BACKGROUND: Violence against civilians is pervasive throughout the Central African Republic (CAR) despite the deployment of French forces, a UN peacekeeping operation (MINUSCA) and an EU military force (EUFOR-RCA).
The Muslim population of CAR is being systematically targeted by the predominantly Christian and animist "anti-balaka" militias. Formed largely in response to abuses by the Séléka rebel alliance, the predominantly Muslim armed group who overthrew former President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013, anti-balaka militias have conducted widespread attacks against Muslims and are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths.
A 19 December 2014 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the situation in CAR stated that 99 percent of the Muslim population of Bangui has been forcibly displaced or killed. The report estimated at least 80 percent of CAR's total Muslim population has been driven out of the country. The Commission concluded that crimes committed by the anti-balaka constitute a "policy of ethnic cleansing" against CAR's Muslims.
According to the UN there are still at least 36,000 Muslim civilians trapped in seven besieged communities throughout the country. These enclaves have been systematically encircled, predominantly by the anti-balaka, subjected to attack and cut off from food and medical supplies. UNHCR has expressed particular concern for the plight of 470 Muslim Peuhl civilians that have been trapped in Yaloke for several months.
Despite some improvement of the security situation in Bangui, the situation in the interior of the country is marked by continued, widespread insecurity and the perpetration of gross human rights violations against civilians. Clashes between anti-balaka militias and ex-Séléka factions, as well as armed pastoralists, have intensified despite the signing of a ceasefire on 23 July.
At least 17 civilians were killed in attacks between 27 and 28 January in Agoudou-manga and Botto. On 7 February ex-Séléka fighters and armed pastoralists attacked the Ngakobo IDP site, which hosts 9,500 people, but were repelled by MINUSCA.
According the UN Panel of Experts on CAR, at least 3,000 civilians have been killed since December 2013. There are currently more than 450,000 IDPs in CAR and over 430,000 refugees in neighboring countries. On 24 February UNHCR said the surge in violence in the interior since mid-December has led to the displacement of at least 50,000 people, including 19,000 that have fled into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).An estimated 2.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The transitional government, led by interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, is struggling to respond to the ongoing crisis. The UN Secretary-General has warned that the permanent "de-facto partition" of the country remains a possibility.
ANALYSIS: CAR has suffered decades of poor governance, recurring instability and humanitarian crisis. Since March 2013 the state has effectively collapsed. National security forces cannot prevent various armed groups from perpetrating attacks and, in some cases, have themselves engaged in violence against civilians. Religious and ethnic identities continue to be manipulated, with communities mobilized against one another.
MINUSCA, EUFOR-RCA and French troops are still struggling to contain violence in Bangui. Ongoing fighting between the anti-balaka, armed Muslim self-defense groups and other armed groups, as well as between international peacekeepers and these groups, continues to pose a risk to civilians.
Clashes are ongoing in prefectures that split CAR between North and South and East and West. The country is now effectively partitioned, with anti-balaka controlling territory in western CAR and ex-Séléka factions establishing control in the east. Armed groups continue to exploit natural resources to fund their activities and violence is rising in transhumance corridors between nomadic pastoralists and settled agriculturalist communities. Deadly attacks on civilians continue to be conducted openly and without fear of sanction.
Leaders of various armed groups are seeking to secure amnesty and political concessions in advance of the upcoming Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation scheduled for March and April 2015. Local consultations in advance of the Forum are being hindered by ongoing insecurity and are complicated by the fragmentation of the ex-Séléka and anti-balaka. Preparing to hold elections in 2015 without significant improvements in security, accountability and dialogue amongst communities will only increase the risk of further mass atrocity crimes.
CAR's interim government is unable to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and requires sustained international assistance.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Following the deadly surge in violence during late 2013, the international community intensified its response to the crisis in CAR, including passing five UNSC resolutions between October 2013 and January 2015 that emphasized the interim government's responsibility to protect the civilian population. [For response prior to September 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation in CAR.]
MINUSCA assumed authority from the previous African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, MISCA, on 15 September 2014. On 29 January 2015 the UN Secretary-General requested that the UNSC authorize an increase of 1,050 personnel for MINUSCA. MINUSCA and the Transitional Authorities signed a memorandum of understanding on 8 August creating a Special Criminal Court to investigate atrocities and bring those responsible to justice.
On 24 September the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC announced she would be opening an investigation and stated that the ex- Séléka and anti-balaka have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, forced displacement, persecution and the use of child soldiers. The situation was referred to the ICC by CAR authorities on 30 May 2014.
On 22 January the UNSC passed Resolution 2196, recalling that CAR's transitional authorities bear the primary responsibility to protect all populations within their territory. On 10 and 11 March the UNSC visited CAR.
NECESSARY ACTION: French, EU and UN forces must disarm all groups that threaten civilians. MINUSCA must ensure it reaches full operational capacity and deploys in adequate numbers to all areas where vulnerable populations lack protection.
MINUSCA should immediately prioritize the arrest of individuals responsible for mass atrocity crimes and other serious violations of human rights. The mission should regularly and publicly report on the situation of human rights protection in CAR. The UNSC should authorize targeted sanctions against additional individuals and entities responsible for violating IHL and international human rights law.
Urgent financial and human resources are needed to establish the Special Criminal Court and ensure accountability for mass atrocity crimes. The Court should be comprised of a significant portion of international judges and prosecutors.
There is an urgent need for regional and international interlocutors to support the transitional government's attempts to promote reconciliation as well as the disarmament and demobilization of armed groups.
Last Updated: 15 March 2015