Ongoing violence by armed groups leaves populations in the Central African Republic at risk of atrocity crimes.
Tensions in the Central African Republic (CAR) rose ahead of the country’s 27 December 2020 general elections as an alliance of predatory armed groups, known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), launched a series of attacks across the country. Election-related violence forced thousands of people to flee, resulted in a surge of human rights violations and closed hundreds of schools and dozens of hospitals.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between October 2020 and March 2021, 14 of CAR’s 16 prefectures experienced armed conflict. The UN Refugee Agency has also noted that refugees arriving in Chad during April reported fleeing clashes in northern CAR, as well as pillaging and extortion by armed groups. Children have been severely impacted, with thousands displaced and almost 3,000 recruited by armed groups so far this year.
The Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and their allies have subsequently recaptured several towns from the CPC and other armed groups across the country. However, FACA have also reportedly perpetrated arbitrary killings, torture and arbitrary arrests. Private military personnel allied with FACA have also allegedly perpetrated summary executions, arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearances, forced displacement, destruction of civilian infrastructure and attacks on humanitarian workers.
The protracted 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. Despite a peace deal signed by the government and 14 armed groups in 2019 that formally ended the 2013–2015 armed conflict, violence continues as some signatories regularly violate the agreement and have consolidated their control over territory and natural resources.
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. Most perpetrators have not been held accountable. Former President Bozizé, who is under UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions for his role in the 2013-2015 conflict, is reportedly leading the CPC.
Over 1.5 million people have fled their homes since 2013, including at least 280,000 since December 2020. At least 370,000 children are internally displaced – the highest level of child displacement since 2014. An estimated 2.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.
Armed groups continue to control the majority of territory in CAR and profit from illegal taxation and arms trafficking. The cross-border flow of foreign fighters, arms and natural resources are fueling the crisis in CAR.
Although the 2019 peace agreement was hailed as an opportunity to bring an end to the armed conflict, a climate of impunity has enabled ongoing violence and allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses by armed groups as well as state security forces and their allies. The CPC’s recent offensive threatened to end the agreement.
The government requires ongoing international assistance to stabilize the country and uphold its responsibility to protect.
The UNSC has passed 14 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, imposing travel bans and asset freezes on 11 individuals and two entities. On 12 March the UNSC adopted a resolution increasing the military and police deployment for MINUSCA to support the protection of civilians and facilitate humanitarian access.
During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On 16 February 2021 the trial of two former anti-balaka leaders, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, for war crimes and crimes against humanity began. On 24 January CAR authorities surrendered the first Séléka suspect, Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, to the ICC to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On 16 February the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) condemned attacks by the CPC, noting that they amount to “flagrant violations of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region held a summit on 21 April devoted to the political and security situation in CAR. The participating governments underlined the importance of ending impunity for violations and abuses of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law.
The CPC and other armed groups must immediately cease hostilities. All signatories to the peace agreement must comply with their commitments and refrain from any action limiting the restoration of state authority. All armed forces operating in CAR must fully adhere to IHL.
National authorities should prioritize ongoing reconciliation efforts and accountability for atrocity crimes.
The UNSC and AU should impose sanctions on any groups or individuals that endanger the peace agreement. The international community should continue to support security sector reform in order to bolster FACA’s capacity to protect civilians and uphold human rights.