Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

Central African Republic

As the country awaits election results, civilians in the Central African Republic remain at imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes committed by "anti-balaka" militias, ex-Séléka rebels and other armed groups.
BACKGROUND: Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) remain at imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes despite the holding of the first round of presidential and legislative elections on 30 December and the presence of a UN peacekeeping operation (MINUSCA), French military forces and an EU military assistance mission (EUMAM-RCA).

The crisis in CAR began following 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. According to the International Commission of Inquiry (CAR-CoI), both armed groups have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The 30 December elections were held in relative peace with 72 percent of registered voters participating, according to the UN. The second round is expected to be held on 31 January 2016. A constitutional referendum was also held on 13 December, with voting marked by violence in Bangui, the capital, resulting in at least five people killed and dozens wounded. Factions of the ex-Séléka and anti-balaka were able to disrupt voting in several major towns, including Bossangoa, Kaga Bandoro and Birao.

The overall situation continues to be marked by insecurity and ongoing human rights violations with armed groups continuing to exercise control over the majority of the territory. Over 100 people were killed in violence in Bangui between 25 September and 1 November. On 10 November at least 10 people were killed, including a MINUSCA peacekeeper, and over 700 shelters were burned during an attack by presumed ex-Séléka rebels on an IDP site in Batangafo. On 11 and 12 November at least three people were killed in an attack on a displacement site in Bambari.

On 4 December armed men attacked an IDP site in Ngakobo, killing eight civilians. On 25 December at least five people were killed and 4,100 displaced after reprisal attacks between armed groups near Batangafo. Attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers and peacekeepers are ongoing in western prefectures, including along the Main Supply Route, which links CAR to Cameroon. Over 200 attacks were reported against humanitarian organizations during 2015.

The Muslim population of CAR has been systematically targeted by "anti-balaka" militias. According to the UN, there are still approximately 36,000 Muslim civilians trapped in seven besieged communities. These enclaves have been systematically encircled by the anti-balaka, subjected to periodic attack, and cut off from regular food and medical supplies.

The CAR-CoI estimated that at least 80 percent of CAR's Muslim population had been driven out of the country by December 2014, and concluded that crimes committed by the anti-balaka constitute a "policy of ethnic cleansing" against CAR's Muslims.

There are currently more than 447,000 IDPs in CAR and over 456,000 refugees in neighboring countries. An estimated 2.7 million people remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

ANALYSIS: The risk of mass atrocity crimes continues as elections proceed and final results are announced. Armed groups and opportunistic spoilers may continue to violently disrupt the electoral process in Bangui and the interior, putting civilians at risk.

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

National security forces remain unable to prevent attacks by various armed groups without the assistance of international forces. The fragmentation of the Séléka and anti-balaka will prove challenging for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs.

MINUSCA continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to uphold its mandate to protect civilians throughout CAR. The scaling down of French military forces presents additional operational challenges for MINUSCA.

CAR's Transitional Authorities are unable to uphold their Responsibility to Protect and require 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 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 28 April the UNSC passed Resolution 2217, which renewed MINUSCA's mandate for one year and emphasized the primary responsibility of the CAR authorities to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes.

On 28 September the UNSC condemned violence in Bangui and reaffirmed MINUSCA's role in assisting the Transitional Authorities to uphold their primary responsibility to protect.

On 11 December the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned ongoing inter-communal violence in CAR and warned of the risk of another wave of targeted attacks during the electoral period.

On 22 December the UNSC imposed sanctions on two additional individuals for undermining peace and security in CAR.

On 29 December the UN Secretary-General called on all political actors in CAR to ensure that the elections were conducted in a peaceful and credible manner.

NECESSARY ACTION: UN and French forces must use all necessary means to protect civilians and forcibly disarm groups that threaten populations. MINUSCA and the Transitional Authorities should ensure that all citizens, including IDPs, besieged populations and refugees in neighboring countries, can exercise their vote in safety.

MINUSCA must ensure it deploys in adequate numbers to all areas where vulnerable populations lack sufficient protection. The UN should facilitate the evacuation and relocation of all civilians who wish to leave besieged areas.

Urgent financial and logistical resources are needed to establish the Special Criminal Court for CAR and ensure accountability for mass atrocity crimes. The UNSC should sanction individuals responsible for atrocities and other serious human rights abuses.

Last Updated: 20 January 2016