Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to face an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes as fighting amongst armed groups continues in almost every region outside of the capital, Bangui. Since May 2017 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). 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.
Sporadic violence is also occurring in the northwest of CAR, particularly in Batangafo and Ngaoundaye. At least 60,000 civilians have been forced to flee intense clashes between armed groups in the Paoua region of northwest CAR since late December.
Pervasive insecurity has also created a safe haven for other armed groups, including the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), whose fighters attack communities and engage in looting, abductions and sexual violence in the east and southeast of the country.
Direct attacks against humanitarian staff and UN peacekeepers resulted in the death of 16 peacekeepers and 14 humanitarian workers during 2017. Several humanitarian agencies have suspended their work and relocated from highly insecure areas, leaving more than 110,000 civilians without life-saving assistance.
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. The current escalation of violence is not only rooted in divisions between the Muslim
and Christian communities, but is fueled by economic interests and shifting alliances between various predatory armed groups.
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. 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. UNICEF has also warned that children have been targeted during recent attacks, with reports of rape, abduction and recruitment into armed groups.
The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in CAR has increased by 50 percent since January 2017, with half of the more than 633,000 IDPs being children. In addition, more than 545,000 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, FPRC and LRA, at least 10 other armed groups operate in CAR, competing for territory, power and resources. According to the UN, an estimated 70 percent of the country (14 out of 16 provinces) is still controlled by armed groups. Illegal trafficking allows for arms proliferation and armed groups benefit from revenues generated through the control of roads and natural resource extraction sites, such as diamond and gold mines.
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, calling for them to 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.
In many parts of the country MINUSCA remains the only force capable of maintaining security, but it continues to face critical capacity gaps that impede its ability to consistently uphold its civilian protection mandate. 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 eleven 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.
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 improve its operational ability to rapidly respond to emerging threats. The additional 900 peacekeepers must be deployed as soon as possible to strengthen the mission's civilian protection mandate.
Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes, including by cooperating with the International Criminal Court. 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 protective responsibilities, including through supporting structural reforms of the justice and security sectors.
Last Updated: 15 January 2018