Two former leaders accused of serious abuse have recently returned to Central Africa Republic.
Only two weeks after the return of former Central African Republic president Francois Bozizé to the country, former rebel, turned self-appointed president, Michel Djotodia landed in the capital, Bangui, last Friday.
Under Djotodia’s leadership, the Seleka, a mostly Muslim rebel coalition from the country’s north, ousted Bozizé in 2013. The Seleka then launched a looting and killing spree in the capital, specifically targeting areas where people close to Bozizé’s government lived.
We documented how, during the weekend of April 13, 2013, Seleka forces’ pickup trucks entered the Boy-Rabe neighborhood and shot indiscriminately at civilians to make them flee before Seleka men looted their homes. Scores were killed trying to run or plead with the Seleka.
Outside Bangui the situation was worse. Djotodia’s fighters killed civilians as they fled their homes, destroyed villages, looted schools and medical centers, and stole grain stocks. People fled to the bush where they suffered from disease, hunger, and exposure. That year, we drove through burned out villages and towns, only to be met along the road by starving civilians, living and dying in the bush.
When we shared evidence of crimes committed by the Seleka with Djotodia and his top commanders, we were met with a collective shrug. The consequences of their actions on civilians appeared to be of no concern. During Djotodia’s brief time as president, the country descended into a chaos that continues to have ramifications today. When he fled in 2014, he left behind a country in ruins.
Djotodia is reported to have stayed in close contact with some Seleka factions. His return, along with Bozizé’s, shows that those responsible for serious crimes feel, for now, untouchable. But their presence could give the government and its partners an opportunity to break with the past. A Special Criminal Court, established in June 2015, has a mandate to cover crimes committed by the Seleka. Additionally, an International Criminal Court investigation is ongoing. Prosecuting alleged crimes by the Seleka, and holding leaders like Djotodia accountable, could end the impunity that has driven so much violence and death over the past seven years.