Muslims returning to ethnically-cleansed areas of western CAR have in some cases been forced to abandon their religion, said Amnesty International in a report published today.
The report, “Erased identity: Muslims in ethnically cleansed areas of the Central African Republic”, reveals how Muslims who have returned to their homes in large parts of western CAR following the 2014 killing spree and mass forced displacement are barred by armed anti-balaka militia from practicing or manifesting their religion in public. Some have been forcibly converted to Christianity on the threat of death.
Having forced tens of thousands of Muslims to flee western CAR, anti-balaka militias are now repressing the religious identity of the hundreds of Muslims who remained or who have returnedJoanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser.
“In areas where UN peacekeepers remain notable by their absence, Muslims are targeted with impunity. Some have been forced to convert to Christianity and others have been barred from manifesting their Muslim identity.”
A 23-year-old former Muslim in Sangha-Mbaéré prefecture told Amnesty International: “We had no choice but to join the Catholic Church. The anti-balaka swore they’d kill us if we didn’t.”
“Renewed efforts must be made to protect Muslims under threat in western CAR,” said Joanne Mariner.
Amnesty International found that in western CAR, outside of areas where Muslims live under the protection of UN peacekeepers, Muslims have no freedom to practice their religion in public. Prayers are effectively banned, traditional Muslim clothing cannot be freely worn, and the reconstruction of mosques, an estimated 400 of which were destroyed across the country, is not allowed. Elsewhere in CAR, in Bangui and Carnot, only a handful of mosques have been rebuilt.
“It is effectively illegal for us to pray,” said a Muslim trader in Mbaiki. “We have to hide, do it quickly, and do it by ourselves. Collective Friday prayers are impossible.”
Amnesty International called on the CAR government, the UN mission to the Central African Republic, and the international community more broadly to support Muslims’ efforts to reintegrate into towns and villages across western CAR, and to strengthen the presence of peacekeeping forces to better protect communities from anti-balaka militias.
“Many of the tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who were expelled from the country in 2014 would one day like to return home, but are waiting until they can do so in a safe and sustainable manner. The fate of Muslims who have sought to reintegrate back into towns and villages in western CAR may determine whether or not many feel able to do so. Their security, freedom of religion, and other rights must be protected.”
In May 2015, Amnesty International visited 12 towns and villages in western CAR in which Muslims were living without effective protection of UN troops, as well as several towns in which Muslims were living in protected enclaves. The report is based on interviews with over 85 people, the bulk of whom were Muslims living in these areas, in addition to information collected during research missions to the country in 2014.
Over 30,000 Muslims in CAR live in a handful of areas in towns protected by UN peacekeepers, commonly described as ‘enclaves’, while tens of thousands more live as refugees in neighbouring countries, and others live in areas controlled by former Seleka rebels in north-east CAR. Amnesty International’s research focused on the situation of hundreds of Muslims who have sought to return to areas outside these protected areas.