During May violence in Central African Republic (CAR) escalated in the prefectures of Mbomou, Basse-Kotto and Haute-Kotto, areas previously unaffected by large-scale fighting. The renewed violence is largely driven by three armed groups: the anti-balaka, which had started as largely Christian self-defense groups, and two former members of the mostly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance, the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC). In May alone, at least 300 people were killed and 88,000 were displaced.
In Basse-Kotto prefecture clashes between the anti-balaka and the UPC in the town of Alindao from 7-9 May resulted in at least 133 people killed. In Bria, the capital of Haute-Kotto, the FPRC and anti-balaka elements clashed from 15-18 May and carried out attacks against civilians, including burning down over 300 homes. The violence resulted in the death of 22 people, including 17 civilians, and the majority of the town's 47,500 residents were displaced.
From 12-14 May, the anti-balaka carried out an attack on a Muslim neighborhood in Bangassou, the capital of Mbomou prefecture, during which at least 115 people were killed and close to 19,000 displaced, over 13,000 of whom are children. Six peacekeepers from the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) were also killed near Bangassou during the week of 8 May and humanitarian workers and structures have been the target of several attacks.
Tensions remain high around Bambari, the capital of Ouaka prefecture, where in early 2017 the rival FPRC and UPC engaged in sustained fighting. MINUSCA has since negotiated the withdrawal of the UPC from the town. The Secretary-General's June 2017 report on CAR condemned violence by the FPRC, who have systematically targeted ethnic Fulani, at times driven by attempts to steal cattle. Armed Fulani self-defence groups have allegedly perpetrated violent reprisals, sometimes in collaboration with members of the UPC.
The current crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013 by the Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of anti-balaka militias. A thirteen-year human rights mapping report published by MINUSCA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in May 2017 found that both sides of the conflict may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015.
Governmental control remains limited in most areas outside the capital, Bangui, allowing rival armed groups to expand into areas previously unaffected by major fighting. In addition to the anti-balaka, UPC and FRPC, at least 11 other armed groups operate throughout CAR with shifting alliances. These groups compete for control of territory, power and resources, including several mining sites. CAR's porous border has also allowed rebel groups to acquire weapons from neighbouring states.
Attacks by the FRPC and anti-balaka against Fulani communities demonstrate the growing threat of civilians being directly targeted in violence based upon religious and ethnic identities.
MINUSCA, which in many parts of the country is the only force responsible for maintaining security, continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to uphold its mandate to protect civilians.
The CAR government requires sustained international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed 9 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect all populations, including Resolution 2339 of 27 January 2017, which renewed sanctions and an arms embargo until 31 January 2018.
On 4 April 2017 the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement condemning violence by armed groups – especially the FPRC and UPC – urging them to commit to the disarmament and demobilization process. The statement also emphasized the importance of holding perpetrators accountable, calling for the swift operationalization of the Special Criminal Court, which was approved by the government in June 2015.
On 16 May the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, expressed alarm over expanding attacks by armed groups against the civilian population in CAR.
On 23 May 2017 the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a statement regarding the "serious crimes committed against civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers" in CAR, noting that such crimes may fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC.
The UNSC must ensure that the arms embargo is respected. MINUSCA must deploy in adequate numbers to all areas where civilians lack sufficient protection and improve its capacity to anticipate and respond to emerging security threats.
Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes, including through cooperation with the ICC. Long-term financial and logistical resources are needed to establish the Special Criminal Court.
The international community should continue to assist the government to uphold its Responsibility to Protect, including through supporting structural reforms of the justice and security sectors.
Last Updated: 15 June 2017