendum in Central African Republic poses human rights risks
16 June 2023
GENEVA (16 June 2023) – A constitutional referendum in the Central African Republic could complicate the country’s human rights situation, a UN expert warned today, urging authorities to prevent, including on social media, a surge of hate speech and violence before, during and after the vote.
“The Central African State must use all means possible to ensure that the referendum does not result in further human rights violations,” said Yao Agbetse, UN independent expert on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic (CAR).
President of the CAR, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, announced a referendum on a new constitution would be held on 30 July, because, he said, the country’s current constitution does not accurately reflect the aspirations of the Central African people.
The UN expert said his consultations with different stakeholders revealed that the referendum raises political, security, logistical, technical and financial concerns. Agbetse said the new draft constitution must establish guarantees of non-recurrence and strengthen social justice and peace efforts. “The new constitution must ensure democratic consolidation in the Central African Republic, and serve the best interests of the nation,” he said.
Agbetse noted that the main constitutional reform proposals have not yet been made public, even though the date of the ballot draws near.
“Given the scope of the referendum project, what is at stake and its impact on the present and future of the CAR, a participatory approach is essential,” the UN expert said. “Central African authorities must do everything possible to ensure that positions expressed by dissenting voices are heard and taken into account,” he said.
Agbetse urged authorities in the CAR to ensure the referendum is peaceful and that public freedoms, such as association, peaceful assembly and speech, are preserved. “Before and during the referendum, people opposed to the new constitution and opposition parties that do not support the reforms must be given the civic and media space to disagree and present their own proposals”, the expert said. “These groups must not be harassed or subjected to reprisals,” he said. The UN expert also urged all parties to express their opinion peacefully ahead ofthe ballot.
Furthermore, he added that “unless the objectives of the new constitutional proposals are clearly explained and understood, this referendum could complicate a human rights situation that is already extremely complex.”
He also urged the State not to use the financial burden of the referendum as an excuse to compromise the local election process, which has currently been suspended.
Local elections initially scheduled for 11 September 2022 were postponed to January 2023, and subsequently refixed for 16 July. The last local elections in the CAR were held in 1988.
The expert urged the international community to remain vigilant about the situation in the CAR.
Mr. Yao Agbetse (Togo) the independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic is a human rights lawyer, researcher and teacher who has devoted the last 25 years of his life to justice and human rights, including the rights of the child. He has implemented human rights programs at the national level and has provided legal and technical advice for the development and monitoring of national human rights laws and policies, particularly in Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Togo. He has created a space and tools for dialogue and joint efforts by state actors and CSOs. In the DRC, Côte d'Ivoire and Mali, it has implemented DDR programs, trained army and police chiefs, and provided support to mandate-holders and United Nations operations, including participating in the interactive dialogue under item 10 during sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.