Tens of thousands of people remained displaced inside the country while more than 130,000 lived as refugees in neighbouring countries as a result of armed conflict. Scores of civilians were unlawfully killed or injured by fighters. Members of the security forces enjoyed impunity for human rights violations. The International Criminal Court (ICC) made progress towards the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba. People accused of witchcraft were tortured.
Despite the December 2008 Inclusive Political Dialogue (Dialogue politique inclusif, DPI) to end armed conflict, fighting continued in the north and east of the country. In a new development, some of the armed clashes, which resulted in scores of civilian deaths and the displacement of thousands of people, involved members of rival ethnic groups. Much of the intercommunal violence took place in the north-west.
Units of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), supported by members of the Central African Armed Forces, carried out operations in eastern Central African Republic (CAR) against members of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The UPDF reported that it captured or killed several senior LRA commanders, and freed civilians abducted by the armed group.
In July, the government signed a new peace accord in Sirte, Libya, with the leader of the Democratic Front for Central African People, although this failed to end hostilities between the two parties.
Major armed groups refused to implement a recommendation of the DPI to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate (DDR) their combatants. Several of them, including the Rally of the Union of Democratic Forces and the Popular Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (Armée populaire pour la restauration de la démocratie, APRD) predicated their co-operation with the DDR programme on the disarmament of ethnic militia and Chadian armed groups in northern CAR.
UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, announced in July that that it had helped demobilize about 180 child members of the APRD aged between 10 and 17 in Ouham-Pende province. In the same month, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, held a human rights workshop for members of the APRD, government forces and a regional peacekeeping force.
Several steps were taken to prepare for general elections in 2010. In June, the National Assembly adopted an electoral code. In August, President François Bozizé issued a decree establishing an independent electoral commission charged with preparing, organizing and supervising municipal, regional, legislative and presidential elections.
In March, the EU-led military force (EUFOR) deployed in Chad and northern CAR was replaced by a military component of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). The UN Security Council had authorized the MINURCAT military component in January. Some 2,000 members of EUFOR stayed on under MINURCAT to provide peacekeeping cover while African and other countries took their place. However, the authorized MINURCAT strength of 5,225 had not been attained by the end of the year, while European countries continued to withdraw their troops.
The Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central Africa (MICOPAX), supported by the Economic Community of Central African States, remained in the CAR. The presence of MINURCAT and MICOPAX failed to protect most of the civilians at risk in northern and eastern CAR. Dozens of civilians were killed by government soldiers and armed group fighters. Nearly 20,000 people fled to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon, while more than 100,000 were displaced inside the country.
International justice – Jean-Pierre Bemba
Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and leader of an armed group, continued to be detained by the ICC awaiting trial in connection with crimes allegedly committed in the CAR by his armed group in 2002 and 2003. The Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC authorized his release to await trial provided there was a country willing to host him. This drew protests from the ICC Prosecutor’s office and lawyers representing victims. However, no country offered to accept him. Subsequently, the Appeals Chamber ordered Jean-Pierre Bemba to remain in custody pending trial, due to start in April 2010.
Abuses by government forces and armed groups
Government forces and armed groups killed and injured civilians in parts of the CAR affected by the armed conflict. Most of the killings by CAR armed groups were reported in Ouham, Ouham-Pende, Vakaga, Nana-Gribizi and Bamingui-Bangoran provinces. Widespread insecurity in the region made it very difficult for human rights and humanitarian organizations to establish the number of people killed or injured. Some of the victims were targeted on suspicion of supporting rival groups. Others were targeted for criticizing parties to the conflict.
- Soule Garga, President of the National Federation of Central African Cattlekeepers, was killed in April by members of the APRD in Paoua, according to reports.
- A local worker of the ICRC was killed in Birao in June, allegedly by members of an unspecified armed group.
LRA combatants killed a number of civilians and abducted many others in eastern CAR. The LRA repeatedly attacked areas in and around Obo during the year.
- In April, the LRA killed two local employees of an Italian humanitarian organization known as Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI). Two other COOPI employees were shot and wounded during the same incident.
Government forces, particularly those belonging to the presidential guard, continued to commit serious human rights violations with impunity. A senior officer of the presidential guard who was reported in previous years to have killed and tortured with impunity carried out further human rights violations. For example, in March the officer reportedly ordered and participated in a severe beating of Daniel Sama, a police commissioner, in the capital, Bangui. The victim, who died a few hours later from his injuries, was reported to have been beaten for possessing a pistol although it had been lawfully issued to him. Although the incident was widely reported and a government minister stated that there would be an inquiry, no action was known to have been taken.
Abuses of people suspected of witchcraft
The belief that individuals can be responsible for afflicting misfortune on others, including death, remained prevalent. Those accused of witchcraft were frequently subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or even killed. Government and security officials condoned the accusations and the ill-treatment, and took no action to protect the victims or bring those responsible for abuses to justice.
- In July, a prison official in Mobaye, Basse-Kotto province, who accused a 15-year-old girl of using witchcraft to cause the death of his wife, ordered detainees to pour kerosene on her arms and set it alight. She suffered severe burns. The girl had been arrested in December 2008 after she was accused of causing the drowning of a 12-year-old boy. At the time of her arrest, a group of people beat her to force her to reveal her alleged accomplices, who were accused of transforming themselves into the snakes that they said drowned the boy. Under torture, the girl reportedly denounced two of her alleged accomplices, who were also arrested.
- In September, the High Court in Bangui found four people, including two children aged 10 and 13, guilty of witchcraft and charlatanism. One of the adults on trial had denied allegations by his daughter that he had been involved in witchcraft.