(Johannesburg) – Members of the Seleka rebel coalition, which overthrew President François Bozizé of the Central African Republic on March 24, 2013, have targeted and killed at least 40 civilians, and intentionally destroyed 34 villages or towns since February. Human Rights Watch researchers in early June found extensive evidence of rampant abuses in largely rural areas outside the capital, Bangui.
The UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) will submit a report on the situation in Central African Republic to the UN Security Council before June 30 for a discussion at the UN Security Council in the coming weeks. The Security Council should consider options to reinforce peacekeeping outside of Banguiand adopt individual sanctions against Seleka leaders responsible for serious human rights violations. The Security Council should also demandfull cooperation from transition authorities for the ongoing fact-finding mission, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, into abuses committed in the country since December 2012.
“The world doesn’t seem to notice that the Central African Republic is facing a catastrophic situation,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director. “Seleka fighters are killing civilians and burning villages to the ground while some villagers are dying in the bush for lack of assistance.”
United Nations agencies and humanitarian nongovernmental organizations should make every effort to reach the affected population, assess their needs, and provide them with critical assistance.
Human Rights Watch researchers travelled to Bangui and the provinces of Mbomou in the southeast and Gribingui and Ouham in the north. Human Rights Watch was able to confirm that in attacks on 34 villages and towns, primarily carried out by Seleka fighters from February 11 to June 2, more than 1,000 houses had been burned and at least 40 civilians killed. Seleka forces targeted some communities to quell resistance and to pillage. During these attacks, the Seleka forces were shooting at civilians randomly, Human Rights Watch found.
Earlier in 2013, Human Rights Watch documented the grave human rights abuses against civilians, including pillage, summary executions, rape, and torture by Seleka members in Bangui.
Human Rights Watch researchers in June interviewed more than 100 witnesses to the attacks on civilians. In the Ouham province, witnesses described the killing of 13 civilians in the villages of Bade, Bougone, and Gbodoro on May 19; the killing of 10 civilians in the village of Ouin on May 1; and the killing of 5 civilians in the villages of Boubou and Zéré on April 18 and 20. Human Rights Watch also received credible reports of the killings of at least 12 civilians in the town of Ouango in the Mbomou province on April 21 and 22. Under international humanitarian law, murder and the deliberate targeting and killing of civilians constitute war crimes.
Witnesses said the attackers were Seleka fighters in uniform, sometimes in cooperation with armed Mbarara – nomadic pastoralists who move their cattle between Chad and the Central African Republic – who traveled on horseback or motorcycle. The Seleka fired on civilians, often while they were fleeing. One witness from the village of Gbade told Human Rights Watch, “When they entered the village, they started chasing at us [and] shot at people inside their homes or running outside toward the bush. Most of the villagers were shot in the back while running.”
Seleka forces and a self-proclaimed local official, Adoum Takaji, arrived in the village of Ouin on May 1, witnesses said. Villagers had fled to the bush because of previous violence. The Seleka and Takaji said to the villagers they were organizing a meeting to persuade the local population to return to their homes.
They convinced reluctant villagers to gather, assembled five men, tied them together and shot them. One witness told Human Rights Watch, “One of [the victims] was not killed on the spot so they cut his throat with a long knife.” The Seleka fighters then shot at fleeing civilians and killed five other people. The entire village fled into the surrounding forest, where they remain.
The targeting of civilians and burning of homes forced many people to abandon their villages. Human Rights Watch spoke with residents of affected villages who reported they are living in the surrounding bush and nearby forests. Village leaders said that dozens of residents, particularly the elderly, infants, and the ill, have died in the bush. All of the villagers with whom Human Rights Watch spoke are living with minimal or no humanitarian assistance. Conditions have worsened since the start of the rainy season.
Villagers in the Gribingui and Ouham provinces expressed their deep concern and fear of further attacks by Seleka fighters. A resident from the village of Boubou, living in the bush out of fear for his safety, implored Human Rights Watch researchers, “Send help … quickly so we can live in the village because we sleep in the forest like animals.”
Human Rights Watch documented the destruction of two churches in the villages of Yangoumara and Gbi-Gbi, and the looting and destruction of a school in Yangoumara. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Seleka forces carried out the attacks in collaboration with armed Mbarara. The deliberate destruction of civilian property, as well as structures and goods indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, also constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law.
Noureddine Adam, a Seleka general who is the public security minister in the country’s transitional government, denied that the Seleka were responsible for any of the attacks Human Rights Watch documented. “These attacks were perpetrated by other armed groups before our arrival,” he told Human Rights Watch. “The Seleka is not involved in this destruction of villages nor in the killings.”
All attacks documented by Human Rights Watch researchers took place in Seleka-controlled areas. The Seleka leadership is ultimately responsible for the conduct of its forces and should effectively investigate any human rights abuse and prosecute those responsible.
In areas Human Rights Watch visited there were no police or judicial authorities. The transitional government should re-establish the rule of law throughout the country by redeploying local civilian authorities.
Adam said that 15 provincial administrators and military commanders had already been appointed and provided with sufficient resources to perform their duties. He said they would be deployed soon to reestablish a functioning civil administration.
The UN Security Council should support peacekeeping efforts throughout the country and make clear that it intends to adopt targeted sanctions against people responsible for serious human rights violations. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recommended consideration of sanctions in a report to the Security Council on May 3.
The UN Security Council should also express support for the ongoing fact-finding mission mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, demand that the transitional government and Seleka leaders fully cooperate, and instruct the BINUCA to provide all necessary support to the mission.
The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the African Union, the European Union, the UN Security Council, and France should bolster peacekeeping efforts in the Central African Republic. They should support efforts by the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central African Republic (MICOPAX), a regional peacekeeping force led by the Economic Community of Central African States, to deploy additional troops throughout the country. They should also support the ongoing disarmament of Seleka fighters in Bangui and initiate this process in the provinces.
Additional troops and civilian police with sufficient and effective logistic support in Bangui and the provinces would increase the MICOPAX capacity to provide security and protection to the affected civilian population.
In his report to the Security Council on May 3 the UN secretary general appealed to the partners of the Central African Republic to provide effective logistical and financial support to MICOPAX. On June 14 the ECCAS in Libreville made a commitment to reinforce the security in Bangui.
“Human Rights Watch researchers, in village after village, heard one thing from residents: ‘Don’t abandon us’,” Bekele said. “The UN and others actors should redouble efforts to assist this largely forgotten population.”