Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

Central African Republic

Populations in the Central African Republic face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes committed by various armed groups.
BACKGROUND:
Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes as fighting amongst armed groups continues in almost every region of the country. Since May 2017 attacks by armed groups, including in areas previously unaffected by large-scale fighting, have resulted in hundreds of people killed and tens of thousands displaced.

Most armed fighters belong to either the predominantly Christian anti-balaka, including affiliated "self defense groups," or are members of groups loosely affiliated to the ex-Séléka rebel alliance. The escalation of violence has particularly affected the northwest, where fighting between the Revolution and Justice armed group and the ex-Séléka Movement for the Liberation of the CAR People has resulted in the displacement of more than 80,000 civilians in Ouham-Pendé since December 2017. Activity by the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique also continues to fuel instability in northeast CAR.

The humanitarian and human rights situation has also worsened in the southeast, where armed clashes continue between so-called self-defense groups and the ex-Séléka Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique. The Panel of Experts on CAR has reported that hate speech and incitement to ethnic and religious-based violence has reached unprecedented levels and warned that some anti-balaka affiliated groups are carrying out targeted attacks against the local Muslim population. Pervasive insecurity has also created a safe haven for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Direct attacks by armed groups have also resulted in the death of 16 UN peacekeepers and 20 humanitarian workers since the beginning of 2017. Several humanitarian agencies have suspended their work and relocated from highly insecure areas, leaving more than 110,000 civilians without life-saving assistance.

The current 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 anti-balaka militias. The current escalation of violence is not only rooted in divisions between the Muslim and Christian communities, but is fueled by economic interests and shifting alliances between various predatory armed groups.

A report published by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights during May 2017 found that both anti-balaka and ex-Séléka forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015. Sexual violence against the civilian population has been used as a tactic by both the Séléka and anti-balaka since early 2013. The UN Children's Fund has also warned that children have been targeted during attacks, with reports of rape, abduction and recruitment into armed groups.

The number of internally displaced persons has increased by 70 percent since the beginning of 2017 and is now at the highest level recorded in CAR. More than a quarter of the country's population has fled their homes, with almost 690,000 Central Africans internally displaced and more than 545,000 taking refuge in neighboring countries.

ANALYSIS:
Governmental control remains extremely limited in most areas outside Bangui, allowing rival armed groups to expand their influence. In addition to the anti-balaka, ex-Séléka militias and the LRA, at least 10 other armed groups operate in CAR, competing for territory, power and resources. According to the UN, an estimated 70 percent of the country (14 out of 16 prefectures) is still controlled by armed groups. Illegal trafficking allows for arms proliferation and armed groups benefit from revenues generated through the control of roads and natural resource extraction sites.

Despite the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for CAR, a hybrid judicial mechanism which was created in 2015 to prosecute those responsible for mass atrocity crimes, the Court is not yet fully operational and perpetrators have not been held accountable.

In many parts of the country MINUSCA remains the only force capable of maintaining security, but it continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to consistently uphold its civilian protection mandate. Allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers have weakened MINUSCA's public reputation.

The CAR government requires sustained international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed 11 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect all populations in CAR, including Resolution 2399, which extended the sanctions regime that has been in place since 2013. The resolution authorized the imposition of travel bans and asset freezes on those who incite ethnic or religious violence.

On 15 November the UNSC adopted Resolution 2387, increasing MINUSCA by an additional 900 troops in order to protect civilians and prevent any further deterioration of the security situation. The additional peacekeepers bring the total number of authorized MINUSCA military personnel to 11,650.

NECESSARY ACTION:
MINUSCA should improve its operational ability to rapidly respond to emerging threats. The additional 900 peacekeepers must be deployed as soon as possible to strengthen the mission's civilian protection mandate. MINUSCA should also continue to focus on local reconciliation efforts in high-risk areas.

Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should also prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes, including by cooperating with the International Criminal Court. Significant financial and logistical resources are still needed to fully operationalize the Special Criminal Court. MINUSCA should assist the authorities to initiate investigations to end pervasive impunity.

The international community must enable the government to uphold its protective responsibilities and restore state authority, including through supporting ongoing structural reforms of the justice and security sectors and ending incitement of ethnic and religious-based violence.

Last Updated: 15 March 2018

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