Ongoing violence by armed groups leaves populations in the Central African Republic at imminent risk of atrocity crimes.
Since the 2013–2015 armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), ongoing violence 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 UN peacekeepers, committed sexual violence, recruited children, and perpetrated attacks on IDP camps, schools, medical facilities and places of worship. Despite the government and 14 armed groups signing a historic peace deal on 6 February 2019, under the auspices of the African Union (AU), some signatories continue to violate the agreement and/or have exploited the deal to consolidate their control over territory. The Human Rights Division of the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) documented more than 190 conflict related killings between July 2019 and June 2020.
Tensions in CAR rose ahead of the country’s 27 December 2020 general elections as a coalition of six armed groups – all of whom are signatories to the peace agreement and some of whom are also allied with former President François Bozizé – launched a series of attacks across the country. These attacks occurred weeks after the Constitutional Court rejected Bozizé’s candidacy, citing an international arrest warrant and UN sanctions against him for alleged crimes against humanity and incitement to commit genocide. Between 18–19 December armed groups took control of parts of Lobaye, Ouham, Ouham-Pendé, Nana Gribizi and Ombella M’Poko prefectures while also blocking supply routes to the capital, Bangui, and clashing with the army and MINUSCA.
On election day armed groups set voting materials on fire and threatened voters and officials. Afterwards, armed groups captured the southeastern town of Bangassou on 3 January and attacked the outskirts of Bangui on 13 January. According to the UN Refugee Agency, violence and insecurity surrounding the elections forced over 60,000 people to flee to Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo. An additional 58,000 people remain newly displaced in CAR.
The protracted crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President 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 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. On 4 January Bangui’s Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against Bozizé and individuals suspected of perpetrating election-related attacks.
More than 1.3 million people – one in four Central Africans – have fled their homes since 2013 and 2.8 million are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.
Ongoing violence and growing allegations of serious human rights violations by armed groups, including parties to the peace agreement, highlight the risks resulting from limited governmental capacity outside the capital. Armed groups continue to control the majority of territory in CAR and profit from illegal taxation and arms trafficking. The ongoing offensive by the coalition of armed groups poses a grave threat to the peace agreement. The rejection of election results may fuel further violence.
The government requires ongoing international assistance to stabilize the country and uphold its responsibility to protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed 14 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government’s responsibility to protect populations in CAR. On 12 November the UNSC extended the mandate of MINUSCA 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 two entities. On 28 July the UNSC extended the sanctions regime and arms embargo for one year.
During May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On 9 February 2021 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. Both were transferred to the Court by the CAR government.
All political actors must refrain from incitement to violence and engage in an inclusive, credible and constructive dialogue to promote national stability. Signatories to the peace deal must comply with their commitments and resolve disputes through peaceful means. They must also refrain from any action limiting the restoration of state authority, and fully comply with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.
The AU and Economic Community of Central African States should urgently assist MINUSCA and the CAR government in their attempts to end ongoing violence. The UNSC and AU should impose sanctions on any actors that endanger the peace agreement. MINUSCA should continue to support efforts to protect civilians and defend the government from armed groups within the framework of its mandate.
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