On 6 February the national government and 14 armed groups, including the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) and Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), signed a peace deal to bring an end to years of armed hostilities in the Central African Republic (CAR). Despite this historic agreement, fighting amongst armed groups leaves civilian populations at ongoing risk of attack and continues to cause widespread displacement.
Endemic violence in CAR is fueled by shifting alliances between predatory armed groups, including factions of the ex-Séléka rebel alliance and anti-balaka militias. Despite the groups' expressed commitment to the peace process, intense clashes over the past months have particularly affected the south and east of the country. Violence is primarily driven by anti-balaka militias and three former members of the Séléka rebel alliance – the FPRC, UPC and MPC. These groups have intentionally targeted civilians and humanitarian workers, committed sexual violence and perpetrated attacks on internally displaced persons camps, medical facilities and places of worship. The conflict has also sharpened divisions between Muslim and Christian communities, with reports of hate speech and incitement to ethnic and religious-based violence. The increasingly dangerous environment also threatens the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid for an estimated 2.9 million people.
The February agreement, which was negotiated in Khartoum, Sudan, under the African Union (AU)-led African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation, highlights the need to address the root causes of the conflict. It also contains provisions on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters and the establishment of a Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission. The agreement also called for the establishment of an inclusive government. However, following the government's announcement of a new cabinet on 3 March, several signatories expressed frustration over a lack of representation, threatening to withdraw from the agreement.
The crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013 by the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of predominately Christian anti-balaka militias and the collapse of state institutions. the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that anti-balaka and ex-Séléka forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015.
More than a quarter of the country's population has fled their homes since 2013, with an estimated 648,000 Central Africans still internally displaced and more than 575,000 refugees. A hybrid judicial mechanism – the Special Criminal Court (SCC) for CAR – was created during 2015 and opened its first session on 22 October 2018.
Governmental control remains extremely limited outside the capital, Bangui. According to the UN, an estimated 70 percent of the country is still in the hands of armed groups competing for territory, power and resources. Illegal trafficking allows for arms proliferation and armed groups benefit from revenues generated through the control of roads and natural resource extraction sites. Civilians remain the primary targets of ongoing violence.
In many parts of the country MINUSCA remains the only force capable of maintaining security, but it continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to consistently uphold its civilian protection mandate.
While the Khartoum agreement constituted a potentially historic step towards peace, growing frustration and threats of withdrawal by several armed groups jeopardizes the process. In addition, the agreement does not adequately address post-conflict justice, including the role of the SCC.
The CAR government requires sustained international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed 12 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect all populations in CAR, including Resolution 2448 from 13 December 2018, which extended MINUSCA's mandate until 15 November 2019. On 31 January 2019 the UNSC extended the sanctions regime that has been in place since 2013, including the imposition of travel bans and asset freezes on those who incite ethnic or religious violence.
During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by both Séléka and anti-balaka forces. On 17 November 2018 Alfred Yekatom, former commander of an anti-balaka group and a Member of Parliament, was transferred to the ICC and will face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 23 January French authorities transferred Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, an anti-balaka leader accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, to the ICC.
In addition to focusing on emerging threats against the civilian population, MINUSCA must strengthen its preventive capacity by bolstering local disarmament and reintegration efforts.
Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes and continue its cooperation with the ICC. National authorities should also ensure the SCC can fulfill its mandate with a victim-centered justice strategy.
As outlined in the Khartoum agreement, a follow-up mechanism should be rapidly established. The UNSC and AU should closely monitor implementation of the peace agreement and impose targeted sanctions on any individuals who breach its key provisions.
Last Updated: 15 March 2019
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