CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC 2020
Armed groups continued to commit war crimes and other human rights abuses. Sexual violence remained widespread. The justice system made important but limited progress towards combating impunity for crimes under international law. The right to health was severely restricted. Foreign companies were responsible for the environmental degradation of local people’s land and water.
Following the Khartoum Peace Agreement, signed by the government and 14 armed groups in February 2019, the security situation remained precarious. Armed groups, including the Ex-Seleka and Anti-Balaka, continued to control most of the country’s territory. In July, the UN Security Council renewed its arms embargo on the country for one year. In November, the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was also renewed for a year.
On 3 December, the Constitutional Court rejected several candidacies for the presidential election of 27 December, including of former President Francois Bozizé. On 17 December, several armed groups formed the Coalition of Patriots for Change to oppose the presidential election and launched several attacks in the west and south of the country.
Abuses by armed groups
Armed groups were responsible for war crimes and other human rights abuses, including killings, sexual violence against civilians and attacks against humanitarian workers. The Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic; the Central African Patriotic Movement; Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (known as 3R); the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic; and Anti-Balaka were among the main perpetrators.
According to the UN Security Council, 18 civilians were killed in Ndélé city, in the north-east, in an attack by armed groups in March. Between June and October, the UN Secretary-General reported 271 cases of human rights abuses including homicides, rapes and lootings. Over the same period, the UN recorded 60 cases of conflict-related sexual violence including 55 rapes or attempted rapes resulting in the death of one victim, four forced marriages and one case of sexual slavery. The country continued to be one of the most dangerous places for the staff of humanitarian organizations. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 424 incidents targeting aid workers and their facilities – mainly robberies, thefts and threats – including 59 cases in December. Three humanitarian workers were killed and 29 injured.
According to the June report of the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic, armed groups continued to benefit from the increase in gold production. For instance, in Nana-Mambéré and Mambéré-Kadéï prefectures, the 3R imposed taxes on miners. The Experts also expressed concerns about reports of illegal international trafficking networks which funded and supplied armed groups.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
Impunity for crimes under international law remained widespread. Several armed group leaders held roles in government while their members committed human rights abuses.
In February, the criminal court of Bangui convicted five Anti-Balaka leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to the 2017 attack in Bangassou, in which at least 62 civilians and 10 UN peacekeepers were killed. It was the first conviction for crimes under international law since the conflict started. However, serious concerns arose during the trial over the rights of the defendants and protection of victims and witnesses. The work of the criminal courts was hindered in March when the COVID-19 pandemic brought hearings to a halt for the rest of the year.
The Special Criminal Court, a UN-backed hybrid court mandated to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law, and other serious human rights violations committed in the country since 2003, confirmed in September that 10 cases were under investigation. At least 21 people were arrested as a result of investigations in 2019 and 2020 and were in pre-trial detention at the end of the year. However, proceedings lacked transparency and the identities of those arrested were not publicly disclosed. There were also delays in the recruitment of international judges and the establishment of the Court’s legal aid system.
Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, Anti-Balaka leaders, remained waiting to face trial before the ICC, which was scheduled to start in February 2021. They were arrested for war crimes and crimes against humanity and were transferred to The Hague in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The Gender-Based Violence Information Management System recorded 2,904 incidents of gender-based violence, including 668 cases of sexual violence, between April and June, compared to 1,299 incidents between January and March. In 92% of cases the violence was perpetrated against women and girls; 52% of cases happened in the victim’s home; and 63% of attacks were carried out by perpetrators who were known to their victims. However, some victims did not report crimes for fear of reprisals or stigma.
In April, the UN Human Rights Committee issued its concluding observations on the country’s third periodic report in which it expressed concerns about various legal provisions in the Criminal Code, including Article 105 “which allows the perpetrator of an abduction to marry the victim, thereby depriving the latter of the right to take proceedings against the former”. The Committee recommended that the government repeal Article 105 and also that it adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.
Right to health
According to the WHO, humanitarian organizations provided 70% of all health services, and the country was among those least prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. In October, the organization reported that PPE for health care personnel met less than one third of estimated needs, and there were only two ventilators available nationwide. There were just four COVID-19 treatment centres which were based in Bangui, the capital. Outside the capital, there were seven centres for the treatment of mild and moderate cases which provided quarantine facilities.
According to OCHA, over half the population – 2.6 million people – were in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, including 660,000 people who were, by 31 July, internally displaced by violence. Children were particularly affected by the dire humanitarian situation. One child in 18 was at a high risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition, and only one in 10 had access to hygiene facilities, while one third of the population had access to safe drinking water.
In April, seven people died in one week in the Bozoum region, reportedly as a result of extensive environmental damage caused by four gold mining companies who abandoned their mines in late April.
In 2018, the companies had cut down trees, diverted an area of the Ouham river and excavated the riverbed, leaving it in ruins. Analysis of water samples showed evidence of mercury contamination far in excess of international safety standards. Local people reported that the river water was filthy, and fish stocks had declined. Residents of Boyele village had to travel 10km to find safe drinking water. People living in the area reported that some people had developed skin rashes; there were also reports of the rate of miscarriages being disproportionately high, and several babies were born with physical deformities.
According to the local population, they were not consulted about the mining project, nor were any environmental and social impact studies conducted prior to the excavation process, as required under Article 34 of the Environmental Code. There was no established system to allow residents to make compensation claims against land appropriation.