Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Central African Republic

Ongoing violence by armed groups leaves populations in the Central African Republic at risk of recurring mass atrocity crimes.
On 6 February the government and 14 armed groups signed a peace deal to bring an end to years of armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). Despite the peace process, the security situation remains fragile and populations remain at risk. According to the July 2019 report from the UN Security Council (UNSC)-mandated Panel of Experts on CAR, violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law continue on an almost daily basis, including by signatories to the agreement.

Since 2013 endemic violence in CAR has been fueled by predatory armed groups, including factions of the ex-Séléka rebel alliance and anti-balaka militias. These groups have targeted civilians, humanitarian workers and peacekeepers, committed sexual and gender-based violence, and perpetrated attacks on IDP camps, medical facilities and places of worship. Some of the signatories have used the peace agreement to legitimize their de-facto control over territory.

The February agreement, negotiated under the African Union-led African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation, highlights the need to address the root causes of the conflict. It also contains provisions on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters and the establishment of a Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission.

The crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013 by the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of predominately Christian anti-balaka militias and the collapse of state institutions. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that both anti-balaka and ex-Séléka forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015. A hybrid judicial mechanism – the Special Criminal Court (SCC) for CAR – opened its first session during October 2018. Seven investigations are currently underway.

An estimated 1.2 million Central Africans have fled their homes since 2013. The dangerous operating environment also threatens the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid for an estimated 2.9 million people.

In keeping with the terms of the peace agreement, on 22 March the government announced a new cabinet, assigning multiple positions to members of various armed groups. However, the promotion of leaders of armed groups responsible for past atrocity crimes into senior governmental roles, including as military advisors to the Prime Minister, potentially undermines the credibility of the justice process and limits long-term reconciliation efforts.

The SCC urgently requires international assistance to strengthen its investigative capacity and provide protection for victims and witnesses.

Governmental control remains extremely limited outside the capital, Bangui, while large swathes of the country are still in the hands of armed groups. Illegal trafficking allows for arms proliferation and armed groups benefit from revenues generated through the control of roads and natural resource extraction sites.

The CAR government requires ongoing international assistance to uphold its responsibility to protect.

The UNSC has passed 12 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect populations in CAR. On 31 January 2019 the UNSC extended the sanctions regime that has been in place since 2013. On 12 September the UNSC decided to partially ease the arms embargo to ensure greater training and equipment for defense and security forces.

During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by both Séléka and anti-balaka forces. Two former anti-balaka leaders, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, have been transferred to the ICC.

In addition to focusing on ongoing threats to the civilian population, the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, must strengthen its preventive capacity by bolstering local disarmament and reintegration efforts.

The government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes by continuing its cooperation with the ICC and by ensuring the SCC can fulfill its mandate. Signatories to the peace deal should fully participate in the follow-up mechanisms established under the February agreement, refrain from any action limiting the restoration of state authority, and fully comply with their obligations under IHL.

The UNSC and African Union should closely monitor implementation of the peace agreement and impose targeted sanctions on any individuals or groups that breach its key provisions. Criteria for the further suspension of the international arms embargo must focus on the successful reintegration of former fighters and on halting the illicit trafficking of weapons by armed groups.

Last Updated: 15 September 2019

The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Central African Republic has been featured in the R2P Monitor since July 2013.