Ongoing violence by armed groups and government and allied forces leaves populations in the Central African Republic at risk of atrocity crimes.
During December 2020 an alliance of predatory armed groups, known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), launched an offensive aimed at preventing general elections in the Central African Republic (CAR) and perpetrated widespread violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). In response, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) – working closely with Russian security partners (or “instructors”) and Rwandan troops – launched counter-offensives and have recaptured territory. Despite the government’s declaration on 15 October of a unilateral ceasefire, violence across the country has persisted.
Since December 2020 the CPC has killed and abducted civilians, perpetrated sexual violence, forcibly recruited child soldiers and attacked schools, hospitals, humanitarian workers and the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA). The UN documented that 1,280 children suffered one or more grave violations between July 2019 and June 2021. Armed groups committed the majority of violations. During October MINUSCA reported increased human rights violations in the northwest, center and southeast of the country as armed groups attempted to reconquer former strongholds.
During military operations, FACA troops and Russian instructors have perpetrated summary executions, arbitrary killings, torture, forced disappearances and have occupied schools and looted humanitarian organizations and UN offices. These forces have continued to commit targeted attacks against ethnic and religious minority communities as well as hostile incidents against MINUSCA. Between 1 February and 1 October MINUSCA documented more than 300 conflict-related civilian deaths, primarily resulting from indiscriminate, disproportionate and excessive use of force by FACA and bilateral forces.
The protracted crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé in 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, however, most perpetrators have not been held accountable. On 19 November Hassan Bouba, Minister of Livestock and former leader of the major armed group, Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique, was imprisoned on charges of war crimes and against humanity by the Special Criminal Court (SCC) for CAR. A week later, Bouba was released from detention in defiance of court orders.
Despite a 2019 peace deal that formally ended the 2013–2015 armed conflict, signatories continue to engage in violence and perpetrate widespread human rights abuses. Former President Bozizé, who is under UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions for his role in the conflict, is leading the CPC.
1.4 million people have fled their homes since 2013. Approximately 63 percent of the population needs humanitarian assistance.
Unless all parties to the conflict adhere to the ceasefire, threats to populations will continue. The ongoing crisis and increased hostility towards MINUSCA have impacted its ability to implement its civilian protection mandate. Violence, shifting frontlines and the presence of explosive devices have hampered humanitarian access.
Following military operations launched in January 2021, armed groups lost control over strategic areas, prompting some to retreat to rural areas where they are committing serious human rights abuses. The cross-border flow of foreign fighters, arms trafficking and natural resources are contributing to a thriving conflict-economy. Attacks by FACA and allied forces against certain marginalized populations are bolstering support for armed groups, causing displacement and increasing inter-communal tensions.
The government requires ongoing international assistance to stabilize the country and uphold its responsibility to protect.
The UNSC has passed 15 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government’s responsibility to protect populations in CAR. A UNSC-mandated sanctions regime and arms embargo have been in place since 2013. On 12 March 2021 the UNSC adopted a resolution increasing the military and police deployment for MINUSCA to support the protection of civilians.
During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC currently has three individuals in custody, including two former anti-balaka leaders and one Séléka leader.
On 16 September the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region adopted a roadmap for peace, which called for a ceasefire and revitalization of the 2019 peace deal.
On 27 October UN experts called on the CAR government to end all relationships with private military and security personnel.
All armed actors must rigorously adhere to their obligations under IHL and International Human Rights Law. It is imperative that FACA and bilateral forces ensure the protection of all populations during military operations and that MINUSCA can effectively carry out its mandate. MINUSCA must prioritize the protection of civilians.
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 continuing its cooperation with the ICC, supporting efforts of the national judiciary and ensuring that the SCC can fulfill its mandate.