Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes. Escalating attacks since May 2017, including in areas previously unaffected by large-scale fighting, have resulted in hundreds of people killed and tens of thousands displaced. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), severe funding gaps regarding the Humanitarian Response Plan are also impeding the provision of adequate protection to thousands of civilians.
The recent violence, largely concentrated in the central and eastern prefectures of Mbomou, Haute-Kotto and Basse-Kotto, is primarily driven by three armed groups: the predominantly Christian anti-balaka and two former members of the mostly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance, the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC). Sporadic violence is also occurring in the northwest of CAR, particularly in Batangafo and Ngaoundaye. The UN Children's Agency (UNICEF) has warned that children have been targeted during recent attacks on villages, with reports of rape, abduction and recruitment into armed groups. According to a letter sent to the UN Secretary-General by six humanitarian organizations, at least 821 civilians have been killed so far this year.
The FPRC, at times in collaboration with anti-balaka, have systematically targeted ethnic Fulani for attack. In response, armed Fulani self-defense groups have allegedly perpetrated violent reprisals, sometimes in collaboration with the UPC. Anti-balaka militias also continue to target Muslim communities.
Humanitarians and peacekeepers have also been targeted in recent attacks. Nine peacekeepers from the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) have been killed in and around Bangassou, the capital of Mbomou prefecture, since the beginning of 2017. In Gambo fighting between anti-balaka and suspected members of the UPC from 3-8 August resulted in the death of six Red Cross workers and an estimated thirty civilians. Several humanitarian agencies have suspended their work in Kaga-Bandoro, Bangassou and Zemio.
The current crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013 by the Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of anti-balaka militias. A report published by MINUSCA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) during May 2017 found that both sides of the conflict may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015.
On 5 October 2017 Human Rights Watch reported that sexual violence against the civilian population has been used as a calculated tactic of war by both the Séléka and anti-balaka since early 2013. According to the report, the documented cases of rape and sexual slavery, prevalent across large parts of the country, may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
There are currently over 600,000 internally displaced persons in CAR – an increase of at least 160,000 people since the end of April - and more than 500,000 people are still taking refuge in neighboring countries.
Governmental control remains extremely limited in most areas outside Bangui, allowing rival armed groups to expand their influence. In addition to the anti-balaka, UPC and FPRC, at least 11 other armed groups operate throughout CAR with shifting alliances. These groups compete for territory, power and resources, including several mining sites. According to the UN, at least 70 percent of the country is still controlled by armed groups.
Attacks by the anti-balaka and FPRC against Muslim and Fulani communities demonstrate the ongoing threat of civilians being targeted because of their religious or ethnic identity. The anti-balaka have engaged in hate speech and incitement of violence against Muslims, referring to them as "foreign mercenaries" who must be "driven out" of the country. Sexual violence committed against women and girls has been used as a systematic weapon of war by various armed groups and continues due to a pervasive culture of impunity.
Despite the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for CAR, perpetrators of violence since 2013 have not been held accountable. The lack of accountability amidst increasing violence and fighting highlights the risk of further mass atrocity crimes.
MINUSCA, which in many parts of the country is the only force capable of maintaining security, continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to consistently uphold its mandate to protect civilians.
The CAR government requires sustained international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed nine resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect all populations in CAR, including Resolution 2339 of 27 January 2017, which renewed sanctions and an arms embargo until 31 January 2018.
On 4 April 2017 the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement condemning violence by armed groups – especially the FPRC and UPC – urging them to commit to the disarmament and demobilization process. The statement also emphasized the importance of holding perpetrators accountable and called for the operationalization of the Special Criminal Court, which was approved by the government in June 2015.
On 23 May 2017 the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a statement regarding the "serious crimes committed against civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers," noting that such crimes may fall under the court's jurisdiction. In a 13 July Presidential Statement, the UNSC emphasized that deliberate attacks on civilians and humanitarian workers constitute crimes under international law.
In response to the resurgence of violence in recent months, on 6 October the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, undertook a 5 day field visit to CAR.
The UNSC should increase the number of troops within MINUSCA. MINUSCA must be able to deploy rapidly to all areas where civilians lack sufficient protection and improve its capacity to anticipate and respond to emerging security threats. The creation of additional Quick Reaction Forces could potentially improve MINUSCA's capacity in this regard.
Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes, including by cooperating with the ICC. Financial and logistical resources are needed to operationalize the Special Criminal Court. MINUSCA should undertake all necessary efforts to support government authorities to initiate investigations and ensure prosecution of mass atrocity crimes.
The international community must continue to assist the government to uphold its Responsibility to Protect, including through supporting structural reforms of the justice and security sectors.
Last Updated: 15 October 2017