Your Excellency,

We write following our mission to Central African Republic (CAR) at your invitation earlier this year. We would like to thank you once again for inviting Human Rights Watch to meet with you and welcome your stated commitment to reducing human rights abuses in your country. 

Since our first visit to CAR in mid-2007, the government of CAR has taken significant steps towards protection of human rights and ending abuse of civilians, including abuses by government forces.  We welcome your efforts to increase training for military personnel in human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as the newly created office for International Humanitarian Law within the armed forces.

However we remain deeply concerned by the continuing lack of accountability for extensive human rights abuses committed in CAR, by both government forces and rebels, since 2005. Despite detailed evidence of these atrocities being documented in detail in public reports by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations, many of those responsible - particularly government soldiers - continue to enjoy total impunity. In particular we are concerned that with the passage of a new amnesty law on September 29, 2008, despite the exclusion for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, such crimes will continue to go unpunished. Those alleged to be responsible - including Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkosset who commanded a unit of the Garde Présidentielle (GP) reported to have carried out the summary execution of at least 51 individuals - remain not only at liberty, but in their posts or  promoted, and in a position to further the ongoing cycle of violence in CAR. 

We urge the government of CAR to:

  • Investigate and prosecute all crimes excluded from the amnesty law - including crimes coming under the competence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) - and prosecute those responsible, including those who are liable under the principle of command responsibility for failing to prevent or punish the crimes.
  • Ensure that as peace negotiations continue any further amnesty agreement or law explicitly excludes crimes coming under the competence of the ICC; i.e. war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
  • Investigate and remove from post any soldier or government official responsible for such crimes, or any other serious violation of human rights or international humanitarian law. Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkosset should immediately be removed from his post and fully investigated by the Permanent Military Tribunal.
  • Fully cooperate with and facilitate any ICC investigation into serious crimes committed since 2005 in CAR, including responding in a timely manner to requests from the ICC for information.
  • Take all other necessary measures to establish rule of law and protection of civilians throughout CAR including through deploying sufficient and well trained military personnel, police, and resources to areas affected by banditry and insecurity to ensure that civilians are protected from further attacks. All such personnel should be trained in international human rights norms, as well as in international humanitarian law where applicable.

Ongoing Impunity in CAR

According to information gathered from witnesses and victims in northern CAR by Human Rights Watch, between mid-2005 and mid-2007 government forces have killed hundreds of civilians, burned more than 10,000 homes and forced more than 200,000 to flee their homes. Rebel groups have been responsible for killings, beatings, rape, looting and forced taxation of civilians.[1]

As you know, on September 29, 2008 the National Assembly passed a new amnesty law, which follows an amnesty provision included in the peace agreement signed by the government and two rebel groups in Libreville on June 21, 2008. The law provides amnesties for government and rebel forces for crimes committed in the course of the conflict, but specifically excludes crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC - war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Individuals responsible for such crimes in CAR are explicitly excluded from the amnesty law; indeed any attempt to provide amnesty for such crimes would in any event be ineffective under international law. Many incidents documented by Human Rights Watch and others in CAR since 2005 amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. The conflicts in CAR amount to internal, non-international armed conflicts.  In such conflicts acts that amount to war crimes include willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population or individual civilians not taking part in hostilities or extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.

Where certain of these or other acts - including murder torture or rape - are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population, they may constitute crimes against humanity. A person may be criminally responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity either for committing such crimes directly (including by giving orders), or on the principle of command responsibility where he or she was in a position of responsibility and failed to prevent or punish such crimes.

Human Rights Watch has gathered evidence of a number of acts that would constitute such crimes,[2] including:

  • At least 119 summary executions and unlawful killings by government security forces in the northwest and northeast. At least 51 of these executions were committed by a single military unit - the Bossangoa-based GP unit, commanded at the time by Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkosset. This unit was responsible for a number of extremely brutal attacks, including a spate of attacks on Feb 11, 2006 in which the unit killed at least 30 civilians in more than a dozen separate villages along the Nana-Barya to Bemal road. On March 22, 2006 the same unit beheaded a teacher in Bemal, cutting off his head with a knife while he was still alive. On October 7, 2006 the unit extrajudicially executed five civilian men in Ouandago. The regular forces (Forces Armées centrafricaines (FACA)) have also been responsible for unlawful killings. FACA killed at least 27 civilians in the aftermath of clashes with rebels in Paoua in January 29-30, 2006, many of them shot while fleeing. FACA also arrested and beat at least eight detainees following that attack, killing six of them.
  • The burning of more than 10,000 civilian homes and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians - often in direct response to recent rebel activity and amounting to unlawful reprisals against the civilian population. For example in December 2005 GP and FACA forces burned down 400 to 900 houses near Markounda in Ouham Pende; in October 2006 the FACA and GP burned more than 1,000 houses in Ouandago. In May 2007 the GP burned 532 civilian homes around Ngaoundaye in apparent retaliation for the rebel murder of a government official.[3]
  • During the same period Human Rights Watch also documented serious abuses by rebel groups. The Armée populaire pour la restauration de la Républiqe et la démocratie (APRD) carried out extortion, forced taxation, kidnapping for ransom, beatings of civilians and rape in the northwest. APRD rebels also recruited significant numbers of child soldiers, some as young as 12, and carried out at least one summary execution (at Gbaïzera in June 2006). In the northeast the Union des forces démocratiques pour la rassemblement (UFDR) were responsible for unlawful killings in late 2006 when they fired indiscriminately at civilians during attacks on villages, summarily executed captured civilians and beat civilians to extort money, goods or information.

When HRW first visited CAR in mid-2007 no military officer had been punished or publicly reprimanded for their role in these crimes. However when Human Rights Watch returned to CAR at your invitation in March 2008 we found that you had taken certain important steps to address these issues. In mid-2007, following a spate of abuses by these forces in the northwest, you issued orders to both the GP and FACA that attacks on civilians must end, and withdrew most of the GP forces from the northwest region. This has not ended but has reduced the human rights violations in the region. In addition you have made important efforts to increase training for FACA personnel, as well as the newly created role of ‘International Humanitarian Law Officer' in the FACA.

However impunity for these abuses continues. While some members of the GP responsible for crimes in the northwest have now been demoted or dishonorably discharged, others remain in post. Eugène Ngaïkosset, whose role in the worst atrocities has been well documented and publicized by Human Rights Watch and many others, has not been dismissed, or publicly reprimanded. Instead he has been promoted to the rank of captain and placed in charge of a GP security brigade.

CAR's Permanent Military Tribunal has jurisdiction to try crimes and violations of military law committed by members of the security forces. However a non-public government report seen by HRW in March 2008 noted that the tribunal officials had ignored widespread and grave violations carried out by the GP and FACA since 2005, dismissing such abuses as the normal consequences of counterinsurgency. In its most recent session in March and April 2008 the tribunal dealt with 24 cases. Of these only two relate to more serious crimes: one of a sub-lieutenant for having summarily executed four civilians at Ngaoundaye in June 2007 who was sentenced to five years, and one for an individual who killed a civilian in a marketplace in the northwest and was sentenced to 20 years.  Both individuals are now reported to have been granted amnesty and may go free. 

Ending impunity for the atrocities carried out in CAR since 2005, whether by government forces or rebels, is essential in ending the cycle of violence in CAR and ensuring protection for civilians. As long as government or rebel forces believe they are immune from prosecution for war crimes, including summary execution and large-scale willful destruction of civilian property, such tactics will continue. We therefore ask you to take urgent steps to ensure that all those responsible for war crimes and other crimes that are - rightly - excluded from the amnesty law are prosecuted. Such action would strengthen the important progress your government has made to end atrocities and other abuses of human rights in your country.

Sincerely,

Georgette Gagnon
Africa Director
Human Rights Watch


 


[1] Human Rights Watch, State of Anarchy: Rebellion and Abuses Against Civilians, vol. 19, no. 14(A), September 2007, https://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/09/13/state-anarchy.

[2] Except where noted each of these incidents is based on testimony gathered by Human Rights Watch in February and March 2007 and documented in Human Rights Watch, State of Anarchy: Rebellion and Abuses Against Civilians, vol. 19, no. 14(A), September 2007, https://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/09/13/state-anarchy.

[3] Human Rights Watch interview with CAR government official, Bangui, CAR, March 7, 2008.