Populations at Risk Current Crisis

Central African Republic

Mass atrocity crimes are being committed in the Central African Republic by "anti-balaka" militias, ex-Séléka rebels, other armed groups and mobs of civilians.
BACKGROUND:Violence against civilians is pervasive throughout the Central African Republic (CAR) despite the deployment of French forces, an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission (MISCA) and a European Union (EU) military operation.

The Muslim population is being systematically targeted by the predominantly Christian and animist "anti-balaka" militias and mobs of civilians. Formed largely in response to abuses by the Séléka rebel alliance, the predominantly Muslim armed group who overthrew former President Francois Bozizé on 24 March 2013, anti-balaka militias have conducted deadly reprisals against Muslims and other groups and are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in CAR.

The UNHCR has stated that targeted violence against Muslims constitutes "massive ethno-religious cleansing." Approximately 80 percent of the country's Muslim population has been forced to flee or has been killed since September 2013. The UN and humanitarian organizations, with the assistance of French forces and MISCA peacekeepers, have relocated some vulnerable civilians. On 31 May civilians from PK5, the last Muslim residential enclave in Bangui, demanded the UN evacuate them. On 10 June the UN reported that the anti-balaka were besieging the remaining Muslims of Bangui by preventing non-Muslims from delivering goods to the local market. UNHCR estimates that at least 15,000 Muslims in 11 threatened communities remain at "very high risk" of attack.

Fighting has intensified between the anti-balaka and ex-Séléka in northern, central and eastern prefectures, often resulting in targeted attacks against civilians and inter-communal violence. Fighters affiliated with the ex-Séléka attacked the village of Liwa, near Bambari, Ouaka prefecture, on 10 June. At least 22 people were killed and over 150 houses burned in the attack. An anti-balaka counter attack near Bambari on 23 June left at least 18 Muslim civilians dead. Over 60 people were killed in ensuing reprisal violence in Bambari.

Religious sites, including those where displaced civilians are sheltering, have become targets of attack. On 28 May ex-Séléka fighters killed 17 civilians and wounded 30 others when they opened fire upon internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Notre Dame de Fatima church in Bangui. Following clashes with French forces, on 7 July armed Muslim civilians and ex-Séléka rebels attacked St. Joseph Cathedral in Bambari, where more than 4,000 IDPs were sheltering. According to the Red Cross at least 21 civilians were killed in the attack. On the same day a group of armed men threw a grenade towards a mosque in Paoua, Ouham-Pendé prefecture, leaving 34 wounded.

According to the UN at least 2,400 civilians have been killed since December 2013. Over 388,500 civilians have sought refuge in neighboring countries and there are currently more than 535,000 IDPs in CAR, including at least 111,500 people spread across 43 sites in Bangui.

The transitional government, led by interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, is struggling to adequately respond to the crisis. As extreme levels of violence continue, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the permanent "de-facto partition" of the country along ethno-religious lines is a possibility.

ANALYSIS:CAR has suffered decades of poor governance, recurring instability and humanitarian crisis. Since March 2013 the state has effectively ceased to function. The interim government cannot prevent various armed groups and civilian mobs from perpetrating attacks and does not have an effective strategy for the protection and relocation of vulnerable populations, promotion of political dialogue or national reconciliation.

Intensified fighting between anti-balaka, ex-Séléka and other armed groups, as well as between international peacekeepers and these groups, has increased the risks to civilians. Fighting between armed groups has occurred in prefectures that split the country between North and South and East and West. The country is effectively partitioned, with the anti-balaka controlling territory in western CAR and the ex-Séléka establishing control in the east. The current violence is occurring as the anti-balaka and ex-Séléka are attempting to re-organize and consolidate their respective movements.

Political and military elites seeking to maintain or gain power, including those linked to the ex-Séléka, anti-balaka and former President Bozizé, are exacerbating the crisis. Religious and ethnic identity has also been manipulated, with communities mobilized against one another. Deadly attacks on civilians are conducted openly and without fear of sanction.

Despite the efforts of French and AU peacekeepers, civilians have not been afforded adequate protection from mass atrocity crimes. MISCA continues to face critical operational gaps.

Accelerating the political transition and preparing to hold elections without significant improvements in security, accountability and reconciliation amongst communities will only increase the risk of further mass atrocity crimes being perpetrated.

CAR's interim government is currently unable to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and requires sustained international assistance.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:Following the deadly surge of violence during late 2013, the international community intensified its response to the crisis in CAR, including passing three UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions between October 2013 and January 2014 that emphasized the interim government's responsibility to protect the civilian population. [For responses prior to April 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of the International Response to the Situation in CAR.]

France currently has 2,000 troops deployed in CAR under the aegis of Operation Sangaris, while the AU has deployed 5,800 MISCA peacekeepers. Three French and twenty-six AU peacekeepers have been killed since 5 December.

The EU formally launched its military operation (EUFOR-RCA) on 1 April and has approximately 700 troops on the ground. The mission is responsible for security at Bangui M'Poko airport and is also charged with protecting civilians in the 3rd and 5th districts of Bangui.

On 10 April the UNSC passed Resolution 2149, emphasizing the CAR authorities' primary responsibility to protect their population. The resolution authorized the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation, MINUSCA, which is expected to consist of 10,000 troops and 1,800 police. MINUSCA is mandated to protect civilians, support the political transition, facilitate humanitarian assistance and promote human rights. It will assume authority from MISCA on 15 September.

The UNSC strongly condemned violence in Bangui in a 30 May Press Statement and reiterated the CAR authorities' primary responsibility to protect civilians.

On 5 June the UN Commission of Inquiry released its preliminary report on the CAR crisis, which concluded that ample evidence exists that individuals from both sides of the conflict have committed violations of international humanitarian and human rights law since 1 January 2013. The commission's report suggested that "acts of genocide" and ethnic cleansing may have been perpetrated by the anti-balaka against the Muslim population of CAR.

On 12 June the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) noted that the intervention of the Court is now "essential," following a formal request by the transitional authorities to open an investigation into crimes committed in CAR since August 2012.

The International Contact Group for CAR met for the fifth time on 7 July and committed to convene a Forum for National Reconciliation and Political Dialogue between 21 and 23 July.

NECESSARY ACTION:The interim government must publicly condemn all attacks on civilians, especially against the Muslim minority. It is essential that perpetrators responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of human rights be brought to justice.

Local efforts to ease tensions between communities should be supported by international mediators and should be part of a broader strategy of working with CAR's authorities on national reconciliation. There is an urgent need for regional and international interlocutors to support the transitional government in efforts to promote disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups.

French, AU and EU forces must disarm all armed groups who threaten civilians. Vulnerable civilians, especially those in IDP encampments and besieged areas, must be robustly protected and provided adequate access to humanitarian relief. Enhanced protection must also be provided during evacuation and relocation operations.

Additional troops, including formed police units, should be expeditiously deployed. Logistical support to MISCA must be increased. There is an urgent need to increase funding for humanitarian assistance.

Re-hatted troops that will participate in MINUSCA must be strenuously vetted and trained to strictly abide by the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.

Last Updated: 15 July 2014