(Nairobi) – Members of a special anti-crime unit in the Central African Republic unlawfully executed at least 18 people and possibly more between April 2015 and March 2016, Human Rights Watch said today.
We were hiding in the tall grass. Yékoua-Ketté’s men had Romaric sitting on the ground next to the vehicle. We watched Yékoua-Ketté get out of the truck and the guards told [Vounbo] to stand up. He looked like he was in pain but he stood up. They men pushed him forward to Yékoua-Ketté and took his handcuffs off. Then he pushed him down to his knees. Yékoua-Ketté pointed a rifle at him and yelled, ‘Is it true? Is it true? Speak now!’ Romaric was saying, ‘I’m sorry, forgive me!’ He had his hands spread out. Yékoua-Ketté fired a shot into his stomach, but Romaric did not fall down. He started to bleed, but he did not fall. Yékoua-Ketté fired a second shot, but he still did not fall. Yékoua-Ketté shook his head and went to his car for his pistol. He came back…and forced his pistol into his mouth and shot him in the head.
A relative of Voubo said: “I saw his body. The back of his head had been blown out. His face was intact, but the skull was empty. He was also shot twice in the chest…How can they arrest someone at 4 p.m. and kill him like this at 5:30 p.m.”
Gervais Magna, killed November 4, 2015
Gervais Magna, 33 and the father of six, was a leader of an anti-balaka group – largely Christian and animist militias who fought the Seleka – in Lobaye Province. On November 3, 2015, a 16-year-old girl in his village died and Magna led a group that accused an old woman of using sorcery to cause the girl’s death. The group beat the woman to death. The police arrested Magna, who resisted arrest and fought with the police. The police called Yékoua-Ketté. A relative of Magna said: “We knew that they had called the OCRB, but we thought he was going to be taken to Mbaïki [the capital of Lobaye Province].”
Witnesses said Yékoua-Ketté arrived the following afternoon and took Magna. Magna’s relatives tried to accompany the OCRB vehicle but Yékoua-Ketté would not permit it. One of his men told the family, “Follow us to Bangui and find him at the OCRB headquarters.” The next morning, as the family looked for money to pay for transportation to Bangui, they received a call saying that Magna’s body had been found the night before near a forestry plantation along the main road to the capital. “We went to the area and found his body wrapped in a cloth,” a relative said. “He had been shot twice, in the head and in the back.”
Jordi Befio, killed between December 5 and December 7, 2015
Jordi Befio, 19, was arrested on December 5 by the OCRB during a fight at Pétévo market. A witness said that Yékoua-Ketté arrived during the fight and got out of his truck to assess the situation. The witness said that Befio had a knife during the fight, but dropped it immediately on the orders of the OCRB officers. Befio was arrested by Yékoua-Ketté and his men. His family searched for him unsuccessfully at local police stations for two days, and on December 7, found his body along the banks of the Oubangui River in the 2nd arrondissement. A relative said: “I saw his body. He had been shot twice in the side. His abdomen and intestines were coming out. We put the body in a casket and went directly to bury it because he was starting to decompose. He was not a criminal. He just made a bad decision that day in the fight. He did not deserve this.”
Raymond Gongalut, killed December 24 or 25, 2015
Raymond Gongalut, about 50 and the father of three, a suspected member of an anti-balaka group, was stopped on his motorcycle on December 24, in the 8th arrondissement by OCRB officers. Witnesses said that Gongalut was armed with a grenade at the time of arrest but that he did not resist and that OCRB officers peacefully disarmed him at the scene.
A relative went to the OCRB headquarters the same day to see him: “When we arrived at the OCRB they confirmed that he was there, but they would not let us see him. The next morning we went there at 6 a.m. Again we asked to see Raymond and the officer said, ‘At 4 a.m. we took him away.’ This made me scared because that means you have to go to the hospital to check for the body. We went to the hospital and found his body in the morgue.” He had been shot four times in the stomach.
Senele Ombade, killed January 10, 2016
Yékoua-Ketté and OCRB officers arrested 31-year-old Senele Ombade, a motorcycle taxi driver, on January 10, near the Abed Goumba crossroads in the 5th arrondissement, witnesses said. The reasons for his arrest remain unclear.
A relative of Ombade’s said: “When I heard he was taken by the OCRB I went straight to the headquarters to look for him. He was not there. Then, while I was in town, I heard there were bodies in Ouango [a neighborhood in the 7th Arrondissement]. I went to Ouango and found his body on the road to Kassai. It had been thrown there and nobody had claimed the body. He had been shot in the head.”
Cyril Ndourogbo, killed January 14 or 15, 2016
Yékoua-Ketté arrested Cyril Ndourogbo, a 24-year-old father of two, at a funeral in the UCATEX neighborhood on the evening of January 14. A witness said: “Yékoua-Ketté arrived and pointed his pistol into Cyril’s chest and told him to move. I followed them to the parking and saw Cyril put into the OCRB truck. He was made to lie down in the back. Yékoua-Ketté was driving and his men were behind.” Ndourogbo’s family went to the OCRB headquarters on January 15, but could get no official information about him. However, a prisoner at the OCRB whom they knew from their neighborhood told them, “Cyril was killed yesterday and his body was put into a sack. I had to help throw the sack into the river.”
On January 16, the family went back to the OCRB. Multiple family members said that Yékoua-Ketté became angry with them and told his men to force them out of the compound. Before they left he yelled at them, “I had been searching for him [Ndourogbo]. Once I had him, I killed him. Look for his body in a bag on the Oubangui River.” His body has not been found.
Rufen Balekouzou, killed between January 17 and January 20, 2016
On January 16, OCRB officers arrested Rufen Balekouzou, 32 and the father of two, at his job in Kilomètre 5 and took him away in their vehicle. The next day family members visited Balekouzou at the OCRB detention center. “I paid 500 francs (approximately US$0.85) to speak with Rufen.” a relative said. “We spoke for about an hour. He told me he was accused of being a robber. He said, ‘I am very scared, the conditions are very bad here.’”
When family members went to visit him again on January 20, they were told he had been transferred to Ngaragba Central Prison, but they could not find him there. Later that day, they heard an announcement on the radio about the discovery of a body along the Oubangui River. The body was Balekouzou’s, and he had been shot four times.
Faustin Ngoudi, killed around January 20, 2016
Faustin Ngoudi, 26 and the father of one, whom acquaintances described as a known criminal, was shot by the OCRB in Kina around January 20. “It was between 9 and 10 a.m.,” a witness said. “It was after the conflict last October and the neighborhood had been abandoned. I sometimes went back there to sell bread and see what was happening. At this time, it was rare to see a vehicle passing. So when the OCRB truck went by with officers in the back, I noticed it. Just after it passed I heard eight or nine shots near the Kokoro Market…Then people ran from that direction saying men had just been killed there. I ran and saw that Faustin had been shot dead.”
Another witness saw an OCRB vehicle dump Ngoudi’s body near the Fatima Church later that day. Ngoudi had been shot four times in the stomach.
Jean-Noël Bebona, killed January 27, 2016
Jean-Noël Bebona, 33 and the father of three, a former anti-balaka fighter, was apprehended and killed by the OCRB while selling goods near the Poumale market, outside the 7th arrondissement. Witnesses said he begged for his life before he was shot. A relative said: “When we arrived at the morgue a guard came and asked what we wanted and I said, ‘We are looking for a body brought here by the OCRB.’ He said, ‘Yes, they dumped a body here.’ I saw his body, he was shot in the head and in the back.”
Romaric Yakoro, killed February 13, 2016
Romaric Yakoro, 19, alias “Likolo,” was arrested for theft the night of February 12, by soldiers in Yassi-Mandji neighborhood. On February 13, he was transferred to the OCRB office in Ngouciment. Yékoua-Ketté took him away a short while later. A motorcycle taxi driver who knew Yakoro said:
It was around 11a.m. I was transporting a client into town near the Hotel Oubangui. I had stopped to get fuel when I saw the OCRB truck speed by. As it passed I saw Likolo in the back. He was with two OCRB officers. Yékoua-Ketté was driving. I knew that Yékoua-Ketté killed criminals in town and I knew that Likolo was in danger. So I abandoned my client and I followed the OCRB vehicle into the 7th arrondissement. We went toward Ouango. I was just behind them and I saw Likolo in the back with the two police. I thought that they were going to take Likolo to Ngaragba [Central Prison], but they did not, they went past the prison. So I stopped and waited for them to return.
About 30-40 minutes later the vehicle came back with its lights on. The tailgate was opened and there were two feet sticking out. The feet flopped to the side.
I went to Yassi-Mandji and told people that I had seen Likolo taken by the OCRB and it looked like he had been killed. People told me that he had been taken by the military to the OCRB base earlier and that Yékoua-Ketté took him, so we knew he was dead.
Relatives eventually found Yakoro’s body in the morgue. Yakoro had been shot twice in the abdomen.
Hervé Zangouli, killed March 4 or 5, 2016
Hervé Zoungouli was arrested by the OCRB on March 4, while smoking marijuana along the Oubangui River near PK 0, according to witnesses. The last time he was seen alive was in the back of an OCRB truck. His body was discovered early the next morning along the banks of the Oubangui River. A family member told Human Rights Watch that Zangouli had been shot in the chest.
Payment for Release From the OCRB
Human Rights Watch documented two cases in which Yékoua-Ketté personally held prisoners for ransom, demanding payment from their families.
The police unit held an 18-year-old woman for approximately six weeks, from October 22 to early December 2015. She said that Yékoua-Ketté repeatedly threatened her life and that she had a miscarriage in the OCRB jail: “I had to stay two days in my own blood before they allowed my family to give me soap to clean myself.” Yékoua-Ketté demanded 100,000 francs (approximately US$170) from the family, but they were able to negotiate a lower price. The woman was never charged with a crime.
On April 28, 2016, Yékoua-Ketté and his men arrested a 25-year-old former anti-balaka fighter along the Oubangui River. The man was accused of having committed an act of armed robbery earlier in the year. Yékoua-Ketté ordered his men to beat the man in public and took him to the OCRB headquarters. Yékoua-Ketté then asked the family to pay 100,000 francs (approximately US$170) for the former anti-balaka fighter’s release. Over the course of 10 days, the family was able to negotiate a lower price and their relative was released without charge.