The former president of the Central African Republic, Francois Bozize, has been sentenced to forced labor for life by the country’s Court of Appeal. The court found him guilty of undermining the internal security of the state and assassinations. Bozize, who was in exile in Chad until March before moving to Guinea-Bissau, came to power through a coup in 2003 but was overthrown a decade later. Currently, he serves as the coordinator of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), a rebel coalition operating mainly in the north of the country.
Reacting to the verdict, Bea Bertin, a CPC official and vice chairperson of the Kwa NA Kwa (KNK) political party that Bozize represents, denounced the trial and the convictions of Bozize and other opponents. Bertin claimed that the ruling government is using legal and illegal means to eliminate its opponents, characterizing it as a dictatorial power. These allegations suggest that the verdict is part of a wider effort to stifle political dissent in the country, which has a population of about 5.5 million.
In addition to Bozize, two of his sons and twenty others, including rebel leaders, were also sentenced to forced labor for life in absentia. The charges against Bozize include undermining the security of the state and involvement in assassinations, although the court did not specify when these crimes were allegedly committed.
The Central African Republic has been plagued by violence since Bozize’s ousting in 2013 by mostly-Muslim Seleka rebels. This led to retaliatory attacks from predominantly Christian militia groups, sparking a civil war in one of the world’s poorest countries. Both sides in the conflict have been accused by the United Nations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Despite holding a presidential election in December 2020, violence has persisted in the country. The election was the first since the signing of a peace agreement in 2019 between the government and various armed groups. The re-elected President, Faustin Archange Touadera, has been unable to fully quell the violence and establish stability.
The sentencing of Bozize further exemplifies the ongoing political tensions and divisions in the Central African Republic. The allegations of a dictatorial power attempting to eliminate its opponents raise concerns about the state of democracy and human rights in the country. As the nation continues to grapple with violence and instability, efforts to promote reconciliation and establish a peaceful political landscape remain paramount.