The escalation of violence in Bangui in recent days is a stark reminder of how volatile and fragile the situation remains in the Central African Republic. The description by the UN high commissioner for human rights when he visited the country in September, that it is “gripped in fear” echoes what we have seen and heard.
Grave human rights violations continue, not just in Bangui, but also in central parts of the country away from the eyes and ears of the international community. In these remote areas, hundreds of people have died and tens of thousands displaced over the past 12 months. Both the Muslim Seleka rebels and the predominately Christian anti-balaka fighters continue to attack civilians, sometimes in tit-for-tat revenge killings and commit serious human rights abuses.
In the past 12 months, Human Rights Watch has conducted extensive investigations of human rights abuses in the central part of the country such as in Bouca, Batangafo, Kaga Bandoro and Bambari. In all these locations there is a presence of United Nations or French peacekeepers, but people in and around these towns still face regular attacks. For example, in Kouango, anti-balaka fighters killed at least 34 civilians and burned 617 homes over the past year.
Also around Kouango, Seleka fighters commanded by Ali Darras killed at least 135 civilians and burned over 2,000 homes. Many who fled their homes during or after the attacks live in the bush with little or no access to humanitarian aid. Many are dying. It is essential that civilians are better protected throughout the country and that UN peacekeepers fulfil their mandate to protect them.
Impunity continues to be a hallmark of the violence. To date, no one has been held to account for the violence. The establishment of the Special Criminal Court, signed into law by the interim president in June, is the best hope many victims have for justice. This court, which will be comprised of both national and international judges and prosecutors, will investigate and prosecute grave human rights violations committed in the country since 2003. But to become a reality, the court needs financial, technical and logistical support. It is also critical that there is donor support for this new institution.