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Central African Republic 2016/2017

Conflict between and within armed groups and militias, as well as between international peacekeepers and these groups, continued and involved serious human rights abuses, including crimes under international law. Impunity persisted for those suspected of abuses and crimes under international law. More than 434,000 people were internally displaced and living in harsh conditions, and at least 2.3 million people depended on humanitarian assistance. Allegations of sexual abuse by international peacekeepers continued to be reported.

Background

From June onwards, after a period of relative calm, conflict between armed groups and attacks on civilians increased. The conflict, which began in 2013 with the ousting of President François Bozizé, claimed thousands of lives. Armed groups, particularly ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka forces, continued to control large swathes of the country, facilitated by mass circulation of small arms.

Elections were held to replace the transitional government and on 11 April a new government was formed.

Some 12,870 uniformed personnel were deployed as part of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), whose mandate was renewed until 15 November 2017. Following criticism of MINUSCA’s capacity to respond to attacks, its forces were strengthened.1 However, it continued to have limited ability to protect civilians, given the vast size of the Central African Republic (CAR) and the significant presence of armed groups and militias. French forces, deployed under Operation Sangaris, were almost completely withdrawn in October.

In October, the CAR acceded without reservation to the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; the Optional Protocol to CEDAW; and the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. However, the CAR authorities did not recognize the competence of the relevant treaty bodies.

A major CAR donors’ conference was held in Brussels on 17 November. The CAR National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan 2017-2021 was presented to donors and requested $105 million over five years to support measures to both strengthen the domestic justice system and operationalize the Special Criminal Court (SCC).

Abuses by armed groups and crimes under international law

Armed groups and militias committed human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting and destruction of property, and attacks on humanitarian workers and premises. Some of these amounted to crimes under international law. According to the UN, more than 300 security incidents targeting relief agencies were reported and at least five humanitarian workers were killed. More than 500 civilians were also killed in the violence according to international NGOs.

The risk of attack by Anti-balaka forces and their affiliates continued to restrict freedom of movement for Muslims living in enclaves across the country.

On 3 September, two civilians were killed as ex-Seleka fighters clashed with the local population and Anti-balaka forces near Dekoa town, Kemo district. The ex-Seleka fighters had escaped MINUSCA three weeks earlier after the peacekeeping force arrested 11 ex-Seleka members who were part of a convoy of prominent armed leaders, including Abdoulaye Hissène and Haroun Gaye, who also escaped.

On 10 September, 19 civilians were killed during fighting between Anti-balaka and ex-Seleka forces near the southern town of Kouango, Ouaka district. An estimated 3,500 people were displaced and 13 villages burned.

On 16 September, ex-Seleka fighters killed six civilians in the village of Ndomete, near the northern town of Kaga-Bandoro, Nana-Grébizi district, as a result of tensions between the group and Anti-balaka militia.

Between 4 and 8 October, at least 11 civilians were killed and 14 injured in the capital, Bangui, in reprisal attacks triggered by the assassination of a former army colonel by members of a militia based in the Muslim enclave of the capital known as PK5.

On 12 October, at least 37 civilians were killed, 60 injured and over 20,000 displaced when ex-Seleka fighters attacked and burned a camp for internally displaced people in Kaga-Bandoro in reprisal for the killing of an ex-Seleka member.

On 15 October in Ngakobo, Ouaka district, suspected ex-Seleka fighters attacked a camp for displaced people, leaving 11 civilians dead.

On 24 October in Bangui, a protest against MINUSCA led by civilians infiltrated by armed elements left four civilians dead and nine wounded.

On 27 October, 15 people were killed in clashes between ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka in the villages of Mbriki and Belima, near Bambari, Ouaka district.

In late November fighting between rival ex-Seleka factions in Bria left at least 14 civilians dead and 75 wounded.

The southeast of the CAR was also affected by violence, including by the armed group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). International NGOs reported 103 attacks by the LRA leading to at least 18 civilian casualties and 497 kidnappings since the beginning of the year.

Violations by peacekeeping forces

Civilians continued to report sexual abuse by international forces. Following the report of an independent panel in December 2015, and a visit in April by the Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations’ response to sexual exploitation and abuse, MINUSCA introduced measures to strengthen monitoring, reporting and accountability in relation to such cases.

Countries contributing peacekeeping troops to the CAR whose soldiers were accused of sexual abuse took some steps to ensure accountability, but prosecutions remained rare. In April, three Congolese peacekeepers accused of sexual abuse in the CAR appeared before a military court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Refugees and internally displaced people

More than 434,000 people remained internally displaced. They lived in harsh conditions in makeshift camps, and lacked access to food, water, basic health services and adequate sanitation. The spontaneous return of a small number of internally displaced people caused intercommunal tensions in some areas, especially in the southwest. The returns significantly decreased following the renewed violence from June onward.

Impunity

Members of armed groups, militias and security forces suspected of human rights abuses and crimes under international law did not face effective investigations or trial. Some suspects appeared to be linked to ongoing armed violence, human rights abuses and crimes under international law, and a few held positions of authority. Among them were prominent ex-Seleka leader Haroun Gaye, the subject of an international arrest warrant and UN sanctions, who had admitted orchestrating the kidnapping of six policemen in Bangui on 16 June; and Alfred Yekatom (“Colonel Rambo”), a feared Anti-balaka commander also on the UN sanctions list, who began sitting as an elected member of CAR’s National Assembly in early 2016.

MINUSCA arrested 194 individuals under its Urgent Temporary Measures, including prominent ex-Seleka leader Hahmed Tidjani on 13 August.

A weak national justice system undermined efforts to ensure accountability. The presence and functioning of judicial institutions remained limited, especially outside Bangui. In areas controlled by armed groups, such as Ndélé town, the capital of Bamingui-Bangoran, armed groups and/or traditional chiefs administered justice.

Judicial authorities lacked the capacity to investigate and prosecute people suspected of crimes, including serious human rights abuses. In the few cases involving human rights abuses that went to court, defendants were acquitted or convicted of minor offences and immediately released for time spent in prison, and fear of reprisals prevented witnesses and victims testifying.

International justice

Limited progress was made in operationalizing the Special Criminal Court, which would bring together national and international judges to try individuals suspected of serious human rights violations and crimes under international law committed since 2003.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations on the CAR II situation, based on crimes under international law committed from 2012 onward, continued. Two separate teams worked respectively on crimes committed by ex-Seleka and by Anti-balaka and its affiliates. On 20 June, ICC investigations on the CAR I situation, which focused on crimes against humanity and war crimes since 1 July 2002, resulted in the conviction of a Congolese national, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, as a military commander. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and pillaging committed by his militia.

Prison conditions

Prison conditions remained poor and security was weak. Of 38 official detention facilities across the country, only eight were functional.

In September, guards severely beat 21 inmates in Ngaragba prison in Bangui. This triggered an attempted prison break, which was foiled by guards using tear gas. An investigation into the events was opened soon afterwards by national authorities.

Natural resources

The Kimberley Process, a global initiative to stop “blood diamonds” from being sold internationally, banned the CAR from exporting diamonds in May 2013. However, the CAR diamond trade continued and armed groups involved in abuses profited from it. In July 2015, the Kimberley Process allowed the resumption of diamond exports from “compliant zones”. During 2016, Berberati, Boda, Carnot and Nola, all in the southwest, were deemed to be “compliant zones”.

Right to an adequate standard of living

According to the UN, 2.3 million of the population of 4.8 million needed humanitarian assistance and 2.5 million people remained food insecure. As a result of the conflict, household incomes fell and food prices rose. Basic health services and medicines were provided almost entirely by humanitarian organizations following the collapse of the health system. Less than half of the population had access to effective health care, and virtually no psychosocial support was available. According to the UN, only about a third of the population had access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities.

  1. Mandated to protect, equipped to succeed? Strengthening peacekeeping in Central African Republic (AFR 19/3263/2016)

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