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 the government and 14 armed groups signed a peace deal to bring an end to armed conflict. The agreement, negotiated under the African Union (AU)-led African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation, highlights the need to address the root causes of the conflict and contains provisions on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters. Despite the historic agreement, populations remain at risk of atrocity crimes. According to a 14 December report by the UN mandated Panel of Experts on CAR, signatories continue to violate the agreement, including by attacking civilians and other protected persons. Some groups have used the peace agreement to legitimize their de-facto control over territory and obstructed the restoration of state authority.
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. A hybrid judicial mechanism – the Special Criminal Court (SCC) for CAR – opened its first session during October 2018, and several investigations are currently underway.
More than 1.2 million Central Africans have fled their homes since 2013. The dangerous operating environment also threatens the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid for an estimated 2.6 million people.
Almost one year since the signing of the peace deal, implementation remains limited. Ongoing violence and fighting over territory by armed groups, including parties to the February 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 promotion of leaders of armed groups responsible for past atrocity crimes into senior governmental roles potentially undermines the credibility of the justice process. The SCC also urgently requires international assistance to strengthen its investigative capacity and provide protection for victims and witnesses.
While the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) has been mandated to support the implementation of the peace agreement and assist in preparations for possible 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 31 January 2019 the UNSC extended the sanctions regime that has been in place since 2013. On 12 September the UNSC decided to partially ease the arms embargo on the country. On 15 November the UNSC extended the mandate of MINUSCA for one year.
During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by Séléka and anti-balaka forces. 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 suspects 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 the mission can fully implement its mandate.
Ahead of the anniversary of the peace deal, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes by ensuring the SCC can fulfill its mandate. Signatories to the peace deal must fully participate in the follow-up mechanisms established under the February 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 closely monitor implementation of the peace agreement and impose targeted sanctions on any individuals or groups that breach its key provisions. Criteria for the further suspension of the international arms embargo must focus on the successful reintegration of former fighters and on halting the illicit trafficking of weapons by armed groups
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