July 9, 2012

Dated May 28, 2012/Made public July 9, 2012

His Excellency the Minister of Justice
Mr. Firmin Findiro
Bangui
Central African Republic

Copied for information:                                                                               

-        His Excellency President François Bozizé
-        His Excellency Jean Francis Bozizé, Deputy Minister of Defense
-        Mr. Alain Tolmo, Public Prosecutor for the Tribunal de Grande Instance
         de Bangui
-        Mr. Mordjim Ghislain, Public Prosecutor for the Tribunal de Grande
        
Instance de Bangassou

Re: Massacre in the CAWA Concession, Mbomou Prefecture, March 2012

Your Excellency,

I write to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch regarding your office’s investigation into the massacre of 13 Central African citizens near the Ngunguinza gold mine in the Central African Wildlife Adventures (CAWA) hunting concession on or around March 20, 2012. Human Rights Watch is an independent nongovernmental human rights organization that monitors and reports on human rights abuses by states and non-state actors in more than 90 countries around the world.

Human Rights Watch conducted a preliminary investigation into this massacre in late March and early April 2012 and we believe the evidence indicates that these killings could have been perpetrated by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). I wish to share our findings and analysis with you in the hope that it can assist in your investigations and help to bring to justice those responsible for this terrible crime.

As you know, around March 20, 2012, a group of 13 men were killed in a remote area 164 kilometers northeast of the village of Bakouma in the Mbomou prefecture. The men had been looking for gold in the western part of the CAWA hunting concession, a 20,000 square-kilometer concession located north of the village of Rafai, east of the village of Yalinga, and west of the Vovodo River. While the attack was initially thought to be carried out by the LRA, suspicion quickly fell on the foreign managers of the CAWA hunting concession who were suspected to have ordered their guards, known as the “archers,” to kill the men, allegedly because the camp’s managers were opposed to the illegal artisanal gold mining activities on the concession.

Human Rights Watch undertook a mission to Central African Republic (CAR) in late March and early April to conduct research on human rights violations by the LRA and other armed groups operating in southeastern CAR. Our researchers have visited CAR a number of times over the years and documented abuses such as killings, torture and child soldier recruitment by the Central African armed forces and non-state armed groups, including in recent years the LRA.

During the course of our recent research we heard about the CAWA massacre. Since it was one of the most violent single incidents committed in CAR in recent years, our researcher went to the area and interviewed those who discovered the bodies, family members of the deceased, CAWA employees, Central African army soldiers, local authorities, judicial officials and gendarmes who had investigated the massacre.

Based on our research, we believe that the perpetrators of this massacre may have been members of the LRA. Eyewitness accounts indicate that LRA combatants were present in the area in the weeks and months before the massacre. The way in which the victims were killed also bears a strong resemblance to an LRA attack: the victims were found lying face down on the ground, some had their hands tied, and nearly all appeared to have been beaten to death with large pieces of wood, particularly by blows to the head. The attackers stripped the clothes from a number of the victims, leaving them naked or partially naked.

Over more than 15 years of research on the LRA, Human Rights Watch has documented many similar massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and northern Uganda. For example, in massacres in 2008 and 2009 in northern Congo, LRA combatants killed their victims in precisely the same manner. I attach a detailed account of our findings with further information.

There are no known witnesses to the massacre near the Ngunguinza gold mine and it was therefore not possible at this stage for Human Rights Watch to determine with certainty that the perpetrators were LRA combatants. However, we believe that this possibility is strong and should be given serious consideration as part of your office’s investigations.

Judicial officials investigating the massacre told Human Rights Watch that the primary suspects were the Swedish manager and owner of the CAWA hunting concession, Erik Mararv, the British pilot and CAWA employee, David Simpson, and other Central African CAWA employees. On May 8, 2012, after being held for several weeks without charge, 13 CAWA employees, including Mararv and Simpson, were declared formal suspects.

Human Rights Watch researched the possibility that the camp’s managers and CAWA staff may have been involved in the massacre. We found that some members of the local population had strong views that the CAWA managers were responsible for the killings, but we found no compelling evidence to back up the theory. There were tensions between CAWA managers and employees with the artisanal gold miners who worked illegally on the hunting concession. CAWA employees had repeatedly instructed the miners to leave, attempted to frighten them and, in some cases, taken tools from them which were only returned when the miners returned to the nearest town. However, none of these previous altercations had resulted in violence.

We do not of course have all the evidence that might be in your possession. However, we find unconvincing the argument that these tensions would escalate to the level of violence of a massacre ordered by the CAWA manager, especially when such violence would likely have a direct impact on visitor numbers to the hunting concession. The CAWA manager was the first to inform the authorities of the massacre and CAWA employees took the authorities to the site of the crime the day after the bodies were discovered. Such behavior does not suggest to us that of individuals who might have been involved in the crime. You will find further information in the document attached.

We are concerned about a possible miscarriage of justice and wish to urge you to take appropriate steps to ensure there is an in-depth investigation into these killings that fully explores all possible leads, critically reviews the current case, and takes into account the information we present in the annex to this letter. Like you, we wish to see justice done for this terrible crime and that those who were responsible are appropriately held to account on the basis of solid evidence.

I also wish to express my concern at the length of time the 13 CAWA employees were held without charge. Central African law permits authorities to hold individuals for questioning for 72 hours, which is renewable by a further 72 hours if required, but not beyond. This limit was passed for all the 13 CAWA employees who are detained. Now that the individuals have been declared formal suspects, I urge you to act to ensure that due process is followed and that if the case moves to trial, it is credible, fair, and follows international standards.

In conclusion, please allow me to extend my sincere appreciation of the cooperation received by Human Rights Watch from judicial and military officials during our recent visit to the Central African Republic. We stand ready to assist your investigations where we can, within the limitations of our mandate, to ensure that justice is done.

Yours sincerely,

Daniel Bekele
Director, Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

 

 

Annex

Human Rights Watch Preliminary Findings on the March 2012 Massacre at the CAWA Hunting Concession

Human Rights Watch carried out research in the Central African Republic between March 24 and April 9, 2012. During this research, Human Rights Watch visited Bakouma, Bangassou, and the capital, Bangui, to investigate the massacre near the Ngunguinza gold mine in the CAWA hunting concession where 13 men were killed. Human Rights Watch interviewed those who discovered the bodies, family members of the dead, CAWA employees, local authorities, judicial officials, and gendarmes and Central African army (FACA) soldiers who investigated the massacre. In Bakouma, Human Rights Watch saw one of the sticks covered with blood that had been found near the site of the massacre, and also saw photographs taken soon after the bodies were discovered. Human Rights Watch also collected information about previous LRA attacks in the area.

The Massacre
On or around March 20, 2012, a group of 13 men were killed in a remote area 164 kilometers northeast of the village of Bakouma in the Mbomou prefecture of eastern Central African Republic. The men had been looking for gold in the Ngunguinza gold mine in the western part of the CAWA hunting concession, a 20,000 square-kilometer concession located north of the village of Rafai, east of the village of Yalinga, and west of the Vovodo River.

On March 22, the bodies of six of the victims were discovered by a team of seven CAWA employees, including a British man, David Simpson, who had been marking the forest for a new road near CAWA’s Bonga camp. Upon discovering the bodies, the CAWA employees contacted the owner of the camp, Erik Mararv, who was at the main base. He immediately informed the authorities in Bakouma. The following day, on March 23, a team of Gendarmerie, FACA soldiers, and CAWA employees returned to the massacre site. They saw the six bodies and then discovered seven other bodies about 400 meters away.

According to those present, interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the victims were found lying face down on the ground, and appeared to have been beaten to death with machetes and pieces of wood, with noticeable wounds to the head. The bodies had not visibly begun to decompose, indicating the killings probably occurred a day or two prior. Four of the bodies were tied up. Many were stripped naked, and all of their belongings, including any gold they might have found, had been taken. There are no known witnesses to the attack.

A stick covered in blood was found near the massacre site, as were traces in the dirt that appeared to be from gumboots, according to CAWA employees who discovered the bodies.

Soon after the CAWA employees discovered the bodies, a group of four artisanal miners arrived at Ngunguinza gold mine. They became suspicious when they saw the miners’ camp was deserted and they then slowly moved up river. As they approached the area where the bodies of the 13 men were found, from a distance they saw the CAWA employees surrounding six of the dead bodies. One of the four artisanal gold miners panicked and fled, hastily returning to Bakouma where he reported that the “white safari men” had killed the other artisanal gold miners. Seeing that his three companions had not returned, he also reported that they had been abducted by the CAWA employees. His report of the events quickly spread. In the days that followed, angry villagers in Bakouma burned the CAWA warehouse and truck, and looted all materials and diesel they found inside.

A few days later, the three men who had falsely been reported as being abducted by CAWA employees returned to Bakouma. They reported that they had not been abducted, but instead had spoken to the CAWA employees who were at the massacre site and returned with them to the CAWA camp. Their story was substantially different than that of their companion who had returned earlier, but by this point many people in Bakouma were convinced that the perpetrators of the massacre were CAWA employees.

Similarities to Previous LRA Attacks
The methods used to kill the 13 men strongly resembled those used by a Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Over more than 15 years of research on the LRA, Human Rights Watch has documented many similar massacres committed by LRA combatants in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and northern Uganda.

On Christmas Day, 2008, for example, the LRA slaughtered 82 men, women, and children in the small hamlet of Batande, about eight kilometers northeast of Doruma town in northern Congo. Human Rights Watch interviewed witnesses to the massacre and found evidence on the site, including fresh gravesites, pools of dried blood, cords and rubber strips used to tie up victims, and five large blood-stained sticks. Witnesses who survived the attacks described how LRA combatants had quickly tied up their victims and crushed their skulls with heavy wooden sticks, leaving their bodies to rot in the forests around the small settlement.[1]

In December 2009, the LRA carried out a similar attack killing more than 345 civilians and abducting more than 250 others, including at least 80 children, in the Makombo area of northern Congo. The vast majority of those killed were adult men who were first tied up before LRA combatants hacked them to death with machetes or crushed their skulls with axes or heavy wooden sticks. Family members and local authorities later found battered bodies tied to trees; other bodies were found in the forest or brush land, some with their hands tied, along the 105-kilometer round-trip journey made by the LRA group during the four-day operation.[2]

Human Rights Watch has also interviewed dozens of children and adults abducted by the LRA in Congo, South Sudan and CAR who later managed to escape. They described how they were often forced to kill by beating victims to death with heavy wooden sticks and machetes. A 19-year-old woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Rafai, Mbomou Distict, for example, spent over a year with the LRA before she escaped in January 2012. She described how she and the others abducted with her had been forced to kill two people from Agoumar who tried to escape, by beating them to death with heavy sticks.

LRA Sighting in the CAWA Hunting Concession
The LRA were active in and around the CAWA hunting concession in 2011 and 2012. Human Rights Watch documented several occasions when the LRA were sighted or attacked civilians. Many of these attacks had been documented by local authorities.

Gendarmerie officials in Bakouma also told Human Rights Watch that they suspect the LRA currently has a camp somewhere between Bakouma and CAWA’s main safari camp, although they do not know the precise location. Given the remoteness and massive size of the largely unpopulated region, it is very possible that groups of LRA combatants have been based in the hunting concession without being noticed by CAR authorities or others. The CAR Gendarmerie and military are largely not present in the concession, and one-third of the hunting concession has not yet been exploited by the CAWA managers or employees.

On March 13, 2011, the LRA attacked the village of Nzako, killing two civilians and abducting several others to transport looted goods. In April 2011, the owner and manager of the CAWA hunting concession, Erik Mararv, was abducted by the LRA with another CAWA employee for several hours before they were both released. On July 1, in Denguiro about 30 kilometers from Bakouma, the LRA abducted and later released nine individuals. In late 2011, fishermen saw a group of suspected LRA combatants about 20 kilometers from Bakouma. They fled and reported what they had seen to local authorities in Bakouma. There were also several other incidents in 2011 when cattle herder groups reported that they had been harassed by the LRA. Tracks were also seen by CAWA employees in the forests of the concession that were suspected to be from LRA combatants.

On January 22, 2012, two young male CAWA employees were abducted by a group of 20 LRA combatants. According to one of those abducted, the LRA looted their vehicle and then forced the two men to transport the stolen goods through the forest for two days before releasing them.

Those who discovered the bodies at the massacre site in March 2012 also found tracks that appeared to be from gumboots of the kind that only the LRA are known to wear in the region.

Investigation into the Massacre
Central African authorities are currently investigating the March 2012 massacre in the CAWA concession. Judicial officials told Human Rights Watch that their primary suspect is the manager of the hunting concession, Erik Mararv, who has leased the hunting concession from the Central African government since 2006. In 2010, the camp hired about 25 guards known as “archers,” armed with bows and arrows, to help track animals and secure the camp sites from possible attacks by the LRA and other rebel groups. About two or three guards are deployed to each of the concession’s main camp sites. According to one of the theories currently being pursued by judicial investigators, these “archers” may have carried out the massacre on the orders of the CAWA camp manager.

Human Rights Watch researched the possibility that the camp’s managers and staff may have been involved in the massacre. We found that some members of the local population had strong views that the CAWA managers were responsible for the killings, possibly because of the rumour of their involvement described above spread quickly, but we found no compelling evidence to back up the theory. CAWA employees had been the first to alert the authorities to the massacre and led them to the site shortly after the bodies were discovered. There were some tensions between CAWA management and the artisanal miners on the hunting concession and CAWA employees had instructed them to leave and, in some cases, taken tools from them which were only returned once the diggers returned to the nearest town. But none of these previous altercations had resulted in violence.

An artisanal miner interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed that on February 26, 2012, he had been threatened by CAWA employees, who showed him three skulls as a warning of what could happen if he were to return to the hunting concession.

CAWA employees said they had asked the artisanal gold miners not to mine in the hunting area, since it is illegal, and also not to bring guns, which some of them did for poaching activities. When these appeals were unsuccessful, one of the CAWA employees attempted to frighten the artisanal gold miners. The employees showed artisanal gold miners small plastic skulls, put them on the ground, and told the miners that the “white man’s magic” would remove the gold from the area, and encouraged them to return home. CAWA employees now say they regret this incident. They say they never physically threatened the gold diggers, but only wanted to frighten them from entering the hunting concession to mine for gold.

While the CAWA managers and employees opposed the presence of artisanal gold diggers in their concession, Human Rights Watch did not find convincing evidence to indicate the camp authorities ordered or carried out the massacre. That tensions would escalate to the level of violence of a massacre ordered by the camp manager is unconvincing, especially when such violence would likely have a direct impact on visitor numbers to the hunting concession.

At least 13 employees of the camp are currently being held in prison, including Mararv who has been in prison in Bangui since March 24 and the British pilot and camp employee, David Simpson, held since April 3. Central African law permits authorities to hold individuals for questioning for 72 hours, which is renewable by a further 72 hours if required, but not beyond that. This limit was passed for all 13 detained Camp CAWA employees before May 8, 2012, when they were declared official suspects who may have been involved in the murder of 13 people in the Ngunguinza gold mine. Individuals can be “official suspects” in CAR for up to six months while a judge investigates and decides whether they should be charged or released.

Conclusion
As there are no known witnesses to the massacre, it is difficult to confirm with certainty who was responsible for the massacre of 13 men in the CAWA hunting concession in mid-March 2012. However there are strong indications that the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), carried out the attack. The LRA has a known presence in the area, and has used similar tactics in other killings and massacres committed over the course of the group’s 25-year history in northern Uganda, South Sudan, northern Democratic Republic of Congo, and eastern Central African Republic.

To help provide justice for the victims and their families, to better inform efforts to protect civilians in this remote area of Central African Republic, and to help ensure that the innocent are not wrongly accused, we hope that judicial officials will carry out a thorough investigation into the massacre, exploring all possible leads, including the possibility that the attack was committed by the LRA.

For the CAWA manager and employees who were recently made official suspects, we urge that the case against them is reviewed and that the evidence is closely scrutinized. We also urge that due process is followed and that should there be a trial, that it is credible, fair, and follows national and international standards.

 

 

 



[1]Human Rights Watch, The Christmas Massacres: LRA attacks on Civilians in Northern Congo, February 2009, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2009/02/16/christmas-massacres-0

[2]Human Rights Watch, Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo,March 2010,http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/03/28/trail-death;“DR Congo: New Round of LRA Killing Campaign” Human Rights Watch news release, May 21, 2010,  http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/05/20/dr-congo-new-round-lra-killing-campaign