In the past 15 months, the people of Central African Republic have suffered an unprecedented wave of bloodshed and violence, at the hands of the Seleka fighters and the anti-balaka militias. The crimes include murder, deliberate attacks on the civilian population, torture, cruel and degrading treatment, the destruction of entire villages or neighborhoods, forced displacement, and targeting on an ethnic or religious basis. There are also credible reports of sexual violence, including rape. The crimes committed by all parties have affected hundreds of thousands of people and are serious violations of international law and in many cases would constitute crimes against humanity and potential war crimes.
The people of CAR need action on two fronts.
First, they need security and urgent protection from attacks. African Union, French and EU forces are currently deployed to protect civilians, and their presence will transition to the authorized United Nations peacekeeping operation – MINUSCA -on September 15. This is a step forward. But despite the presence of these troops, insecurity still reigns and killings continue on a daily basis. An estimated 20,000 Muslims residents are trapped in parts of western CAR, living in a few heavily guarded areas with minimal or no humanitarian assistance. These civilians need urgent humanitarian assistance and to be allowed safe passage to seek protection in other parts of the country or in neighbouring countries if they so wish.
Ensuring adequate protection requires continued monitoring. Human rights officers deployed as part of BINUCA (now MINUSCA),and those sent by the OHCHR should redouble efforts to document and publicly report on past and ongoing abuses.
Second, the people of CAR need law and order restored and justice for serious crimes. Without both there can be no durable peace. This is not easy when there is no functioning justice system or appropriate detention facilities to detain perpetrators. International donors and missions deployed in CAR need to work quickly with the CAR interim government to establish a system to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators of gross human rights abuses, in accordance with international standards.
On May 30, interim President Samba-Panza formally asked the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation in the country, acknowledging the Central African courts are not in a position to carry out the necessary investigations and proceedings. The ICC prosecutor, who already has a preliminary examination open, is due to respond soon and shouldgrant this request. It will send a strong signal that justice is coming.
We cannot stand by while the Muslim population disappears from CAR, and while CAR’s citizens are desperately seeking safety and protection from brutal attacks. The Human Rights Council should add its voice to denounce these serious crimes and call for justice.