by Lewis Mudge

Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader who took control of the Central African Republic (CAR) will be sworn in as president this Sunday. He will steer the country until elections in late 2014.

In March, his rebel movement known as Seleka overthrew François Bozizé, under whose regime serious human rights abuses were committed. So far the Seleka have managed to make Bozizé’s era almost seem like good days – no easy feat.

The Seleka have committed grave human rights abuses with impunity while to a large extent the rest of the world has watched in either ignorance, apathy, or both.
So what can Central Africans expect from Djotodia? If the first five months are anything to go by, more anarchy and misrule.

The takeover of CAR’s capital Bangui on March 24 was marked by a spree of killing, raping, and looting. Human Rights Watch documented how Seleka fighters abducted and executed suspected members of the national army. Rebels killed children in front of their parents, and besieged and looted entire neighborhoods. Journalists in Bangui continue to receive death threats.

Outside of the capital the situation is even worse. Human Rights Watch has describedhow Seleka fighters killed civilians as they were fleeing their homes, destroyed villages, looted schools and medical centers, and stole grain stocks. People fled to the bush and more now die from disease, hunger, and exposure than from Seleka bullets.

The humanitarian situation teeters on the verge of a catastrophe. The numbers of internally displaced people and refugees to neighboring countries continue to grow.

The administrative state has been gutted and many official documents have been destroyed. It is impossible to imagine credible elections taking place in just over a year.

CAR has long been ignored by the world, but this trend may be shifting. On August 5 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to impunity for serious human rights abuses in CAR, including the consideration of sanctions. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court issued her second warning in August that the crimes may fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction and that her office will prosecute if necessary.

As Djotodia takes his oath, Human Rights Watch continues to receive credible reports of killings in the provinces. The new president of CAR should act fast to control his men. The world is starting to pay attention.