A UN report published today details the dire and worsening human rights situation over the past year in the Central African Republic (CAR), where armed groups carried out a violent bid to disrupt elections. In response, the country’s defence and security forces launched military operations to retake territory from them.
The joint report by the UN Human Rights Office and MINUSCA, the UN Mission in CAR, covers the period from July 2020 to June 2021 in the context of the presidential poll, held in December 2020, and legislative elections, which took place in December 2020, and March and May 2021*.
The Human Rights Division of MINUSCA documented 526 incidents of abuses and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law across the country during this period. These violations affected at least 1,221 victims, including 144 civilians or those hors de combat who were killed by the parties to the conflict.
Among the documented abuses and violations are extrajudicial and summary killings, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, conflict-related sexual violence and serious violations against children, including their recruitment by parties to the conflict. In addition, the report notes that attacks and threats of attacks forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
A coalition of armed groups, known as the CPC (Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement), was responsible for over half of the documented incidents (54 per cent).
The CPC killed and abducted civilians, attacked UN peacekeepers, looted the premises of humanitarian organisations, threatening their staff, and burned down polling stations. In one incident on 19 March, an armed group affiliated with the CPC killed three traders in Ouaka prefecture, after tying them up and torturing them. Their bodies were subsequently found with their voting cards tied around their necks.
The Central African Armed Forces (FACA), Internal Security Forces (FSI) and other security personnel – including Russian military instructors deployed under an agreement between the Governments of CAR and the Russian Federation, and private military contractors operating in the country – were responsible for 46 per cent of the confirmed incidents.
Credible evidence gathered by the MINUSCA Human Rights Division indicated that these other security personnel were involved in military training and actively participated in military operations, including arresting suspects, and inflicting inhumane treatment and torture on some of them. On a number of occasions and in different locations, they were also reportedly involved in extrajudicial killings.
The Human Rights Division also confirmed an increase in attacks on members of the Muslim community by the FACA, FSI and other security personnel between February and June 2021. Further reports indicate that the deliberate targeting of Muslims over their alleged affiliation with armed groups was continuing.
“All parties to the conflict are continuing to commit atrocities, amid a deteriorating security situation, particularly in the provinces. A political solution to this crisis and the full respect at all times of international humanitarian and human rights law by all parties to the conflict are the only viable path to a durable peace and sustainable development in CAR,” said Mankeur Ndiaye, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MINUSCA.
The CAR Government has recently taken steps to promote and protect human rights, including the establishment of a special commission of inquiry on 4 May to investigate violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law linked to the elections. This, the report says, “represents a positive step toward accountability and in the fight against impunity”.
“Addressing past and current human rights violations in a manner meaningful to victims is essential to break the long and agonising cycle of violence in the Central African Republic,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. “To that end, there must be thorough, impartial and effective investigations into all alleged violations and abuses and those responsible must be held to account.”
In its recommendations, the report calls on armed groups to cease all attacks on the civilian population, including sexual violence and recruitment of children, and to re-engage in the peace process.
The report further urges the Government to take appropriate measures to hold those responsible for human rights violations and abuses accountable and to create a protective environment for civilians and humanitarian workers. It also calls on the Government to ensure the FACA, FSI and other security personnel leave all civilian buildings, including schools and hospitals, which they have illegally occupied.
The report also urges the international community to support the Government’s efforts to tackle the long-standing culture of impunity in CAR and to provide the necessary support for the professionalization of the FACA and FSI to enable them to fulfil their primary role of protecting civilians and promoting and protecting their human rights at all times.