Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes. Successive ceasefire agreements between 2014 and 2017 have been unable to end ongoing violence between various armed groups and militias. Escalating attacks since May 2017 in areas previously unaffected by large-scale fighting has resulted in hundreds of people killed and tens of thousands displaced. The UN's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator warned on 7 August that, "the early warning signs of genocide are there."
Recent violence, largely concentrated in the prefectures of Mbomou, Haute-Kotto and Basse-Kotto, is primarily driven by three armed groups: the predominantly Christian anti-balaka 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). The UN Children's Agency (UNICEF) has warned that children are increasingly targeted during attacks on villages, with reports of rape, abduction and recruitment into armed groups.
In Bangassou, capital of Mbomou prefecture, many residents remain displaced following large-scale attacks in May, including 2,000 Muslims who are still sheltering in the town's cathedral.. On 13 May the anti-balaka attacked the Muslim neighborhood of Tokoyo, resulting in at least 115 people killed and close to 19,000 displaced. Since then, anti-balaka have attacked internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, humanitarians and convoys of peacekeepers. Nine peacekeepers from the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) have been killed in and around Bangassou since the beginning of 2017. Approximately 75,000 people have fled from Bangassou and other border towns such as Bema and Mobaye into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Bria, the capital of Haute-Kotto, fighting between the FPRC and anti-balaka from 15-18 May and on 20 June resulted in the death of dozens of civilians, the burning of over 300 homes, and the majority of the town's 47,500 residents being 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 the central town of Kaga-Bandoro, aid agencies have suspended their work since the beginning of July due to insecurity, leaving around 25,000 displaced people without humanitarian assistance. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have confirmed over 60 attacks against humanitarians in CAR since the start of the year.
Clashes continued during August. Fighting between anti-balaka and suspected members of the UPC from 3-8 August in Gambo, near Bangassou, resulted in the death of six Red Cross workers and an estimated 30 civilians. In the northwest of CAR, in Batangafo and Ngaoundaye, dozens of people were killed and thousands displaced by violence. Violence also broke out in Alindao on 4 August, resulting in the death of ten people.
The UN Secretary-General's June 2017 report on CAR condemned violence by the FPRC, who have systematically targeted ethnic Fulani and seized their cattle. In response, armed Fulani self-defense groups have allegedly perpetrated violent reprisals, sometimes in collaboration with 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 human rights mapping report published by MINUSCA and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during May 2017 found that both sides of the conflict may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015. Over one million people are currently displaced, with over 600,000 IDPs in CAR and more than 480,000 people in neighboring countries.
Governmental control remains extremely limited in most areas outside 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 and loose command-and-control structures. These groups compete for territory, power and resources, including several mining sites.
Attacks by the anti-balaka and FRPC against Muslim and Fulani communities demonstrate the ongoing threat of civilians being targeted because of their religious or ethnic identity.
MINUSCA, which in many parts of the country is the only force capable of 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 nine resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect all populations in CAR, 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 and called for the swift operationalization of the Special Criminal Court, which was approved by the government in June 2015.
On 23 May 2017 the Prosecutor of the ICC issued a statement regarding the "serious crimes committed against civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers," noting that such crimes may fall under the court's jurisdiction. In a 13 July Presidential Statement, the UNSC emphasized that attacks against civilians and humanitarian workers may constitute crimes under international law.
The UNSC must ensure that MINUSCA has adequate troops and resources to uphold its mandate. MINUSCA must be able to 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 operationalize 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 August 2017