Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes. Escalating violence during May in areas previously unaffected by large-scale fighting resulted in hundreds of people killed and tens of thousands displaced. On 19 June the government signed a peace agreement in Rome with thirteen of the fourteen major armed groups, but clashes between various armed groups erupted soon after in Zemio, Bria and Kaga Bandoro.
Recent violence, concentrated in the prefectures of Mbomou, Basse-Kotto and Haute-Kotto, was largely driven by three armed groups: the anti-balaka, based amongst the Christian population, and two former members of the mostly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance, the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC).
In Basse-Kotto prefecture clashes between the anti-balaka and the UPC in the town of Alindao from 7-9 May resulted in at least 133 people killed. In Bria, the capital of Haute-Kotto, the FPRC and anti-balaka clashed from 15-18 May and on 20 June and carried out attacks against civilians. The violence resulted in the death of dozens of civilians, the burning of over 300 homes, and the majority of the town's 47,500 residents being displaced.
From 12-14 May the anti-balaka carried out an attack on a Muslim neighborhood in Bangassou, the capital of Mbomou prefecture, during which at least 115 people were killed and close to 19,000 displaced, including 13,000 children. Six peacekeepers from the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) were also killed near Bangassou during the week of 8 May and humanitarian workers have also been attacked.
Tensions also remain high around Bambari, the capital of Ouaka prefecture, where during 2017 the FPRC and UPC engaged in sustained fighting. MINUSCA has since negotiated the withdrawal of the UPC from the town.
The Secretary-General's June 2017 report on CAR condemned violence by the FPRC, who have systematically targeted ethnic Fulani and seized their cattle. Armed Fulani self-defense groups have allegedly perpetrated violent reprisals, sometimes in collaboration with the UPC.
The current crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013 by the Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of anti-balaka militias. A human rights mapping report published by MINUSCA and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during May 2017 found that both sides of the conflict may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015. Over 500,000 people remain internally displaced and over 480,000 have fled CAR.
Governmental control remains limited in most areas outside Bangui, allowing rival armed groups to expand into areas previously unaffected by major fighting. In addition to the anti-balaka, UPC and FRPC, at least 11 other armed groups operate throughout CAR with shifting alliances and loose command-and-control structures. These groups compete for territory, power and resources, including several mining sites.
Attacks by the FRPC and anti-balaka against Fulani communities demonstrate the ongoing threat of civilians being targeted because of their religious or ethnic identity.
MINUSCA, which in many parts of the country is the only force capable of maintaining security, continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to uphold its mandate to protect civilians.
The CAR government requires sustained international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed nine resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect all populations in CAR, including Resolution 2339 of 27 January 2017, which renewed sanctions and an arms embargo until 31 January 2018.
On 4 April 2017 the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement condemning violence by armed groups – especially the FPRC and UPC – urging them to commit to the disarmament and demobilization process. The statement also emphasized the importance of holding perpetrators accountable, calling for the swift operationalization of the Special Criminal Court, which was approved by the government in June 2015.
On 16 May the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, expressed alarm over expanding attacks by armed groups against the civilian population of CAR.
On 23 May 2017 the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a statement regarding the "serious crimes committed against civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers" in CAR, noting that such crimes may fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC.
The UNSC must ensure that the arms embargo is respected. MINUSCA must deploy in adequate numbers to all areas where civilians lack sufficient protection and improve its capacity to anticipate and respond to emerging security threats.
Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes, including through cooperation with the ICC. Long-term financial and logistical resources are needed to operationalize the Special Criminal Court.
The international community should continue to assist the government to uphold its Responsibility to Protect, including through supporting structural reforms of the justice and security sectors.
Last Updated: 17 July 2017