The Central African Republic reached an important milestone in February with the conclusion of largely peaceful presidential elections. While the results of legislative elections are still pending, these too were conducted in a mostly peaceful environment, giving Central Africans a new degree of confidence about their country’s future.
The new government’s primary task to protect civilians and end sectarian violence is immense. The situation in the capital, Bangui, remains extremely fragile and serious human rights violations continue there as well as in other locations across the country. The largely Muslim Seleka rebels and the predominately Christian anti-balaka fighters continue to attack each other and civilians, often in reprisal attacks. Earlier this month sectarian violence led to the deaths of at least 11 civilians near Bambari.
Nearly 900,000 people remain displaced, either as refugees in neighboring countries or in camps and host communities in the country. Scores continue to die in remote forest locations with little or no access to humanitarian aid. The challenges created by the violence are compounded for persons with disabilities who face added risk in fleeing to safety or in accessing basic services such as toilets, food, and medical care in displacement camps.
Displacement camps, protected under international law, have been targeted in tit-for-tat revenge killings. In December at least eight people were killed at Ngakobo camp, Ouaka province, when it was attacked by Seleka fighters from the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC).
Sexual violence against women and girls continues to be a significant component of the violence. Human Rights Watch documented 29 cases of sexual violence that occurred during violence in Bangui between September 26 and December 17. Eleven of these cases occurred in and around the M’Poko displacement camp. The survivors from M’Poko said the anti-balaka had raped them as punishment for allegedly buying and selling to Muslims. Many survivors had not accessed essential health or psychosocial services.
Impunity continues to be a principle driver of the violence. To date, no one has been held to account for serious human rights crimes. Last June the interim president signed the law establishing a Special Criminal Court, comprised of both national and international judges and prosecutors, which will investigate and prosecute grave human rights violations committed in the country since 2003. But the court is not yet a reality. The Independent Expert on CAR recently said “the Central African people must be able to see that these promises were not in vain.” We agree and would ask the Independent Expert for her evaluation of progress and difficulties encountered in the setting-up of the Special Criminal Court, and what steps the international community can take to support this new institution.