UN documents grave human rights violations in CAR

The human rights situation remains extremely volatile in the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN Human Rights Office said Tuesday as it released its findings on an earlier wave of human rights violations in December.

Although the number of clashes appears to have slightly diminished in recent days, around 40 people are reported to have been killed in Bangui since Friday and a number of kidnappings, mutilations and widespread looting also occurred over the weekend.

More violence, killings and looting have also been reported in other parts of the country in recent days, the UN Human Rights Office said. On January 11, in the town of Bozum, anti-Balaka reportedly attacked a convoy of Muslim civilians, leaving several people dead and injured, in reprisal for previous attacks by ex-Séléka, including the killing of ten people and the burning of hundreds of houses. On January 8, anti-Balaka also reportedly attacked the village of Boyali, causing the death of more than ten Muslim civilians. Ex-Séléka allegedly burned hundreds of houses belonging to Christians in Boyali in retaliation.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday issued the preliminary findings* of a four-person team that was deployed in CAR from 12-24 December which describe a cycle of widespread human rights violations and reprisals. These include extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, mutilations, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, rape and the deliberate targeting of civilians based on their religion.

The High Commissioner Navi Pillay warned that “despite some important reconciliation efforts in Bangui, the situation remains extremely volatile and dangerous. Without serious intervention, further attacks, including massive violations such as those that took place on 5 December may well re-occur.” However, she warned the new authorities not to resort to a shoot-to-kill policy, saying that “it is essential the Government’s own response does not breach international human rights law.”

The UN Human Rights team documented numerous extra-judicial killings perpetrated in Bangui on December 5 and 6, after the launch of a coordinated attack by anti-Balaka forces. During the clashes, anti-Balaka forces killed members of the ex-Séléka forces but also deliberately targeted Muslim civilians, including women and children.

During the reprisals that followed, numerous extra-judicial killings were also carried out by ex-Séléka forces. Ex-Séléka detained and reportedly executed civilian males, including boys, in Camp Kassai, and also searched for and executed men and boys at hospitals, including severely injured patients.

According to eyewitnesses, the local Muslim population participated in killings and looting, for example in the neighborhoods known as PK12 and PK23, where a group of men wearing military uniforms, along with Muslim Peul civilians, were seen entering civilian residences, allegedly separating the men from the women and killing them.

The team also documented cases of attacks on places of worship involving anti-Balaka attacking mosques, such as in Fouh District, where some 200 anti-Balaka reportedly attacked and burned the mosque, killing and mutilating several people.

Since the end of the first phase of intense fighting on 5-6 December, sporadic clashes continued, resulting in multiple incidents of tit-for-tat Muslim and Christian civilian killings, particularly in Bangui, but also in other parts of the country, such as Ouham and Nana-Mambéré Prefectures.

The UN human rights team found for example found that, on 7 December, two internally displaced people from Eglise Saint Paul, in Bangui, were allegedly killed by predominantly Muslim ex-Séléka forces. On 13 December, eight Christians and Muslims civilians were also killed in different Bangui neighborhoods. On 20 December, ex-Séléka reportedly opened fire at Saint Jacques monastery in Bangui, where approximately 20,000 internally displaced people had sought shelter, killing at least 27 people.

Testimonials collected from the Muslim community in the neighbourhoods of Combattant and Gabongo, and other areas of Bangui also described attacks and killings of Muslim civilians, including entire families, by predominantly Christian anti-Balaka forces.

In Bouar, human rights violations by anti-Balaka, ex-Séléka and civilians were reported throughout December, including killings and widespread burning of civilian homes. On December 11, in Loh village, reprisals after the arrest and execution of a man by ex-Séléka left at least 25 ex-Séléka and Muslim civilians dead and 33 injured. Following these killings, ex-Séléka and Muslim civilians reportedly attacked the Christian population in Loh and surrounding villages.

On 16 December, in an area located near Bossangoa, in Ouham Prefecture, a group of 10 women were allegedly killed by armed Muslim Peul civilians (Mbororos).

The preliminary findings suggest that the deployment of French troops and the reinforcement of African peacekeepers, and the subsequent cantonment of ex-Séléka fighters have to some extent deterred further large-scale attacks by ex-Séléka against anti-Balaka and Christian civilians. However, the mission received multiple reports that the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces left some Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks. There were several incidents in Bangui during which anti-Balaka or hostile mobs targeted and killed recently disarmed ex-Séléka elements and their families.

The OHCHR team also reports that it received multiple testimonies identifying certain ex-Séléka perpetrators as being Chadian nationals. Witnesses consistently reported that ex-Séléka, wearing the armbands of Chadian FOMAC peacekeepers, went from house to house searching for anti-Balaka, and shot and killed civilians. The team also said it received credible testimonies of collusion between some Chadian FOMAC elements and ex-Séléka forces.

“The widespread lawlessness and gross human rights violations highlighted in these preliminary findings confirm the need for urgent action and accountability,” Pillay said.

The High Commissioner will give a fuller account of her team’s findings, as well as an update on the current human rights situation during a Special Session called by the Human Rights Council which will take place in Geneva on 20 January.