Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Central African Republic

Violent conflict and instability leaves populations in the Central African Republic at risk of recurring mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND:
On 6 February the government and 14 armed groups, including the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) and Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), signed a peace deal to bring an end to years of armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). Despite the peace process, the security situation remains fragile and populations remain at risk. On 21 May members of the 3R (Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation) armed group attacked three villages in the Ouham-Pendé region, northwestern CAR, killing at least 42 civilians.

Endemic violence in CAR has been fueled by predatory armed groups, including factions of the ex-Séléka rebel alliance, such as the FPRC, UPC and MPC, and anti-balaka militias. These groups have targeted civilians, humanitarian workers and peacekeepers, committed sexual and gender-based violence, and perpetrated attacks on internally displaced persons camps, medical facilities and places of worship.

The February agreement, which was negotiated under the AU-led African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation, highlights the need to address the root causes of the conflict. It also contains provisions on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters and the establishment of a Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission.

The crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013 by the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of predominately Christian anti-balaka militias and the collapse of state institutions. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that both anti-balaka and ex-Séléka forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015. A hybrid judicial mechanism – the Special Criminal Court (SCC) for CAR – opened its first session on 22 October 2018. The SCC is currently engaged in three ongoing investigations.

An estimated 1.2 million Central Africans - more than a quarter of the population - have fled their homes since 2013. The dangerous operating environment also threatens the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid for an estimated 2.9 million people and has had disastrous consequences for the delivery of health care and education. Nearly two thirds of schools remain closed.

ANALYSIS:
Despite a general decrease in violence since February, some non-state armed groups, including some signatories to the peace agreement, continue to attack civilians and peacekeepers, commit sexual violence and engage in illegal "taxation" of humanitarian aid.

In keeping with the terms of the agreement, on 22 March the government announced a new cabinet, assigning multiple government positions to members of various armed groups. However, the promotion of leaders of armed groups responsible for past atrocity crimes into senior governmental roles potentially undermines the credibility of the justice process.

Governmental control remains extremely limited outside the capital, Bangui, while large swathes of the country are still in the hands of armed groups competing for territory, power and resources. Illegal trafficking allows for arms proliferation and armed groups benefit from revenues generated through the control of roads and natural resource extraction sites.

The CAR government requires ongoing international assistance to uphold its responsibility to protect.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed 12 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect populations in CAR. On 31 January 2019 the UNSC extended the sanctions regime that has been in place since 2013, including the imposition of travel bans and asset freezes on those who incite ethnic or religious violence. Following the signing of the peace agreement, the UNSC announced it would establish benchmark criteria for a possible suspension of the arms embargo.

During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by both Séléka and anti-balaka forces. On 17 November 2018 Alfred Yekatom, former commander of an anti-balaka group and a Member of Parliament, was transferred to the ICC to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 23 January French authorities transferred Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, an anti-balaka leader accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, to the ICC.

NECESSARY ACTION:
In addition to focusing on imminent threats to the civilian population, MINUSCA must strengthen its preventive capacity by bolstering local disarmament and reintegration efforts. MINUSCA should also continue to support local community peace and reconciliation committees.

Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes and continue its cooperation with the ICC. National authorities should also ensure the SCC can fulfill its mandate. Signatories to the peace deal should fully participate in the follow-up mechanisms established under the February agreement.

The UNSC and African Union should closely monitor implementation of the peace agreement and impose targeted sanctions on any individuals or groups that breach its key provisions. Criteria for the suspension of the arms embargo must focus on the successful reintegration of former fighters and on halting the illicit trafficking of weapons by armed groups.

Last Updated: 15 July 2019

The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Central African Republic has been featured in the R2P Monitor since July 2013.