Central African Republic: Amnesty investigation reveals full horror of conflict and election violence
Testimonies, satellite imagery and photographic analysis confirm the killing of 14 people last week in a religious site in Bambari
At least two killed, six injured by security forces during curfew in Bangui
Thousands of IDPs across the country
Many civilians have been killed and others injured during the election period in the Central African Republic, Amnesty International said today, as it called on authorities to protect civilians and launch independent judicial investigations into abuses and human rights violations by armed groups and security forces.
The security situation worsened ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections on 27 December, ahead of which a newly-formed coalition of six armed groups — the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) — tried to stop the elections taking place. Since 17 December, the CPC has launched a series of attacks against several towns, occupying them. Central African armed forces, supported by foreign troops in the presence of MINUSCA, clashed with the CPC as they attempted to free the occupied towns.
Due to the ongoing clashes and the seizure by the CPC of several areas of the country, it has been difficult to collect information on the impact of the conflict on people’s lives. However, testimonies gathered by Amnesty International — alongside analysis and verification of satellite imagery, a video and photographs, — confirm that many civilians have been killed in several towns including Bambari, in the centre of the country, and Bangui, the capital. Many people have also been displaced in Bangassou, in the south-east, while the supply of essential goods and humanitarian aid into the country was blocked.
Civilians and their access to humanitarian assistance must be protected during conflicts. All parties to the conflict, including Central African forces, foreign forces, and armed groups, must respect their international humanitarian law obligations. They must do their best to protect civilians during clashes and attacks.
"In a country where conflict has been raging for two decades, the authorities must now clearly prioritize the protection of human rights and the fight against impunity for those who violate them. An important first step is to open independent investigations into the violations and abuses documented."
CPC members occupied several areas in Bambari on 22 December 2020. The government and allied forces clashed with the CPC to drive them back from the town on 15 and 16 February 2021. Amnesty International can confirm that civilians were killed in Bambari during the clashes.
The organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab received and analyzed multiple images and one video that can be geolocated to a religious site in the east of Bambari, showing the bodies of people reportedly killed on 16 February 2021. As many as 14 bodies are visible on the floor, most either partially or fully covered. On visible parts, these people were not wearing military clothes. The video also shows some of these bodies close up, including a woman and a child.
The photos received by Amnesty International show damage to the same building. One image shows what Amnesty International has confirmed to be the impact of an explosive weapon, with blast damage visible on the floor and an associated pattern of holes on an adjacent wall consistent with the detonation of a frag-munition. Injuries mirroring the pattern of damage seen on the wall are visible in photos of at least three bodies.
In addition, Médecins Sans Frontières announced on 22 February 2021 that a medical center supported by its teams had been damaged with bullets and explosives during the 16 February clashes. They have also treated around 30 injured people, including eight women and nine minors — aged between 17 months and 17 years — who were wounded by bullets and shell fragments.
We don’t have all the necessary elements to determine the legality or otherwise of the 16 February attack. However, we would like to remind all parties to the conflict that attacks targeting civilians are prohibited by international humanitarian law. Special precautions must be taken to protect buildings dedicated to religion and health centers.
“Given the gravity of these acts, it is urgent that the authorities open an investigation to clarify the facts and identify those responsible.”
On 7 January 2021, authorities decided to implement a curfew across the country. According to testimonies received by Amnesty International, a young man who allegedly violated the curfew was shot and killed by security forces on the evening of 11 January in the 5th District of Bangui. Many young people in the area decided to protest the killing by carrying his body in front of the Prime minister’s office.
A witness told Amnesty International:
“Presidential guards shot in the air as young people were arriving near the state television building where they were blocked and dispersed. As they were leaving the area, groups of young men met another security forces unit which opened fire and fatally shot one of them in the head. His family buried him the following day.’’ Six other young men were injured during the incident.
As the result of attacks and clashes, at least 240,000 people have been displaced within the country since mid-December, according to humanitarian organizations. The situation puts affected populations in deplorable humanitarian conditions. Amnesty International documented the scale of the displacements in Bangassou, which was attacked by the CPC on 3 January 2021, prompting fear and panic among the population.
On 3 January, the situation was terrible. There was fire, scenes of looting, gunfire, explosion noises ... The whole city emptied, 80% of the population crossed the river to reach the city of Ndu in Democratic Republic of the Congo … People were unable to go to the fields or go fishing, … They lost their cattle which were systematically stolen (by armed groups).
Satellite imagery of Bangassou from 4 January 2021, analyzed and verified by Amnesty International experts, shows the central market appeared emptier than usual, possibly due to the looting and attacks on 3 January.
The imagery also shows a large number of people and across the Mbomou river in the country, and new shelters set up to host people in the other side of the river in DR Congo. These persons were waiting to cross the river, corroborating reports of important displacements of people.
On 11 January 2021, UNHCR confirmed that at least 15,000 people arrived in the village of Ndu, following attacks in the towns of Damara and Bangassou on 2 and 3 January.
Disruption by armed groups on main food supply roads
Some people told Amnesty International of the ongoing difficulties they face in accessing food and humanitarian aid, which are mostly imported by trucks from Cameroon. CPC members deliberately carried out attacks on truck drivers in order to block the passage of food supplies.
An example of this blockage took place on 18 January 2021, when three drivers caught in an ambush by the CPC were injured in Baboua. Two other drivers were killed on 19 January on the same road, according to the authorities. The country's supply depends significantly on this route. The insecurity caused by the CPC has led to a scarcity of food, and therefore to an increase in prices.
“For three weeks, the main supply routes with Cameroon were disrupted and the lack of food, including in Bangui, was beginning to weigh on the civilian population. This resulted in higher prices for goods, and worsened the situation of people who were already living in poverty,” a member of a civil society organization living in Nana-Mambere, in the West of the country, told Amnesty International.
Humanitarian needs which were already important have increased during the election period due to the high number of displaced people. Many goods, and much humanitarian aid, accessed the country via the main road connecting the capital Bangui to neighboring Cameroon. The blockage of that road for weeks by armed groups was lifted last week. However, armed groups continue to threaten to block the corridor once again.
A member of a humanitarian NGO told Amnesty International he was increasingly concerned about food security, given the rise in prices:
“…Prices in the markets have already risen with the COVID 19 pandemic. The instability is now increasing inflation and the population’s access to basic goods is getting complicated, given the fact that food insecurity and malnutrition were already high in CAR."
This deliberate blockage and these abuses might constitute violations of international humanitarian law, which calls on all parties to the conflict to authorize and facilitate the rapid passage of humanitarian rescues.
Humanitarian needs have increased with this crisis. Humanitarian workers must be able to freely access all populations without interference. All parties to the conflict must respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
''Humanitarian needs have increased with this crisis. Humanitarian workers must be able to freely access all populations without interference. All parties to the conflict must respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law”, said Abdoulaye Diarra.