Populations at Risk Current Crisis

Central African Republic

Populations in the Central African Republic are facing mass atrocity crimes due to ongoing violence committed by various armed groups.
BACKGROUND:
Civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) are facing mass atrocity crimes as fighting amongst armed groups continues in almost every region of the country, causing large scale displacement.

The 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 predominately Christian anti-balaka militias and the collapse of state institutions. The recent escalation of violence is not only rooted in divisions between the Muslim and Christian communities, but is fueled by shifting alliances between various predatory armed groups.

Most fighters currently belong to either the anti-balaka, including affiliated "self-defense groups," or are members of armed groups loosely affiliated to the ex-Séléka rebel alliance. The intensification of violence has particularly affected the northwest, where fighting between the Révolution Justice armed group and the Mouvement de Libération du Peuple Centrafricain, an ex-Séléka group, has resulted in the displacement of more than 80,000 civilians in the Ouham-Pendé region since December 2017. Activities by the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique also continue to fuel instability in northeast CAR.

The humanitarian and human rights situation has also worsened in the southeast, where clashes continue between so-called "self-defense groups" and the ex-Séléka Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique. The UN Security Council (UNSC)-mandated Panel of Experts on CAR has reported that hate speech and incitement to ethnic and religious-based violence has reached unprecedented levels and warned that some anti-balaka affiliated groups are carrying out targeted attacks against the Muslim population.

On 3 April anti-balaka fighters attacked a base of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) in the town of Tagbara, killing one peacekeeper. Twenty-two of the anti-balaka attackers were also killed. Later that day UN peacekeepers discovered the bodies of 21 civilians, including women and children, who had been killed near a church in Tagbara.

Violence has also surged in Bangui where MINUSCA troops battled with armed militias and criminal gangs in the PK5 area for several days. Beginning on 8 April, fighting between UN peacekeepers and armed men resulted in the death of one peacekeeper and more than twenty PK5 residents. On 11 April the dead bodies of a number of PK5 residents were left outside MINUSCA headquarters following a protest. On 2 May an armed attack against a church near the PK5 area killed at least 16 worshipers, including a priest.

A report published by 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. The UN Children's Fund has also warned that children have been targeted during attacks, with reports of rape, abduction and recruitment into armed groups.

Direct attacks by armed groups have also resulted in the death of 20 humanitarian workers since the beginning of 2017. As a result of increasing violence, several humanitarian agencies have suspended their work.

The number of internally displaced persons has increased by more than 70 percent since the beginning of 2017 and is now at the highest level recorded in CAR. More than a quarter of the country's population have fled their homes, with more than 690,000 Central Africans internally displaced and almost 570,000 refugees in neighboring countries.

ANALYSIS:
Governmental control remains extremely limited in most areas outside Bangui. According to the UN, an estimated 70 percent of the country is still in the hands of armed groups competing for territory, power and resources. Illegal trafficking allows for arms proliferation and armed groups benefit from revenues generated through the control of roads and natural resource extraction sites.

Despite the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for CAR, a hybrid judicial mechanism that was created in 2015 to prosecute those responsible for mass atrocity crimes, the Court is not yet fully operational and 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. Fifteen UN peacekeepers were killed during 2017, highlighting the highly insecure environment MINUSCA is operating in.

The CAR government requires sustained international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
The UNSC has passed 11 resolutions since October 2013 that emphasize the government's responsibility to protect all populations in CAR, including Resolution 2399 of 30 January 2018 which extended the sanctions regime that has been in place since 2013. The resolution authorized the imposition of travel bans and asset freezes on those who incite ethnic or religious violence.

In May 2014 the government referred the situation in CAR to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by both Séléka and anti-balaka forces since 2012.

On 15 November 2017 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2387, authorizing the deployment of an additional 900 MINUSCA troops to protect civilians and prevent further deterioration of the security situation. The additional peacekeepers will bring the total number of authorized MINUSCA military personnel to more than 11,000.

NECESSARY ACTION:
MINUSCA must improve its ability to rapidly respond to emerging threats and strengthen its civilian protection capability. The 900 additional peacekeepers should be deployed as soon as possible. MINUSCA should also continue to bolster local disarmament and reconciliation efforts.

Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the government should also prioritize accountability for mass atrocity crimes by carrying out national criminal prosecutions as well as by cooperating with the ICC. Significant financial and logistical resources are still needed to fully operationalize the Special Criminal Court.

The international community must enable the government to uphold its protective responsibilities and restore state authority throughout the entire country.

Last Updated: 15 May 2018

The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Central African Republic has been featured in the R2P Monitor since July 2013.