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 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.
The UN estimates that 80 percent of the Muslim population in Bangui and western CAR has been forced to flee or has been killed since September 2013. A 19 December 2014 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the situation in CAR states that crimes committed by the anti-balaka constitute a "policy of ethnic cleansing" against the Muslim population.
According to the UN there are at least 16,440 Muslim civilians in eight besieged communities that are still at high risk of attack by the anti-balaka, including approximately 9,000 in the town of Boda and 4,300 in the PK-5 area of Bangui. These enclaves have been systematically encircled, 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.
While the security situation in Bangui remains volatile, the 1 December report of the UN Secretary-General notes that the interior 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 have intensified despite the signing of a ceasefire on 23 July.
At least 28 people were killed in fighting between anti-balaka and ex-Séléka rebels in Mbrès on 16 December, just days after reconciliation events supervised by MINUSCA. On 19 and 20 December various clashes near Bambari between anti-balaka and ex-Séléka factions, fighting alongside armed Peuhls, left at least 20 people dead. Fighting in Nola between 20 and 25 December resulted in the death of at least 18 people. Between 31 December and 4 January at least six people were killed in attacks by armed Peuhls and ex-Séléka factions near Batangafo.
According the UN Panel of Experts on CAR, at least 3,000 civilians have been killed since December 2013. There are currently more than 438,500 internally displaced persons, including at least 51,000 in Bangui, and over 423,700 refugees in neighboring countries. At least 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 along ethno-religious lines 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 and civilian mobs 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.
French, EUFOR-RCA and MINUSCA troops are struggling to contain violence in Bangui. Ongoing fighting between the anti-balaka, factions of ex-Séléka 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. Deadly attacks on civilians continue to be conducted openly and without fear of sanction. Armed groups also continue to exploit natural resources to fund their activities.
The 23 July ceasefire agreement faces numerous challenges. The ex-Séléka rebel alliance has fragmented into various factions that, as with the anti-balaka, do not operate under central command. 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 February 2015.
Preparing to hold elections later this year 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 July 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 7,450 personnel, including 5,800 "re-hatted" MISCA troops. 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 7 November the EU Council of Ministers extended EUFOR-RCA's deployment until March 2015. The UNSC adopted Resolution 2181 on 21 October, mandating the extension.
The UNSC issued a Presidential Statement on 18 December encouraging CAR's Transitional Authorities to accelerate preparations for the Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation.
NECESSARY ACTION: Urgent financial and human resources are needed to establish the Special Criminal Court and ensure accountability for mass atrocity crimes. The UNSC should also authorize targeted sanctions against additional individuals and entities responsible for violating IHL and international human rights law.
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 civilian populations remain unprotected. MINUSCA, in coordination with the Transitional Authorities, should facilitate the evacuation and relocation of populations that wish to leave besieged areas.
Local efforts to ease tensions between communities should be supported by international mediators as part of a broader strategy of national reconciliation. 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: 15 January 2015