Rarely has a country with such a dangerously poor human rights record been so forgotten by the rest of the world. The people of Central African Republic (CAR) endure a daily reality of unpredictable spates of violence, where fear is used as a weapon and where severe trauma from years of the same runs deep.
I hold grave concerns that the relentless cycle of communal, religious and ethnic violence that the people of CAR know all too well will escalate even further, with major setbacks for peace and reconciliation efforts.
Every day, the civilian population suffer excessive abuses at the hands of armed groups, defence and security forces, and personnel from private military and security companies. Attacks are only intensifying, and illegal arrests and detentions are widespread.
International human rights and humanitarian law abuses and violations continue to mount and have increased in the past two months. In each quarter of 2022, the number of victims as documented by the Human Rights Division of MINUSCA was markedly higher than the previous – more than doubling from 564 in the first quarter, to 1,300 in the last.
According to evidence available to my Office, State forces and their allies committed 58% of these violations in the last quarter of 2022 – ranging from illegal arrests and detentions, ill-treatment and torture, maiming, and killings. They specifically target the Fulani and Muslim communities, accused or suspected of being accomplices to the armed groups.
In the same period, we estimate that armed groups signatory to the peace agreement were responsible for 35% of the abuses documented, affecting 28% of victims. These abuses consisted mainly of destruction and appropriation of property, killings and other abuses of the right to life, abductions, detention, ill-treatment and maiming.
As raised by a group of UN independent experts in October last year, personnel from private military and security companies continue to violently harass and intimidate civilians, including peacekeepers, journalists, aid workers and minorities. They have also received reports of rape and sexual violence against women, men and young girls.
Several recent incidents perpetrated by all parties to the conflict highlight the scale and severity of violations. On 28 October 2022, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and the internal security forces arbitrarily arrested, detained and extorted 64 civilians in the Bornour area of Bria.
In December, my Office documented two cases of violent rape by the very people supposed to protect civilians: the first by a member of the armed forces in the Nana-Grébizi prefecture, and the second by a police officer in Ippy in the Ouaka préfecture.
Also in December, near Bakouma in Mbomou préfecture, fighters from the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, part of theCoalition of Patriots for Change, ambushed civilians, shot dead five of them, injured others and looted all their goods.
And more recently, in January 2023 in Ouham-Pendé préfecture, we understand that the Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation armed group abducted a Fulani herder and two teenage boys, releasing them several days later after the payment of ransoms.
Children are never spared the ravages of conflict, and in CAR – where children under 14 comprise over 40 percent of the population – their vulnerability is especially acute. They are separated from their parents, causing untold trauma. They are without adequate shelter, they are deprived of education. More than half a million children aged 3-17 in CAR are out of school, or are at risk of having to leave due to a critical lack of qualified teachers and inadequate school facilities.
A lack of healthcare has led to rates of child mortality amongst the highest on the African continent, where one in ten children will die before they reach their fifth birthday.
They are recruited into armed groups, they are detained arbitrarily.
And children, especially girls, are subjected to deplorable acts of conflict-related sexual violence.
Last year, the Human Rights Division documented that 647 children were victims of child rights violations, the majority of which involved the use of children in the armed conflict, attacks on their physical integrity and freedom, arbitrary detentions and conflict-related sexual violence Other grave violations include killings, maimings and forced labour.
I call on the Government to urgently adopt practical measures to prevent these serious violations and to provide comprehensive care for victims. The economic exploitation of children, as well as their trafficking, are grave crimes that must be immediately addressed.
I also encourage the Government to implement the code of the protection of the child (Law No. 20.014 of 15 June 2020) in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, as well as its international obligations set out notably in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its optional protocols on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, respectively , and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Pervasive impunity – including an absence of judicial authorities and the lack of a functioning judicial system — remains one of the biggest obstacles for the country to surmount.
Compounding this is the deeply fragile security context, extreme poverty, a chronic lack of funding and regional disparities.
Some progress has been made, including investigations of 14 cases by the Special Criminal Court. It issued its first verdict on 31 October last year, finding three former members of an armed group guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The February-March criminal session of the Bangui Court of Appeal recently concluded, putting on trial 32 individuals from the Anti-balakas armed group for violence committed in 2017 in Bangassou and other communities in the country’s southeast. Twenty-eight were convicted and received sentences. Additionally, the Central African Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission (CVJRR) has conducted training and awareness-raising and has now established branches in six cities.
But the gaping holes in the justice system remain.
The Bambari Court of Appeal – intended to address cases of human rights violations and abuses – has not yet begun criminal sessions. And the majority of courts which were set up six years ago to try military personnel alleged to have perpetrated human rights violations are still not operational.
I welcome efforts by the CAR authorities to strengthen the human rights protection framework, including the creation of a new management team for the National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
But much more must be done to address the catastrophic consequences of intense conflict, and the shocking abuses which occur day after day.
I call on all parties to put an end to these atrocities. The authorities have a responsibility to ensure better protection of civilians and to hold all perpetrators to account.
The full launch and functioning of all criminal and other courts, in accordance with international standards, is critical and must be accelerated. The authorities must also provide their full support to the transitional justice institutions, in particular the Special Criminal Court and the CVJRR, so they can effectively carry out their work.
I also urge a strong investment by the Government in the health and education systems.
And for the millions of internally displaced people in particular, it is of the utmost importance that the Government ensures adequate shelter and food, and access to clean water and sanitation facilities.
There are no simple solutions to address the complexity of the violence in CAR and all of its far-reaching consequences. Untenable situations require urgent and decisive responses. I count on the international community to assist and ensure that the people of CAR have the support and resources they need to rebuild their lives.