Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Central African Republic

Civilians in the Central African Republic remain at risk of mass atrocity crimes committed by "anti-balaka" militias, ex-Séléka rebels and other armed groups.
BACKGROUND: Despite a period of relative stability following the peaceful election of a new President, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, on 14 February 2016, civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) remain at ongoing risk of mass atrocity crimes as armed groups continue to perpetrate attacks on villages, displacement sites, humanitarian workers, and peacekeepers from the UN Mission in CAR (MINUSCA).

Hostilities between factions of the ex-Séléka, a predominantly Muslim rebel group, have escalated in the center of the country, particularly near Bambari and Kaga-Bandoro. On 16 and 17 September reported clashes between ex-Séléka members and anti-balaka militias in Kaga-Bandoro and surrounding villages, resulted in at least 40 people killed and an estimated 3,200 people displaced. On 12 October an attempted robbery by ex-Séléka in Kaga-Bandoro degenerated when one of the attackers was killed. According to the UN, several hundred ex-Séléka responded by attacking a displacement camp, before UN peacekeepers repelled them. At least 30 people were killed during the violence.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a communiqué on 29 September denouncing recent attacks on humanitarian workers in CAR, noting that from 9 to 26 September more than 16 security incidents involving humanitarian staff had been registered in Kaga-Bandoro. Following attacks on 12 October the International Rescue Committee (IRC announced it would withdraw from the area.

On 13 October MINUSCA troops traveling between Bambari and Grimari were attacked by an estimated 50 armed men, resulting in several peacekeepers being wounded. Armed men also attacked a displacement site in Ngakobo, near Bombari, on 15 October, killing at least 11 people.

Growing tensions in Bangui have also resulted in violent conflict. On 4 October 11 people were killed following the assassination of an army commander by "self-defense groups" in a Muslim neighborhood of Bangui.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which is active in eastern and southern prefectures, has also increased its sporadic attacks during 2016, including abductions and the killing of civilians.

The crisis in CAR began after the 24 March 2013 overthrow of President François Bozizé by the Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of predominantly Christian and animist "anti-balaka" militias. MINUSCA, French military forces and an EU military assistance mission are presently deployed in the country. An International Commission of Inquiry for CAR has found the anti-balaka and ex-Séléka armed groups, as well as their supporters, responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Commission estimated that 80 percent of CAR's Muslim population had been driven out of the country during the crisis and concluded that crimes committed by the anti-balaka constitute a "policy of ethnic cleansing" against CAR's Muslims.

There are currently more than 385,000 IDPs in CAR and over 451,000 refugees in neighboring countries. An estimated 2.3 million people – half the population – remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

ANALYSIS: Hostilities between anti-balaka militias, ex-Séléka rebels, armed Muslim self-defense groups and other armed groups, as well as between international peacekeepers and these groups, continue to pose a threat to civilians. Violence between nomadic pastoralists and settled agriculturalist communities in the transhumance corridor also continues. The LRA has exploited the security vacuum to expand its operations in the remote south and east.

The largely peaceful elections and political transition represent important progress, but the underlying conflict in CAR remains unresolved. Armed groups continue to exercise control over large parts of the country. The fragmentation of the ex-Séléka and anti-balaka is proving challenging for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs.

National security forces have previously been implicated in serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law and remain unable to repel attacks by various armed groups without the assistance of international forces. Sporadic attacks by armed groups continue to lead to the widespread displacement of civilians. Furthermore, these groups continue to attack humanitarian workers and obstruct access to vital aid.

MINUSCA also continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to uphold its mandate to protect civilians throughout CAR. Allegations of sexual abuse of children by MINUSCA peacekeepers have undermined confidence in the UN. The scaling down of French military forces presents additional operational challenges for MINUSCA. Attacks on MINUSCA troops and convoys by armed groups may constitute war crimes.

The CAR government requires sustained international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Following the deadly surge in violence during late 2013, the international community intensified its response to the crisis in CAR, including passing six UNSC resolutions between October 2013 and April 2015 that emphasized the interim government's responsibility to protect the civilian population.

On 27 January 2016 the UNSC passed Resolution 2262, renewing the sanctions regime and arms embargo. On 7 March the UNSC added Joseph Kony and the LRA to the sanctions list.

On 4 July the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that there is an urgent need to disarm armed groups in CAR, who "retain the potential to reignite the conflict."

On 26 July the UNSC passed Resolution 2303, renewing the mandate of MINUSCA until 15 November 2017 and recalling the primary responsibility of CAR's authorities to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

NECESSARY ACTION: The government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes and other violations and abuses of IHRL and IHL, including through cooperation with the ICC. Urgent financial and logistical resources are also needed to establish the hybrid Special Criminal Court for CAR.

MINUSCA must forcibly disarm groups that continue to threaten populations, particularly near Kaga-Bandoro. As the presence of French forces is scaled down, MINUSCA must ensure it deploys in adequate numbers to all areas where vulnerable civilians lack sufficient protection, including in remote areas affected by the LRA. MINUSCA must improve its capacity to anticipate risks to populations and rapidly respond to emerging security threats.

The international community must hold perpetrators of crimes accountable, including through expanding UN Security Council sanctions to target those responsible for recent violence.

Last Updated: 19 October 2016