Despite the February 2019 peace agreement, ongoing violence by armed groups leaves populations in the Central African Republic at risk of recurring mass atrocity crimes.
Since the 2013–2015 conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), endemic violence 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, recruited children, and perpetrated attacks on internally displaced persons camps, schools, medical facilities and places of worship.
On 6 February 2019, under the auspices of the African Union (AU), the government and 14 armed groups signed a historic peace deal to bring an end to the armed conflict. Despite this, some signatories continue to violate the agreement and/or have exploited the peace deal to consolidate their control over territory. The Human Rights Division of the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) reported that serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) resulted in 1,250 casualties between October 2019 and August 2020. Signatories to the peace agreement perpetrated 90 percent of these violations.
Since April violence has escalated in north-west CAR. During September populations were displaced and humanitarian activities temporarily suspended in Nana-Mambéré and Ouham Pendé prefectures following attacks by armed groups. In response to the hostilities MINUSCA launched several operations to protect civilians. Another MINUSCA operation, launched in the north-west during June with the Central African armed forces, sought to halt violence perpetrated by the Retour, Réclamation, Réhabilitation (3R) armed group, which had suspended its participation in the peace agreement.
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 predominantly 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. Most perpetrators have not been held accountable. A hybrid judicial mechanism – the Special Criminal Court for CAR – is currently investigating possible atrocities committed during the conflict as well as recent clashes in N’délé and elsewhere.
On 9 November Bozizé submitted his candidacy for the upcoming December presidential elections despite being under UN sanctions and subject to a national arrest warrant for alleged crimes against humanity and incitement to commit genocide. Some signatory armed groups prevented voter registration by assaulting members of the National Electoral Authority during August and September while 3R blocked voter registration in the north-west. On 10 November nine armed groups pledged to respect and support the electoral process.
More than 1.2 million people – one in four Central Africans – have fled their homes since 2013 and 2.8 million are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, gender-based violence is a “plague,” with one incident reported every hour by the humanitarian alert system, which covers only 42 percent of the country.
Ongoing violence and growing allegations of serious human rights violations by armed groups, including parties to the peace agreement, highlights the risks resulting from limited governmental capacity outside the capital. Armed groups continue to control the majority of territory and profit from illegal taxation and arms trafficking. The elections may serve as an opportunity for armed groups to extend their territorial control or use violence to influence the electoral outcome.
The promotion of leaders of armed groups responsible for past atrocities into senior governmental roles undermines attempts to end impunity in CAR.
The government requires ongoing international assistance to stabilize the country and uphold its responsibility to protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed 14 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government’s responsibility to protect populations in CAR. On 12 November the UNSC extended the mandate of MNUSCA for one year.
A UNSC-mandated sanctions regime and arms embargo have been in place since 2013, imposing travel bans and asset freezes on 13 individuals and two entities. On 28 July the UNSC extended the sanctions regime and arms embargo for one year. On 5 August the UNSC imposed sanctions on 3R’s leader, Bi Sidi Souleymane (Sidiki Abass), for violating the peace agreement and threatening peace and security in CAR.
During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On 9 February 2021 the ICC will begin the trial of two former anti-balaka leaders, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On 19 September authorities in France arrested the former head of the presidential guard under Bozizé and head of an anti-balaka militia, Eric Bagale, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between 2007-2014.
On 7 October the UN Human Rights Council renewed the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in CAR for one year, requesting that the expert work closely with MINUSCA in the area of transitional justice.
The government should prioritize accountability for atrocity crimes and ongoing reconciliation efforts. Signatories to the peace deal must fully participate in the follow-up mechanisms established under the agreement, refrain from any action limiting the restoration of state authority, and fully comply with their obligations under IHL. The UNSC and AU should continue to closely monitor implementation of the peace agreement and impose sanctions on any actors that breach its key provisions. The AU should ensure that no candidate or political party is able to use the election to foment further violence and instability.
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