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Central African Republic: Prioritize Protection, Justice

Investigations and Prosecutions are Key to Ensuring Accountability

(Nairobi) – The new president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, should make security and justice for serious human rights abuses priorities for his government.
Central African Republic's President-elect Faustin-Archange Touadéra attends a demonstration held by traders in Bangui, Central African Republic, during his role as Prime Minister on January 5, 2013. © 2013 Reuters

Touadéra, a former prime minister, is to take office on March 30, 2016, after winning a runoff election on February 14. His new administration will replace a transition government that has struggled to establish security and stop sectarian violence over the last two years.
“The new government needs to act quickly, with support from the international community, to protect civilians and stop ongoing abuses,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Reducing tensions, working on justice and reconciliation, and protecting civilians from further attacks and violence should be the first priority.”
The Central African Republic has been in crisis since late 2012, when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the government of François Bozizé and committed widespread abuses against civilians. In mid-2013, groups of Christians and animists, known as the anti-balaka militia, in turn carried out large scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians in Bangui and western parts of the country. Almost a million people have been forced to flee their homes in the ensuing violence.
Sectarian killings continue in the capital, Bangui, and several areas in the center of the country. In recent months, Seleka fighters, armed Muslims, and anti-balaka fighters have engaged in tit-for-tat reprisal attacks, sparking waves of killings around the Muslim enclave of Kilomètre 5 and in the town of Bambari.
Improving security requires disarming rebel factions and re-establishing the security forces. Both tasks will require the new government to rely heavily on the 12,000-member United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA.
There has been almost no progress on disarming rebel factions and armed groups in the country over the past two years. A disarmament program supported by the international community is still in early stages. Disarming and finding new occupations for combatants will be critical to ending attacks on civilians and restoring government control, Human Rights Watch said.
The national army, the police, and other security forces also need to be reformed. Any rearming of the army would need to take into account the serious human rights abuses some soldiers and their commanders may have committed during the violence in recent years. A vetting mechanism is essential to remove soldiers who have committed serious human rights abuses from the army’s ranks, including those in senior positions. Proper vetting should also ensure that new recruits do not bear responsibility for serious crimes.

The Central African Republic has had numerous mutinies, rebellions, and coups over the last 20 years. Almost none of those responsible for widespread human rights abuses have been held accountable. The cycles of impunity have fueled ongoing abuses and emboldened those who seek to take power by force, Human Rights Watch said.

The new government will inherit an overburdened and barely functioning judicial system and will need international support to ensure that those who committed crimes during the violence are held accountable.

Since September 2014, the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been conducting a second investigation in the Central African Republic focusing on alleged crimes in the country since August 2012. In June 2015, the Central African Republic’s transitional president promulgated a law to establish a Special Criminal Court, consisting of national and international staff, to investigate and prosecute the gravest crimes committed in the country since 2003, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ICC has not yet issued arrest warrants or started trials, and the Special Criminal Court exists only on paper. Full cooperation from the government with the ICC will be key for it to carry out its work. The government should also take the lead on the quick establishment of the Special Criminal Court. The new president should make it clear that his government will support the work of the Special Criminal Court and ask donors to mobilize the funds and technical support that will ensure the court’s effective operation, Human Rights Watch said.

“The fight against impunity has been a clear demand from the population and should be firmly on the agenda of the new government,” Mudge said. “The ICC and the new Special Criminal Court are the country’s best chance to break longstanding cycles of violence, deter future crimes, and ensure accountability for the victims.”

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