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 and other armed groups.
BACKGROUND: Violence against civilians is pervasive throughout the Central African Republic (CAR) despite the deployment of French forces, a UN peacekeeping operation (MINUSCA) and a European Union (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 primarily Muslim armed group who overthrew former President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013, anti-balaka militias have conducted widespread and systematic attacks against Muslims and are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in CAR.

A 19 December 2014 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the situation in CAR states that 99 percent of the Muslim population of Bangui has been forcibly displaced or killed. Furthermore, the UN estimates at least 80 percent of the Muslim population has been driven from the country. The Commission of Inquiry report concluded that crimes committed by the anti-balaka constitute a "policy of ethnic cleansing" against CAR's Muslim populations.

According to the UN there are still at least 36,000 Muslim civilians trapped in seven besieged communities. These enclaves have been systematically encircled, predominantly by the anti-balaka, subjected to attack and cut off from food and medical supplies. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed particular concern for the plight of 474 Muslim Peuhl civilians that have been trapped in Yaloke for several months.

The security situation in Bangui has deteriorated following kidnappings conducted by the anti-balaka after the arrest of one of their prominent commanders. On 19 January a French humanitarian worker and local churchman were taken hostage, followed by the kidnapping of a MINUSCA staff member on 20 January. On 25 January CAR's Minister for Youth and Sport was kidnapped by the anti-balaka.

The 1 December report on CAR by the UN Secretary-General notes that 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 Peulh herders, have intensified despite the signing of a ceasefire on 23 July.

On 10 February at least ten civilians were killed in an attack north of Batangafo by armed Peulhs. On 28 January armed Peulhs associated with the ex-Seleka killed eight civilians in Agoudou-manga village, Ouaka prefecture. A further nine civilians were killed in Botto following clashes between the anti-balaka and armed Peulhs supported by the ex-Seleka on 27 January.

According the UN Panel of Experts on CAR, at least 3,000 civilians have been killed since December 2013. There are currently more than 440,000 internally displaced persons, including at least 50,000 in Bangui, and over 423,700 refugees in neighboring countries. Displacement has increased in Ouham prefecture, particularly near Batangafo, where more than 34,000 people have been displaced. At least 10,000 people have fled Ouaka prefecture into the Democratic Republic of Congo since mid-December. 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 engaged in violence themselves. Religion and ethnic identities continue to be manipulated, with communities mobilized against one another.

MINUSCA, EUFOR-RCA and French troops struggle to contain spikes of 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, has increased the risks 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 pastoralist and sedentary 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 still 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 four UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions between October 2013 and April 2014 that emphasized the interim government's responsibility to protect the civilian population. [For response prior to September 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of the International Response to the Situation in CAR.]

On 7 July the International Contact Group for CAR (ICG-CAR) outlined a process to end hostilities and promote national dialogue and reconciliation. A forum held in Brazzaville, Congo, between 21 and 23 July led to the aforementioned ceasefire agreement. The ICG-CAR met for the sixth time on 11 November.

MINUSCA assumed authority from the previous African Union peacekeeping mission, MISCA, on 15 September. The force is currently comprised of approximately 75 percent of its authorized personnel. MINUSCA and the Transitional Authorities signed a memorandum of understanding on 8 August creating a Special Criminal Court to be composed of national and international judges that will investigate atrocities and bring those responsible to justice.

On 24 September the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (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, attacks against humanitarian missions 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 which recalled that the CAR transitional authorities bear the primary responsibility to protect all populations within its territory from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The resolution reinforced the sanctions regime and extended the mandate of the UN Panel of Experts.

On 29 January the UN Secretary-General requested in a letter to the UNSC that the Council authorize an increase of 1050 personnel for MINUSCA.

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 and promotion in CAR. The UNSC should authorize additional 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 disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups.

Last Updated: 13 February 2015