Populations in the Central African Republic are at risk of possible atrocity crimes due to ongoing violence by armed groups and government and allied forces.
During December 2020 a loose alliance of predatory armed groups, known as the Coalition des patriotes pour le changement (CPC), launched a violent offensive against the government of the Central African Republic (CAR). For nearly three years the CPC and other armed groups have launched attacks while perpetrating widespread violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), including killing and abducting civilians, the forcible recruitment of children and attacks on civilian infrastructure, humanitarian workers and the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA). The Central African Armed Forces (FACA) – working closely with Russian security partners, including mercenary fighters from the Wagner Group – have responded with counteroffensives, forcing armed groups to withdraw from major cities.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has reported that two CPC-affiliated armed groups, including the Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique (UPC), have perpetrated systematic and widespread conflict-related sexual violence, including rape, gang rape and sexual slavery. Some armed groups are increasingly using or laying explosive ordnance, particularly in the west of the country. The UN has documented evidence of abuses and violations by FACA and mercenaries that may amount to war crimes, including summary executions, arbitrary killings, torture, rape and forced disappearances.
Ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Fulanis and Muslims, are being targeted in widespread abuses – including attacks, ill-treatment, illegal arrests and detentions – in operations by FACA troops and Russian mercenaries. OHCHR has implicated proxy forces – who were recruited, trained and armed by FACA and Russian mercenaries – in incidents targeting and punishing Muslim and Fulani communities that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The police have also disproportionately arbitrarily arrested, illegally detained and tortured members of the Fulani community.
The protracted crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé during 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. Anti-balaka and ex-Séléka forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015. Trials are ongoing at the International Criminal Court for former anti-balaka leaders and a Séléka leader. Although a 2019 peace deal formally ended the conflict, armed groups continued to engage in sporadic violence. In September 2021 the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region adopted a roadmap for peace. In 2023 the government has taken steps to implement the peace process, including convening a strategic review meeting in October during which stakeholders welcomed the dissolution of nine of the 14 armed groups signatory to the peace deal.
The CPC and other armed groups have increased their activity in outlying villages and remote areas since late 2022 and in recent months there has been a resurgence of armed group activity in the north, east and west. In October government officials reported that civilian kidnappings have spiked and armed groups are perpetrating near daily attacks along the border with Cameroon. Myriad armed groups are also fighting to control former strongholds or resources, with populations suffering routine extortion, illegal taxation and other human rights violations.
Since the emergence of a predominantly ethnic Azande armed group, Azande Ani Kpi Gbe (AAKG), during March, the AAKG has forcibly recruited Azande youth and violently clashed in Haut-Mbomou prefecture with the UPC, a predominantly Fulani armed group. The AAKG has also targeted Fulani and Muslim communities with threats and abductions for alleged collusion with the UPC. The UPC has increasingly perpetrated human rights abuses, including killings, kidnappings and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In response to a rapidly deteriorating protection environment, MINUSCA began the deployment of uniformed personnel in September.
Amidst heightening political tensions, government institutions have cracked down on human rights defenders, independent media and the opposition. MINUSCA has recorded increased cases of hate speech and incitement targeting ethnic and religious communities and migrant workers, particularly transhumance communities, as well as against dissenting voices. On 30 August the government promulgated a new constitution, which removes the presidential two-term limit, creates a presidentially appointed vice-president, and transforms the parliament into a single chamber, which may undermine the independence of the judiciary.
On 1 September CAR and South Sudan signed an agreement, which aims, among other objectives, to strengthen coordinated responses to cross-border threats, including armed actors that exploit the porous borders.
On 7 September the Special Criminal Court (SCC) charged former armed group leader, Abdoulaye Hissène, with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in 2017. On 16 September the SCC charged anti-balaka leader Edmond Patrick Abrou with crimes against humanity and war crimes for his alleged participation in attacks committed in December 2021.
The security situation remains precarious amid heightened inter-communal tensions and armed group activity along CAR’s borders. The growing presence of explosive ordnance primarily harms civilians and hampers humanitarian organizations and MINUSCA’s civilian protection efforts.
The targeting of ethnic and religious communities and proliferating hate speech have heightened atrocity risks as various UN experts and officials have warned that this risks triggering further violence along communal, religious and ethnic lines.
CAR has a history of widespread impunity that has fueled cycles of armed conflict and atrocities. While there are several mechanisms mandated to deal with international crimes perpetrated in CAR, accountability remains limited with few alleged perpetrators having been arrested, prosecuted or tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity since 2013.
The cross-border flow of foreign fighters, arms and natural resources is contributing to a thriving conflict-economy. Competition for control of profitable minerals has resulted in armed groups, committing abuses against civilians. Wagner operatives have committed human rights abuses as they increase their control of gold-mining areas. The Wagner Group has perpetrated alleged abuses and intimidated civilians in conflict zones around the world, including CAR.
The government crackdown, coupled with the new constitution, has exacerbated political tensions and shows a step toward authoritarianism.
All armed actors must adhere to their obligations under IHL and International Human Rights Law. It is imperative that all parties cooperate with MINUSCA, ensuring the Mission can effectively carry out its mandate. CAR authorities must guarantee the independence of institutions, respect freedom of peaceful assembly and association and counter incitement to violence.
Provincial and local authorities, in coordination with civil society, should implement community-based atrocity prevention and response strategies, including dialogue and mediation to address and mitigate the risks of inter-communal tensions.
All perpetrators of atrocity crimes in CAR should be held legally accountable, regardless of their rank, affiliation or nationality. The government should prioritize accountability by launching and operationalizing all criminal and other courts intending to address cases of human rights violations and abuses. The authorities must cooperate with the SCC to ensure that suspects subject to its arrest warrants are taken into custody, regardless of the political or military status of the individual.