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 is response to abuses by the ex-Séléka rebel alliance, the primarily Muslim armed group who overthrew former President Francois Bozize on 24 March 2013, anti-balaka militias have conducted systematic attacks against Muslims and are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in CAR.
On 7 October a group of civilians apprehended and lynched a Muslim ex-Séléka fighter after he threw a grenade into a group of civilians in Bangui's 4th district. Civilians from the PK5 area of Bangui protested the lynching in front of the MINUSCA base and armed Muslim youth reportedly killed a Christian taxi driver in revenge.
The two incidents sparked heavy fighting between anti-balaka militias and predominantly Muslim self-defense groups throughout Bangui from 8 to 15 October. The fighting has led to international peacekeepers forcibly preventing attacks by the anti-balaka and other armed elements, including against the PK5 area. On 9 October unidentified armed men ambushed MINUSCA peacekeepers in the PK11 neighborhood of Bangui, resulting in the death of one peacekeeper and the wounding of eight others. On 10 October six MINUSCA police were injured when their convoy was attacked near Bangui's M'Poko airport. Four additional peacekeepers were wounded in an attack on 15 October.
The flare up in violence resulted in the deaths of at least sixteen people, including two children that were assassinated, and the wounding of at least 56 according to Médecins Sans Frontières. At least 6,500 people were displaced.
The UN has estimated that more than 80 percent of the country's Muslim population has been forced to flee or has been killed since September 2013. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that 18,680 Muslims in nine threatened communities remain at a "very high risk" of attack, including 5,670 in the town of Boda and 2,200 in the PK5 area of Bangui. 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.
On 24 September the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced she would be opening an investigation into the situation, and stated that both the ex-Séléka and anti-balaka have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, forced displacement, persecution, pillaging, attacks against humanitarian missions and the use of children under fifteen. On 5 June the UN Commission of Inquiry on CAR suggested in its report that "acts of genocide" and ethnic cleansing may have perpetrated by the anti-balaka against the Muslim population of CAR.
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 1 October armed men attacked a displacement site on the perimeter of the UN base in Bambari killing 5 people. Both the ex-Séléka and anti-balaka militants in Bambari also attacked French and UN forces, with ensuing fighting resulting in at least 25 deaths.
According to reports, at least 5,185 civilians have been killed in CAR and over 190,000 civilians have fled to neighbouring countries since December 2013. There are currently more than 485,000 IDPs in CAR, including at least 60,000 spread across more than 35 sites in Bangui. At least 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The transitional government, led by interim President Catherine Samba-Panza and newly appointed Prime Minister, Mahamat Kamoun, is struggling to respond to the crisis and leaders of the anti-balaka and ex-Séléka have both called for her resignation. 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. National security forces cannot prevent various groups and civilians from perpetrating attacks, and in some cases, are engaging in violence against them.
French, EUFOR-RCA and MINUSCA troops have not been able to adequately contain violence and protect civilians in Bangui. Ongoing fighting between the anti-balaka, ex-Séléka and other armed groups, as well as between international peacekeepers and these groups, has also 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. Deadly attacks on civilians continue to be conducted openly and without fear of sanction throughout the country.
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 of the ex-Séléka and anti-balaka, continue to exacerbate the crisis. Religious and ethnic identities continue to be manipulated, with communities mobilized against one another.
Accelerating the political transition and preparing to hold elections without significant improvements in security, accountability and dialogue 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 in 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 response prior to July 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of the International Response to the Situation in CAR.]
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.
MINUSCA assumed authority from the previous African Union peacekeeping mission, MISCA, on 15 September. The force is currently comprised of approximately 6,700 of its expected total deployment 11,800 personnel, including 5,800 "re-hatted" MISCA troops.
France deployed 2,000 troops in CAR under the aegis of Operation Sangaris. The EU presently has approximately 700 troops deployed to the 3rd and 5th districts of Bangui. On 1 October the EU Political and Security Committee endorsed the extension of EUFOR-RCA until mid-March 2015 to continue to assure security and support the deployment of MINUSCA. EU foreign ministers are expected to meet on 20 October to confirm the extension.
MINUSCA and the interim authorities of CAR signed a memorandum of understanding on 8 August providing for the creation of a Special Criminal Court to be composed of national and international judges that will investigate international crimes perpetrated and bring those responsible to justice.
On 24 September the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC announced she would open a second investigation in CAR with respect to crimes allegedly committed since 2012. The situation was referred to the ICC by CAR authorities on 30 May 2014.
NECESSARY ACTION: French, EU and UN forces must proactively disarm all armed groups who threaten civilians. Vulnerable civilians, especially those in IDP encampments and besieged areas, such as Bangui's PK5, must be robustly protected and provided adequate access to humanitarian relief. Additional troops must be expeditiously deployed and logistical support to MINUSCA, including strategic airlift, must be increased.
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 be brought to justice. Urgent financial and human resources are need to establish and implement the Special Criminal Court and ensure accountability.
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 dialogue. 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.
Additional humanitarian assistance must be provided.
Last Updated: 15 October 2014