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 IDP 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 peace deal to bring an end to the armed conflict. Despite the historic agreement, populations remain at risk of atrocity crimes. According to a February 2020 report by the UN Secretary-General, signatories continue to violate the agreement, including by attacking civilians. On 25 January armed clashes broke out in the eastern town of Bria between rival factions of the ex-Séléka Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, killing at least 40 people and forcibly displacing 11,000. Some signatory groups have also used the peace agreement to legitimize their de-facto control over territory.
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. More than 1.2 million Central Africans have fled their homes since 2013 and 2.6 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Most perpetrators have not been held accountable. A hybrid judicial mechanism – the Special Criminal Court for CAR – opened its first session during October 2018, with trials expected to begin in late 2020. On 7 February the Bangui Court of Appeal sentenced five anti-Balaka leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Bangassou in 2016 and 2017.
One year after the signing of the peace deal, there has only been limited implementation of its key provisions. Ongoing violence by armed groups, including parties to the agreement, highlights that governmental control remains extremely limited outside the capital. Armed groups continue to benefit from revenues generated through illegal taxation and cross-border arms trafficking.
The recent Bangui Court of Appeal decision is an important step towards justice. However, the promotion of leaders of armed groups that are responsible for past atrocity crimes into senior governmental roles undermines attempts to end the climate of impunity in the country.
While the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) has been mandated to support the implementation of the peace agreement and assist in preparations for elections in 2020 and 2021, it has not been granted additional resources, potentially undermining its civilian protection capacity.
The CAR 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 MINUSCA for one year. A UNSC-mandated sanctions regime and arms embargo have also been in place since 2013, imposing travel bans and asset freezes on 11 individuals and 2 entities. Acknowledging the peace agreement, during September 2019 the UNSC approved measures to partially ease the arms embargo. On 31 January 2020 the Council further eased the sanctions regime.
During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On 11 December the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber partially confirmed charges against two former anti-balaka leaders, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, committing both to trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
MINUSCA must prioritize the protection of civilians and continue to strengthen its early warning capacity. The UNSC should increase resources for MINUSCA to ensure it can fully implement its mandate.
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 targeted sanctions on any actors that breach its key provisions. Criteria for the further suspension of the arms embargo must focus on the successful reintegration of former fighters and on halting the illicit trafficking of weapons by armed groups.
Sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on R2P news and alerts
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA