Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Central African Republic

Civilians in the Central African Republic remain at risk of mass atrocity crimes committed by "anti-balaka" militias, ex-Séléka rebels and other armed groups despite relatively peaceful elections and the formation of a new Government.
BACKGROUND: Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) remain at serious risk of mass atrocity crimes despite the largely peaceful election of a new President, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, on 14 February 2016. Touadéra was inaugurated on 30 March in Bangui and the new government and Prime Minister were announced on 11 April. Presidential and legislative elections have been underway since 30 December and concluded on 31 March.

The crisis in CAR began after the 24 March 2013 overthrow of President François Bozizé by the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of predominantly Christian and animist "anti-balaka" militias. A UN peacekeeping operation (MINUSCA), French military forces and an EU military assistance mission (EUMAM-RCA) are presently deployed in the country.

The overall situation continues to be marked by insecurity. From 30 November 2015 to 15 March 2016 MINUSCA recorded 269 verified incidents of violations or abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law. Attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers and peacekeepers are ongoing in western prefectures of the country. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which is active in eastern and southern prefectures, also escalated its sporadic attacks from January to March, including abductions and the killing of civilians. Armed groups continue to exercise control over the majority of the country.

According to MINUSCA and the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, the anti-balaka, ex-Séléka armed groups, individuals sympathetic to these groups, and elements of the Forces armées centrafricains were responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Bangui from 26 September to 20 October 2015. The International Commission of Inquiry (CAR-CoI) has found the armed groups responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The CAR-CoI estimated that at least 80 percent of CAR's Muslim population had been driven out of the country and concluded that crimes committed by the anti-balaka constitute a "policy of ethnic cleansing" against CAR's Muslims.

There are currently more than 420,000 IDPs in CAR, including 65,000 in Bangui, and over 460,000 refugees in neighboring countries. According to the UN, there are still approximately 36,000 Muslim civilians trapped in seven besieged communities, which have been systematically encircled by the anti-balaka, subjected to periodic attack, and cut off from regular food and medical supplies. An estimated 2.3 million people remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

ANALYSIS: The largely peaceful presidential and legislative elections represent important progress, but they have not resolved the underlying conflict in CAR. Armed groups may still engage in violence following the formation of the new government.

National security forces have been implicated in serious violations or abuse of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL), and remain unable to prevent attacks by various armed groups without the assistance of international forces. The ongoing fragmentation of the ex-Séléka and anti-balaka will prove challenging for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs, for which progress has been lacking.

Hostilities between anti-balaka militias, ex-Séléka rebels, armed Muslim self-defense groups and other armed groups, as well as between international peacekeepers and these groups, continue to pose a threat to civilian populations. Violence between nomadic pastoralists and settled agriculturalist communities in the transhumance corridor also continues. Some armed groups, including the LRA, continue to illegally exploit natural resources to fund their activities.

MINUSCA continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to uphold its mandate to protect civilians throughout CAR. Ongoing allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by MINUSCA peacekeepers also erode confidence in the UN and negatively impacts mandate implementation. The scaling down of French military forces presents additional operational challenges for MINUSCA.

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

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Following the deadly surge in violence during late 2013, the international community intensified its response to the crisis in CAR, including passing six UNSC resolutions between October 2013 and April 2015 that emphasized the interim government's responsibility to protect the civilian population. [For response prior to March 2015, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in CAR.]

On 22 December the UNSC imposed sanctions on two individuals for undermining peace and security in CAR. On 27 January 2016 the UNSC passed Resolution 2262, which renewed the sanctions regime, including the arms embargo, and recalled the primary responsibility of the CAR authorities to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

On 10 February the head of MINUSCA called for a renewed focus on ending impunity and prosecuting those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses. The mission also called upon armed groups to end attacks on civilians and for the reform of CAR's armed forces.

The UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in CAR arrived in Bangui on 1 March. The Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue on 22 March, during which the Independent Expert stressed the importance of DDR and Security Sector Reform.

On 8 April the UN special coordinator on sexual exploitation and abuse Jan Holl Lute, visited CAR following recent allegations against MINUSCA peacekeepers to initiate strong measures to halt abuse.

NECESSARY ACTION:The newly-formed Government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes and other violations of international human rights law and IHL, including through cooperation with the ICC. Urgent financial and logistical resources are also needed to establish the Special Criminal Court for CAR.

Elected candidates who are proven to have incited or committed violations of human rights should not be permitted to assume positions in the new government. The UNSC should sanction individuals responsible for atrocities and other serious human rights abuses.

UN and French forces must use all necessary means and assist national security forces to protect civilians and forcibly disarm groups that continue to threaten populations. MINUSCA must ensure it deploys in adequate numbers to all areas where vulnerable civilians lack sufficient protection, including in areas affected by the LRA.

Last Updated: 15 April 2016