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Father Bernard Kinvi, Central African Republic

2014 Recipient of the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism

Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.

Father Bernard Kinvi   © 2014 Human Rights Watch
Father Bernard Kinvi is a Catholic priest who directs the hospital at the Catholic mission in Bossemptele, northwestern Central African Republic. When brutal sectarian violence erupted in the country in 2013, Father Kinvi saved the lives of hundreds of besieged Muslims, whom he gathered from their homes and sheltered in the Catholic church.

The crisis began in March 2013, when mostly Muslim Seleka forces overthrew the government and unleashed a wave of violence, burning villages and killing untold numbers of people. In response, militias known as the anti-balaka that were recruited from the majority Christian population began attacking Seleka bases and the Muslim minority. As Seleka leaders were forced from power and fled, Muslim civilians faced the wrath of anti-balaka forces. In town after town, the Muslims were attacked and massacred, their homes and mosques destroyed.

During the bloodshed in the Central African Republic, Father Kinvi risked his life day after day to save hundreds of Muslims from certain death at the hands of the killers. With humble courage and an infectious smile, he stands up for the most vulnerable.
Peter Bouckaert

Director, Emergencies

One of the most lethal attacks took place in Bossemptele, where anti-balaka forces killed more than 80 Muslims. Kinvi spent days searching for Muslim survivors, many of them children, and taking them to the Catholic church for safety. During the course of the conflict, he sheltered hundreds of Muslims in the church, despite repeated death threats from anti-balaka forces.

In March 2014, African peacekeepers evacuated most of the remaining Muslims in Bossemptele to Cameroon, adding to the more than 100,000 Muslims who have already fled the country. About 70 people, including more than a dozen disabled children, were left behind at the Catholic mission, too weak to make the journey. Undeterred, Kinvi continued caring for the Muslims in his charge and ultimately arranged for them to be reunited with their families.

Human Rights Watch honors Father Bernard Kinvi for his unwavering courage and dedication to protecting civilians in the Central African Republic.  

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