BACKGROUND: Violence against civilians is pervasive throughout the Central African Republic (CAR) despite the deployment of French forces, an African Union peacekeeping mission (MISCA) and a European Union (EU) military operation. The Muslim population is being systematically targeted by the predominantly Christian and animist "anti-balaka" militias and mobs of civilians. Formed largely in response to abuses by the Séléka rebel alliance, the primarily Muslim armed group who overthrew former President Francois Bozizé on 24 March 2013, anti-balaka militias have conducted deadly reprisals against Muslims and other groups and are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in CAR.
On 5 June the UN Commission of Inquiry on CAR released its preliminary report on the crisis, which concluded that ample evidence exists that individuals from both sides of the conflict have committed violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Commission's report suggested that "acts of genocide" and ethnic cleansing may have been perpetrated by the anti-balaka against the Muslim population of CAR.
Approximately 80 percent of the country's Muslim population has been forced to flee or has been killed since September 2013.The UN and humanitarian organizations, with the assistance of French forces and MISCA peacekeepers, have relocated some vulnerable civilians. Nevertheless, UNHCR estimates that 18,680 Muslims in nine threatened communities remain at "very high risk" of attack, including 5,670 in the town of Boda. A 5 August report of the UN Secretary-General highlighted that the anti-balaka systematically encircle these enclaves, subject them to attack and cut them off from food and medical supplies.
Tensions have mounted in Boda since 14 August following clashes between the anti-balaka and armed civilians from the Muslim community, with at least 50 people killed between 27 and 30 August. A self-defense militia that operates in the PK5 area of Bangui, where some 2,200 Muslims are besieged, clashed with EU and French troops between 19 and 21 August. These incidents left at least five Muslims and a Red Cross volunteer dead.
Fighting between the anti-balaka, ex-Séléka and other armed groups has intensified in northern, central and eastern prefectures, despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement on 23 July. On 4 August ex-Séléka forces attacked French and MISCA forces in Batangafo. The fighting resulted in at least 50 ex-Séléka killed, as well as a number of civilians. Between 13 and 15 August at least 38 civilians were killed by suspected ex- Séléka fighters near Mbres, Nana-Grébizi prefecture. Fighting between rival factions of the ex-Séléka in Bambari from 25 to 28 August resulted in 89 people killed. On 28 August anti-balaka militias attacked Fulani herders affiliated with the ex-Séléka in Simbolo, killing at least 32 people.
Over 176,000 civilians have fled to neighboring countries since December 2013, bringing the total number of CAR refugees to more than 417,100. There are currently more than 490,560 IDPs in CAR, including at least 67,500 people spread across 38 sites in Bangui. At least 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. According to reports, at least 5,185 civilians have been killed since December 2013.
The transitional government, led by interim President Catherine Samba-Panza and newly appointed Prime Minister Mahamat Kamoun, is struggling to respond to the crisis. As extreme levels of violence continue, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the permanent "de-facto partition" of the country along ethno-religious lines is a possibility.
ANALYSIS: CAR has suffered decades of poor governance, recurring instability and humanitarian crisis. Since March 2013 the state has effectively ceased to function. The interim government cannot prevent various armed groups and civilian mobs from perpetrating attacks.
Ongoing fighting between anti-balaka, ex-Séléka and other armed groups, as well as between international peacekeepers and these groups, has increased the risks to civilians. Fighting has occurred in prefectures that split the country between North and South and East and West. The country is now effectively partitioned, with the anti-balaka controlling territory in western CAR and the ex-Séléka establishing control in the east. Religious and ethnic identity has also been manipulated, with communities mobilized against one another. Deadly attacks on civilians continue to be conducted openly and without fear of sanction.
The ceasefire agreement signed on 23 July faces numerous challenges. The anti-balaka and ex-Séléka are loosely affiliated groups that do not operate under central command and are prone to factional infighting. Political and military elites seeking to maintain or gain power, including leaders linked to the ex- Séléka, anti-balaka and former President Bozizé, continue to exacerbate the crisis.
Despite the efforts of French and MISCA peacekeepers, civilians have not been afforded adequate protection from mass atrocity crimes.
Accelerating the political transition and preparing to hold elections without significant improvements in security, accountability and reconciliation amongst communities will only increase the risk of further mass atrocity crimes being perpetrated.
CAR's interim government is currently unable to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and requires sustained international assistance.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Following the deadly surge of violence during late 2013, the international community intensified its response to the crisis in CAR, including passing four UNSC resolutions between October 2013 and April 2014 that emphasized the interim government's responsibility to protect the civilian population. [For responses prior to April 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of the International Response to the Situation in CAR.]
France deployed 2,000 troops in CAR under the aegis of Operation Sangaris, while the African Union (AU) deployed 5,800 MISCA peacekeepers. Three French and twenty-six MISCA peacekeepers have been killed since 5 December. The EU military operation has approximately 700 troops on the ground responsible for protecting civilians in Bangui.
On 12 June the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC noted that the intervention of the Court is now "essential," following a formal request by the transitional authorities to open an investigation into crimes committed in CAR since August 2012.
The International Contact Group for CAR met for the fifth time on 7 July and outlined a three-step process to end hostilities and promote national dialogue and reconciliation. A three-day forum was held in Brazzaville, Congo, between 21 and 23 July that led to the aforementioned cessation of hostilities agreement between the anti-balaka, ex-Séléka and representatives of five other armed groups.
A UNSC-mandated peacekeeping operation, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR, or MINUSCA, will assume authority from MISCA on 15 September. Following a briefing to the UNSC on 19 August, Special Representative to the Secretary-General and Head of MINUSCA Babacar Gaye stated that the peacekeeping operation would receive an additional 1,800 troops as of 15 September that would join 5,800 "re-hatted" MISCA troops.
NECESSARY ACTION: The interim government must publicly condemn all attacks on civilians, especially against the Muslim minority. It is essential that perpetrators responsible for mass atrocity crimes against be brought to justice.
Local efforts to ease tensions between communities should be supported by international mediators and should be part of a broader strategy of working with CAR's authorities on national reconciliation. There is an urgent need for regional and international interlocutors to support the transitional government in efforts to promote disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups.
French, EU and UN forces must disarm all armed groups who threaten civilians. Vulnerable civilians, especially those in IDP encampments and besieged areas, must be robustly protected and provided adequate access to humanitarian relief. Enhanced protection must also be provided during evacuation and relocation operations.
Additional troops, including formed police units, should be expeditiously deployed. Logistical support to MINUSCA as well as funding for humanitarian assistance must be increased. Re-hatted troops that will participate in MINUSCA must be strenuously vetted and trained to strictly abide by the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.
Last Updated: 15 September 2014