Populations at Risk Current Crisis

Central African Republic

Populations in the Central African Republic are at risk of mass atrocity crimes due to ongoing violence committed by various armed groups.
BACKGROUND:

Fighting amongst armed groups continues in almost every region of Central African Republic (CAR), leaving civilian populations at risk of attack and causing widespread displacement. Ongoing violence is fueled by shifting alliances between various predatory armed groups, including factions of the ex-Séléka rebel alliance and anti-balaka militias. The conflict has also sharpened divisions between the Muslim and Christian communities. The UN Security Council (UNSC) -mandated Panel of Experts on CAR reported in 2018 that hate speech and incitement to ethnic and religious-based violence had reached unprecedented levels and warned that some anti-balaka affiliated groups were carrying out targeted attacks against the Muslim population.

Armed clashes and violence have escalated across CAR. The violence is primarily driven by anti-balaka militias and three former members of the Séléka rebel alliance – the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) and the Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC). Armed groups have intentionally targeted civilians and humanitarian workers, committed sexual violence, and perpetrated attacks on medical facilities and places of worship. As a result, several humanitarian agencies have suspended relief operations.

Between 25 August and 16 September violence in Bria between anti-balaka militias and ex-Séléka elements, especially the FPRC, left at least 24 civilians dead. Since 31 October conflict has also intensified in the northern city of Batangafo where three internally displaced persons (IDP) camps were burnt down during violent clashes between the anti-balaka and the FPRC and MPC.

On 15 November clashes also erupted in the northern town of Alindao between anti-balaka members and the UPC. Despite the presence of peacekeepers from the UN Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), at least 70 civilians were killed as the UPC attacked a camp for IDPs. During the attack a church was burnt down and a priest was killed. On 31 December more than 12,000 people were also forcibly displaced when alleged FPRC fighters attempted to take over the southeastern town of Bakouma.

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.

A report published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) during May 2017 found that both anti-balaka and ex-Séléka forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015. More than a quarter of the country's population has fled their homes since 2013, with an estimated 636,000 Central Africans still internally displaced and almost 575,000 refugees.

The African Union (AU) has led recent efforts to initiate a possible peace process, acting as a mediator between the government and various armed groups. In parallel, Russia organized a meeting with four major armed groups in Khartoum during August 2018, where the groups pledged support for peace talks under the framework of the AU-led African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation. During December 2018 the UNSC emphasized that the African Initiative "constitutes the only framework for a comprehensive political solution."

A hybrid judicial mechanism – the Special Criminal Court (SCC) for CAR – was created during 2015 and opened its first session on 22 October 2018.

ANALYSIS:

Governmental control remains extremely limited. According to the UN, an estimated 70 percent of the country is 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. Civilians remain the primary targets of ongoing violence.

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.

The October 2018 inauguration of the SCC opens the way for accountability for mass atrocity crimes, but the court continues to face many logistical challenges.

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

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:

The UNSC has passed 12 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect all populations in CAR, including Resolution 2399 of 30 January 2018, 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 December 2018 the UNSC extended MINUSCA's mandate until 15 November 2019.

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 and will face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 12 December French authorities arrested Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, an anti-balaka leader, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, and authorized his transfer to the ICC.

NECESSARY ACTION:

MINUSCA must improve its ability to rapidly respond to emerging threats against the civilian population and strengthen its preventive capacity by bolstering local disarmament and reintegration efforts.

Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes by carrying out domestic criminal prosecutions as well as by continuing its cooperation with the ICC. National authorities should ensure the SCC can fulfill its mandate.

Through MINUSCA the international community should continue to assist the government in upholding its protective responsibilities and help restore state authority throughout the country.

Last Updated: 15 January 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.