The conflicts in CAR, involving the Forces armées centrafricaines (FACA), the Garde présidentielle (GP), the Armée populaire pour la restauration de la République et la démocratie (APRD), and the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR) are internal, non-international armed conflicts in which all parties are bound by applicable standards of international humanitarian law (the laws of war). The parties to the conflict in CAR are specifically obligated to observe customary international humanitarian law as it applies to non-international armed conflict, article 3 common to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, (common article 3), and Additional Protocol II of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions, which is applicable to conflicts between a countries armed forces and other organized armed groups. CAR is a party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and also both Additional Protocols.17
CAR has also ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and so accordingly, all persons in CAR responsible for war crimes and other violations of the Rome Statute committed after July 2002, when the statute entered into force, are subject to the ICCs jurisdiction.18
Applicable international humanitarian law forbids deliberate harming of civilians and of those who are not engaged in armed hostilities at the time, including wounded and captured combatants.
International human rights law is also applicable in the conflict. CAR is a party to several relevant international human rights treaties, which prohibit violations of basic rights including protection from unlawful and arbitrary violations of the right to life, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, freedom from arbitrary detention, due process, right to protection of the home and family, and specific protection of children in times of armed conflict.19
In the context of hostilities occurring as part of armed conflict, international humanitarian law, as the lex specialis or specialized law, takes precedence but does not replace human rights law. Persons under the control of government or armed opposition forces in an internal armed conflict must, in all cases, be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law, which incorporates important human rights standards.
One of the most basic rules of international humanitarian law is that parties to a conflict must distinguish between combatants and civilians, and should not intentionally target civilians or other persons not taking direct part in hostilities. Additional Protocol II also explicitly sets out that the civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against the dangers arising from military operations. They are not to be the object of attack, and all acts or threats of violence with the primary purpose to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.20 Protocol II also sets out the customary international law prohibition on attacks, destruction, or removal of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population including food-stuffs, agricultural areas, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works.21 The ICC statute makes the intentional targeting of civilians, including in non-international conflicts, a war crime.22
Collective punishments are prohibited under international humanitarian law in all circumstances. Reprisals in non-international armed conflicts are prohibited, although customary international law does permit a very narrow category of lawful belligerent reprisals in international armed conflicts.23
The prohibition on collective punishments and reprisals against civilians, civilian property, or others not or no longer taking active part in hostilities is a matter of customary international law and also treaty law by which CAR is bound.
Common article 3, as set out above, prohibits in all circumstances acts including murder, mutilation, cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment, and torture against civilians and other persons taking no active part in the hostilities. Article 4 of Additional Protocol II also sets out the fundamental guarantees of humane treatment which apply at any time and in any place whatsoever, and explicitly includes in addition to the acts in common article 3, a prohibition on collective punishments, acts of terrorism, and pillage. The International Committee of the Red-Cross commentary makes clear that both of these articles leave no room for reprisals in non-international armed conflicts.24
The prohibition on collective punishments is not just a prohibition on imposing criminal sanctions against persons for actions for which they do not bear individual criminal responsibility, but according to the ICRC Commentary, prohibits all sanctions and harassment of any sort, administrative, by police action or otherwise.25 A collective punishment, which constitutes an attack directed against the civilian population, or individual civilians, is also a war crime.
The recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 years as soldiers, and their participation in active hostilities is prohibited under international humanitarian law and listed as a war crime in the Rome Statute for the ICC.26 The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which CAR is party, and the Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions prohibit any recruitment or use in armed conflict of children under the age of 15.27 This standard is now considered customary international law.28
In 2000, the United Nations adopted an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, raising the minimum age for forced recruitment, conscription, or direct participation in hostilities to age 18.29 The protocol also obliges non-governmental armed groups to refrain from any recruitment or use of children under age 18. By June 2007, 116 governments were party to the Optional Protocol. The CAR has not yet ratified the treaty.
The CAR is a party to the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, adopted by the International Labor Organization in 1999, which prohibits the forced recruitment of children under the age of 18 for use in armed conflict as one of the worst forms of child labor.30
Summary executions are illegal under any circumstances according to both international humanitarian and human rights law. Common article 3 explicitly forbids summary executions, and serious violations of common article 3 are deemed war crimes for the purposes of the Rome Statute. Common article 3, prohibits at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause:
Beatings and ill-treatment of civilians and others not directly partaking in hostilities, which amount to cruel treatment or torture, outrages upon personal dignity, or humiliating and degrading treatment, are all serious violations of international humanitarian law and can be tried as war crimes. Rape and any other form of sexual violence which take place in a non-international conflict are also serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and specifically listed as war crimes under the Rome Statute.
17 Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (First Geneva Convention), 75 U.N.T.S. 31, entered into force October 21, 1950; Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea (Second Geneva Convention), 75 U.N.T.S. 85, entered into force October 21, 1950; Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Third Geneva Convention), 75 U.N.T.S. 135, entered into force October 21, 1950; Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention), 75 U.N.T.S. 287, entered into force October 21, 1950. CAR became a party to the Geneva Conventions in 1966. Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 1125 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force December 7, 1978; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 1125 U.N.T.S. 609, entered into force December 7, 1978. CAR became a party to Protocol I and II in 1984.
18 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), U.N. Doc. A/CONF.183/9, July 17, 1998, entered into force July 1, 2002. CAR ratified the Rome Statute on October 3, 2001.
19 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, acceded to by CAR on May 8, 1981; Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, ratified by CAR on April 23, 1992; Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (ILO No. 182), 38 I.L.M. 1207 (1999), entered into force November 19, 2000, ratified by CAR on June 28, 2000; African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, adopted June 27, 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982), entered into force October 21, 1986, ratified by CAR April, 26 1986.
20 Additional Protocol II, Article 13.
21 Additional Protocol II, Article 14.
22 Rome Statute, Article 8(e)(i).
23 Belligerent reprisals are acts that would otherwise be unlawful acts of war but, when used as an enforcement measures in reaction to the unlawful acts of an adversary may, in exceptional cases, be permitted. For a belligerent reprisal to be lawful in an international conflict, it must be an exceptional measure carried out as a measure of enforcement against an adversary who has violated the laws of war; it must be a measure of last resort; it must be proportionate to the original violation; the decision to carry out the reprisal should be carried out at the highest level of government; and the reprisal must stop once the adversary has complied with the law.
24 ICRC Commentaries on Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977 pp. 1372 3, paras. 4530-6.
25 Ibid. para. 3456; ICRC Commentaries on Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977, para. 3055.
26 Rome Statute, arts. 8(2)(b)(xxvi) and 8(2)(e)(vii).
27 Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2 1990. CAR ratified the Convention on April 23, 1992.
28 In 2004, the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled that the prohibition on recruiting children below age 15 had crystallized as customary international law prior to 1996, and that, individuals responsible for recruiting children under the age of 15 bear criminal responsibility for their acts. Summary of Decision on Preliminary Motion on Lack of Jurisdiction (Child Recruitment), Prosecutor v. Sam Hinga Norman, Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, May 31, 2004, Case Number SCSL-2003-14-AR72 (E).
29 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, adopted May 25, 2000, G.A. Res. 54/263, Annex I, 54 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 7, U.N. Doc. A/54/49, Vol. III (2000), entered into force February 12, 2002.
30Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (ILO No. 182), entered into force November 19, 2000, and was ratified by the CAR on June 28, 2000. CAR is yet to become a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the U.N. in 2000, which sets 18 as the minimum age for all participation in hostilities, all forced recruitment or conscription, and all recruitment by non-state armed groups.