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 2013 endemic violence in the Central African Republic (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, recruited children, and perpetrated attacks on internally displaced persons camps, 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 armed conflict. Despite this, some signatories continue to violate the agreement and/or have exploited the peace deal to consolidate their control over territory. During June 2020 one of the signatory armed groups, Retour, Réclamation, Réhabilitation (3R), suspended their participation in the agreement.
During April violent clashes erupted in N’délé between two factions of the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique – a signatory to the 2019 agreement – resulting in at least 20 civilians killed. A hybrid judicial mechanism – the Special Criminal Court for CAR – is currently investigating possible atrocities committed during the clashes.
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 UN Office of the 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.
On 25 July Bozizé announced 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. During August some signatory armed groups prevented voter registration in several prefectures by threatening members of the National Electoral Authority.
More than 1.2 million Central Africans have fled their homes since 2013 and 2.6 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Ongoing violence 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 13 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government’s responsibility to protect populations in CAR. On 15 November the UNSC extended the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR 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 2 entities. On 28 July the UNSC extended the sanctions regime and arms embargo for one year. On 5 August the UNSC imposed sanctions on 3Rs’ 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). 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 9 February 2021.
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 International Humanitarian Law. 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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