Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes. Since May 2017 escalating attacks by armed groups, including in areas previously unaffected by large-scale fighting, have resulted in hundreds of people killed and tens of thousands displaced.
The recent violence, largely concentrated in the central and eastern prefectures of Mbomou, Haute-Kotto and Basse-Kotto, is primarily driven by three armed groups: the predominantly Christian anti-balaka and two former members of the Séléka rebel alliance, the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC). Sporadic violence is also occurring in the northwest of CAR, particularly in Batangafo and Ngaoundaye. UNICEF has warned that children have been targeted during recent attacks, with reports of rape, abduction and recruitment into armed groups. At least 821 civilians were killed between January and August this year.
The FPRC, at times in collaboration with anti-balaka, have systematically targeted ethnic Fulani for attack. In response, armed Fulani self-defense groups have perpetrated violent reprisals, sometimes in collaboration with the UPC. Attacks by anti-balaka militias against Muslim communities have also intensified, with more than 120 civilians killed in two separate incidents in the Basse-Kotto prefecture between 11-18 October.
Direct attacks against humanitarian staff and UN peacekeepers have resulted in the death of 12 peacekeepers and 13 humanitarian workers since the beginning of 2017. As a result, several humanitarian agencies have suspended their work in some areas, and the UN humanitarian coordinator for CAR has warned that their withdrawal is leaving civilians at risk of starvation.
The current crisis in CAR has its origins in the overthrow of President François Bozizé on 24 March 2013 by the mainly-Muslim Séléka rebel alliance. Abuses by the Séléka led to the formation of anti-balaka militias. A report published by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights during May 2017 found that both anti-balaka and ex-Séléka forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity between 2013-2015.
On 5 October 2017 Human Rights Watch reported that sexual violence against the civilian population has been used as a tactic by both the Séléka and anti-balaka since early 2013. Widespread and systematic rape and sexual slavery, perpetrated across large parts of the country, may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
There are currently over 600,000 internally displaced persons in CAR – a 50 percent increase since January - and more than 500,000 people have taken refuge in neighboring countries.
Governmental control remains extremely limited in most areas outside Bangui, allowing rival armed groups to expand their influence. In addition to the anti-balaka, UPC and FPRC, at least 11 other armed groups operate throughout CAR with shifting alliances. These groups compete for territory, power and resources, including several mining sites. According to the UN, an estimated 70 percent of the country – 14 out of 16 provinces - is still controlled by armed groups.
Attacks by the anti-balaka and FPRC against Muslim and Fulani communities demonstrate the ongoing threat of civilians being targeted because of their religious or ethnic identity. The anti-balaka have engaged in hate speech and incitement against Muslims, referring to them as "foreign mercenaries" who must be "driven out" of the country.
Sexual violence committed against women and girls has been used as a weapon by various armed groups and continues due to a pervasive culture of impunity. Despite the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for CAR, perpetrators have not been held accountable.
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 consistently uphold its mandate to protect civilians. Allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers have further weakened MINUSCA's public reputation.
The CAR government requires sustained international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has passed ten 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 the FPRC and UPC, urging them to commit to the disarmament and demobilization process. The statement also emphasized the importance of accountability and called for the operationalization of the Special Criminal Court, which was approved by the government in June 2015.
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," noting that such crimes may fall under the court's jurisdiction. In a 13 July Presidential Statement, the UNSC emphasized that deliberate attacks on civilians and humanitarian workers constitute crimes under international law.
In response to the recent resurgence of violence, on 6 October the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, undertook a 5-day visit to CAR. The UN Secretary-General also visited CAR from 24-27 October, ahead of MINUSCA's mandate renewal.
On 15 November the UNSC adopted Resolution 2387, increasing MINUSCA by an additional 900 troops in order to protect civilians and prevent any further deterioration of the security situation. The additional peacekeepers will bring the total number of MINUSCA military personnel to 11,650.
MINUSCA should deploy to all areas where civilians lack sufficient protection and improve its operational capacity to rapidly respond to emerging threats.
Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes, including by cooperating with the ICC. Significant financial and logistical resources are still needed to operationalize the Special Criminal Court. MINUSCA should assist the authorities to initiate investigations and ensure accountability for mass atrocity crimes.
The international community must enable the government to uphold its Responsibility to Protect, including through supporting structural reforms of the justice and security sectors.
Last Updated: 15 November 2017