The upcoming constitutional referendum in the Central African Republic is poised to aggravate the country’s human rights situation, with the UN warning of an upsurge in violence and hate speech in the days leading up to the vote.
President Faustin-Archange Touadera has officially slated July 30 as the date for a proposed referendum on a new constitution in the Central African Republic, with potential implications for his eligibility to run for another term in 2025, an Al-Jazeera report said.
At present, a president can serve only two four-year terms. TouadÃ©ra, elected in 2016, was re-elected in 2020, after an election contested by the opposition. Touadera has justified the proposed change by stating the countryâ€™s current constitution does not accurately reflect the aspirations of the Central African people.
His allies proposed the rule change in May last year, arguing that presidential term limits were uncommon in many neighbouring countries. Critics and opposition parties held protests last year as the reform would allow Touadera to run again in 2025 for a third term.
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.
A UN expert has warned that the constitutional referendum in this restive African nation poses human rights risks. â€œThe Central African State must use all means possible to ensure that the referendum does not result in further human rights violations,â€ said Yao Agbetse, UN independent expert on the human rights situation in the CAR.
The UN expert said his consultations with different stakeholders revealed that the referendum raises political, security, logistical, technical, and financial concerns, adding that the main constitutional reform proposals have not yet been made public, even though the date of the ballot draws near.
He noted that 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. â€œThese groups must not be harassed or subjected to reprisals,â€ the expert said.
Critics said President Touadera was making a blatant power play. â€œThis new constitution will be written so that Touadera remains president for life,â€ said Nicolas Tiangaye, a former prime minister and opposition leader.
Touadera has also drawn fire from critics over the hiring of paramilitaries from the Russian Wagner Group in the conflicts between militias that hold sway over large tracts of territory and often clash over access to minerals and other resources.
Despite being landlocked and rich in mineral resources, the Central African Republic (CAR) has faced persistent poverty and a lack of stability since gaining independence from France in 1960.