Rebellion in the Northwest

Almost immediately after the May 2005 elections that led to coup leader General Bozizé becoming President, fighting broke out in the densely populated northwest, home to nearly 1 million of the CAR’s 4 million people, causing the displacement of more than 100,000 civilians.31  Although multiple rebel groups have claimed to be active in the area, the rebellion is dominated by the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (Armée populaire pour la restauration de la République et la démocratie, APRD) and combines elements of ex-President Patassé’s Presidential Guard with local self-defense groups seeking security for their communities.  The CAR army, particularly the Garde présidentielle (GP), has carried out attacks on the civilian population, burning thousands of civilian homes, and committing widespread summary executions and other unlawful killings of civilians.

The Origins of Conflict

After initially suspending the Constitution, declaring himself President, and seizing both executive and legislative powers in 2003,32 President Bozizé embarked on a democratic transition to legitimate his rule.In December 2004, a new Constitution was adopted by referendum, setting the stage for Presidential elections. 33 Twelve candidates announced their intention to run, including President Bozizé, his Prime Minister Abel Goumba, former Presidents André Kolingba and Ange-Félix Patassé, and four former Ministers of the Patassé presidency.34

The nomination process quickly became marred in controversy when the Transitional Constitutional Court announced on December 30, 2004 that only five of the 12 candidates—Bozizé, Kolingba, Goumba, Henri Pouzère, and Auguste Boukanga—would be allowed to stand, thus excluding former President Patassé and his former ministers from the election process, basing itself on technical issues such as the illegibility of former President Patassé’s birth certificate. Amidst political and diplomatic protests, President Bozizé unilaterally announced on January 4, 2005 that he would allow three of the seven excluded candidates—former Patassé ministers Ziguélé, Ngoupandé, and Massi—to stand, but still excluded former President Patassé and three other candidates. Bozizé justified his exclusion of President Patassé and Patassé’s former Defense Minister, Démafouth, on the grounds that they were being prosecuted for “blood crimes and economic crimes.”35 After mediation by Gabonese President Bongo, 11 of the 12 Presidential candidates were allowed to stand, excluding only former President Patassé.

After two rounds of voting in March and May 2005, President Bozizé was elected President with a vote of 65 percent against his run-off candidate Martin Ziguélé’s 35 percent. While the voting itself was generally welcomed as free and fair by the international community, the exclusion of Patassé’s candidacy was seen as unacceptable by loyalists who soon launched a rebellion in northwestern CAR. Wafio Bertin, the APRD’s economic and political advisor, and APRD area commander of the Paoua-Boguila axis, told Human Rights Watch: “I joined the APRD in the beginning, in April 2005. The APRD was formed after the election of Bozizé, because the election was rigged. Some of those who formed the APRD were in the Presidential Guard of Patassé. All of those who were around Patassé were persecuted [at that time.]” 36  As President Bozizé was about to be sworn into office, in June 2005, armed rebels began clashing with government troops in northwestern CAR, Patassé’s home area.37

Zaraguinas and Chronic Insecurity in Northwestern CAR

However, the rebellion in the northwest is not just related to a political power struggle between President Bozizé and the supporters of ex-President Patassé. The current crisis is also a product of a longer-term situation of chronic insecurity endured by the civilian population who are preyed upon by bands of heavily armed bandits popularly known as zaraguinas or coupeurs de route (road bandits), made up of CAR nationals and nationals from neighboring countries, especially Chad.

Zaraguinas have long operated in the CAR-Cameroon-Chad border areas, mainly attacking travelers on the road and occasionally raiding villages for loot. In recent years, bandit groups have taken advantage of the relative security vacuum in the northwest to expand their attacks against civilians and on villages. Zaraguinas also kidnap young children for ransom, which is their most lucrative criminal activity. They target herders, especially the nomadic Peulh communities, who have wealth in the form of their cattle which can be sold for ransom. André Yokandji, the Chief of Tantalé, explained to Human Rights Watch:

The zaraguinas attack the houses but their main targets are the children. They take the children as hostages. The parents are forced to sell their livestock to pay for the ransom and free their children.…  After an attack in October 2006 four children were still missing. They belonged to the same extended family. The zaraguinas asked for 1 million CFA (US$ 2,000) for the four of them. They mentioned a meeting place to the family, and a woman went to negotiate. They gave a one-week deadline. We didn’t inform the FACA neither the Gendarmes, we were afraid of retaliation. The families sold its cows, paid, and got their children back last January.38

Repeated kidnappings have been one of the major reasons for the displacement of the nomadic population in northwestern CAR to the larger towns, a pattern of displacement distinct from that caused by the security force reprisals, which cause the civilian population to seek safety in the bush (see below).

Villagers and local officials both report that the FACA has failed to provide civilian protection. The chief of Tantalé village, which has been attacked several times, explained that they have no security, no capacity to defend themselves, and would like a permanent presence of FACA soldiers.39 The increase in attacks by zaraguinas has led some communities to form self-defense units in their villages. These self-defense units—and the objective of protecting villagers from banditry—form an important element of the APRD rebel movement.

Local authorities acknowledge the current incapacity of the FACA to fight efficiently against the zaraguinas and to provide security for the population. Some recognize that the zaraguinas have virtually disappeared from areas where the APRD rebels are present, and that the departure of APRD rebels would probably lead to an upsurge in zaraguina attacks. Léonard Bangué, the mayor of Bozoum,40 told Human Rights Watch that he had never heard of a confrontation between the FACA and the zaraguinas, explaining that the FACA always show up too late after an attack. Moreover, the subprefect of Kabo stated that, should the APRD rebels pull out of his area, the zaraguinas, who were previously very active in his jurisdiction, would likely return to attack the population.41 Hence, resolving the northwestern insurgency will require addressing the security vacuum faced by the population in northwestern CAR.

The security situation throughout northern CAR is further complicated by long-standing tensions over grazing rights, migration routes, and access to water sources between the local farming communities and nomadic tribes from CAR, Chad, and Sudan, such as the Peulh, Bororo, Mbarara, Fulata, and other Chadian and Sudanese nomadic tribes. Such tensions are reminiscent of similar factors contributing to conflict in Darfur and are readily exploitable by parties seeking to create further instability.

In 2002 tensions between local farmers and Sudanese nomads in the Birao-Boromata area of Vakaga province broke out into open conflict, resulting in hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction. Tension and attacks continue across the region. According to an international humanitarian organization and an international television report, as many as 56 local villagers were killed by Sudanese nomads in a village of Massabo, outside Boromata in February 17, 2007, a serious attack that went virtually unnoticed by the international community.42  Human Rights Watch also documented fighting between local communities and Chadian nomads identified as Fulata in the Kabo-Ouandago area of Ouham province, resulting in the deaths of several people and the burning of villages in 2006 and early 2007.

Make-up of the APRD rebel movement

Almost all the APRD’s commanders that Human Rights Watch met in northwest CAR in February 2007 were former members of ex-President Patassé’s Presidential Guard, although there were some with no military background who had joined in response to attacks by security forces against the local population. Although APRD leaders deny any direct contacts with ex-President Patassé, they acknowledge being in touch with some of Patassé’s close associates. Incorporated local self-defense units also form a strong component of the rebel force. It has two main areas of operations: The Paoua-Boguila-Markounda area of Ouham and Ouham-Pendé provinces, and the Batangafo-Kabo-Ouandago-Kaga Bandoro area of Ouham and Nana-Grébizi provinces.

The APRD numbers about 1,000 members, according to its officials. In general, APRD rebels are poorly armed and equipped. Most rebel groups encountered by Human Rights Watch consisted of 10 to 15 persons, with only the unit commander armed with an automatic weapon, and the others bearing home-made hunting weapons. According to Bertin Wafio, economic and political advisor of the APRD, only about 200 of its 1,000 soldiers have AK-47 semi-automatic rifles.43  APRD rebels seen by Human Rights Watch were dressed in civilian clothes or a variety of military outfits, and were often barefoot. Many did not have ammunition for their guns. The APRD does not appear to possess any military vehicles or heavy weaponry.44

APRD leaders vigorously denied receiving any outside support for their rebellion, either from State sponsors such as Sudan or Chad, or from private individuals. The poor state of the rebels’ weaponry does not suggest any significant foreign assistance to the APRD, as most weapons seen by Human Rights Watch were obviously home-produced. 45  

The APRD does not appear to have a developed political program—even the economic and political adviser, Bertin Wafio, struggled to define the APRD’s political program to Human Rights Watch. According to Wafio, the APRD came into existence in response to Patassé’s exclusion from the 2005 Presidential elections, but the main APRD aim is to restore peace and security in the north. Wafio denied that the APRD wanted to overthrow the government of President Bozizé, stating instead that it merely sought a political dialogue to resolve security issues and political grievances in the northwest.

Ouandago: A Case Study in Human Rights Violations and Conflict46

The recent situation around one particular place, Ouandago, one of the larger towns in the area, is a striking example of the complexity of the conflict dynamics in northwestern CAR.

Ouandago, which is located in the Batangafo-Kabo-Ouandago “triangle”, has a peacetime population of 12,000 persons living in 17 separate neighborhoods, each with its own chief. Like many other areas in the northwest, Ouandago began experiencing increasing problems with zaraguina bandits following Bozizé’s March 2003 coup, when these groups expanded their attacks from targeting travelers to attacking towns and villages.47 

On June 28, 2006, a gang of 20 zaraguinas armed with AK-47s attacked Ouandago in the middle of the night. The attackers, who appear to have been Chadians, speaking Ouda, Foulbé, and Chadian Arabic, looted the market and withdrew loaded with goods. The same group remained in the area over the next months, carrying out raids on other villages, including Outa, Bissikebbo, and Kia. According to the town’s residents, although the villagers approached FACA commanders for protection, soldiers did not come to rid the area of the zaraguinas or provide effective protection for the civilian population.

On August 19 and 20, the zaraguinas returned to Ouandago. Nine villagers were abducted, forced to show where livestock was being kept, and then, on August 20, murdered, with their bodies dumped in the bush. The bandits left the area with large numbers of cows and heavy loads of loot.

Unable to secure FACA protection, the villagers now sought out the assistance of the APRD, who brought hundreds of fighters to Ouandago and pursued the zaraguinas, clashing with them twice before chasing them out of the area and recovering the bodies of the nine missing villagers. To date, the APRD continues to aggressively patrol the area under its control to prevent zaraguinas from operating there—several APRD patrols encountered by Human Rights Watch stated they were on a mission to look for zaraguinas.

In response to the heavy presence of APRD rebels, a combined FACA and gendarme group attacked rebel positions in Ouandago around midday on October 5, 2006. After a two hour gun battle in which a FACA officer was killed, the APRD rebels withdrew. The FACA chased the rebels, killing one some 15 kilometers from the town.

The FACA force asked for reinforcements from a GP unit, commanded by Lieutenant Ngaïkossé, which was then based at Kabo, just a few hours drive north. The GP soldiers headed for Ouandago immediately, detaining five young civilian men—Idriss Balingao, 29; Pascal Béadé, 30; Nestor Mobété, 32; Gervain Kangbé, 25; and Benjamin Mbéna, 35—on their way, arriving on the evening of October 5. The detainees were kept in custody until October 7, when GP troops extrajudicially executed them in front of the medical center as they were preparing to leave town. The bodies were found and buried by returning villagers on October 8. A relative of one described to Human Rights Watch coming back to see the bodies:

The hands of [my relative] were in handcuffs, tied behind his back. I can’t say how many bullets hit him. The five bodies were together. All of them were handcuffed.48

On October 6, the FACA and GP troops looted and burned down many neighborhoods of Ouandago. According to the local Red Cross, 1,042 houses, 60 warehouses, 19 kiosks, and the local Gendarmerie were all torched. From October 8 to 10, the soldiers mainly operated outside the town. On October 10, as they returned to Ouandago, the FACA and GP soldiers killed two farmers who were working their fields. The soldiers established a base and remained about a week in the town, freely taking and slaughtering animals. Although FACA and GP troops on occasion pass through Ouandago, since then they have not had a presence in the town. APRD rebels are almost always present in Ouandago, basing themselves quite openly in the main market area.

Although when Human Rights Watch visited Ouandago town residents did not complain about the behavior of the APRD based in their midst—perhaps out of fear of retaliation—villagers all around Ouandago complained bitterly that APRD rebels took their livestock and extorted money from them on an almost weekly basis. Many of the villages in the area, particularly those on the Ouandago-Batangafo road which is closed to commercial traffic, report that almost all of their livestock had been stolen by APRD rebel bands and said that their village chiefs were repeatedly kidnapped by rebels seeking ransom (see next section for further details).

Abuses by the CAR security forces

Human Rights Watch research indicates that the vast majority of major human rights abuses in northwestern CAR have been committed by government security forces, in particular the Garde présidentielle (GP) unit based at Bossangoa.

The GP and regular army troops have been responsible for a reign of terror. Hundreds of civilians have been summarily executed since the beginning of the rebellion, and many thousands of homes have been burned. The violation of human rights by the security forces follows a predictable pattern. After almost every rebel attack, the FACA or more commonly GP units arrive in the affected area, force the civilian population to flee by firing indiscriminately at them, and then burn down their houses. Persons suspected of being rebels are detained, and many have been summarily executed. Such indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population in response to rebel attacks constitute unlawful acts of reprisal, specifically outlawed under the laws of war, which also forbids the use of collective punishment, terrorism, and pillage as tactics of war.49

Atrocities committed by government security forces have created a major humanitarian crisis in northwestern CAR. At least 102,000 civilians have been driven from their homes by direct reprisal attacks against their villages into hiding deep into the bush, many remaining there more than a year after their villages were attacked.50   The feeling of fear in the northwest is palpable, with civilians fleeing at the sound of approaching cars. Visiting Paoua, the group of vehicles of which Human Rights Watch was a part of encountered another humanitarian convoy talking to villagers in a remote village.51 At the sound of approaching vehicles, every last one of the local civilians began running away, only returning after Human Rights Watch’s convoy stopped and the villagers realized it was not military.

Summary Executions and Unlawful Killings

Since the beginning of the conflict in mid 2005, the FACA and the GP have carried out summary executions and unlawful killings of civilians on a widespread scale. Killing sprees and brutal murders committed by the CAR security forces have often resulted in dozens of civilian deaths on a single day. For example, on February 11, 2006, GP forces killed at least 30 civilians in various villages between Nana-Barya and Bémal, and on March 22, the same GP unit beheaded a teacher in Bémal village, cutting off his head with a knife while he was still alive.

During the course of its three weeks of research on the ground, Human Rights Watch researchers documented a total of 119 summary executions and unlawful civilian killings committed by the CAR security forces since December 2005. However, Human Rights Watch believes the total number of such killings committed by CAR security forces since the outbreak of conflict in mid-2005 to be much higher—probably in the hundreds—as researchers were only able to document a fraction of the incidents that have occurred.

In addition to “known” killings, where bodies have been recovered, civilians have also been victims of enforced “disappearances,” where they have been taken into custody and their fate is unknown, or they were last seen alive in the custody of CAR security forces and are assumed to have been executed, although their bodies have not been recovered. Osée Yinguissa, 27, a father of three, was detained at 9 a.m. on December 10, 2006, by FACA soldiers at the central market in Kaga Bandoro and taken to the Gendarmerie in town. In the late afternoon, he was seen being driven out of town with other unknown detainees. None have been seen or heard of since. It is believed that the men were executed in an unknown place.52  In July 2006 Sylvain Tamkimaj, 28, went from Gbaïzera to Batangafo to buy soap and other supplies at the market. He was detained by FACA and soon disappeared, never to be heard from again.53

The large number of executions and unlawful killings documented in this report, many of them carried out in public, show that the soldiers responsible for such killings have no fear of being held accountable for their crimes by their superiors or the Central African Republic authorities. Many of the cases documented have been widely reported by the vocal local press within CAR, so there is no doubt that the highest authorities in CAR, including the Commander-in-Chief, President General Bozizé, are fully aware that atrocities are being committed by their troops. Superior officers have a responsibility to act to stop abuses by their troops and can be held accountable for the actions of their troops under the principle of command responsibility.54

A vast number of the killings and village burnings documented by Human Rights Watch have been committed by a single unit, the GP unit based at Bossangoa, which until January 2007 was commanded by Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkossé, before his transfer to a new command in Bossentélé. Out of the 119 executions and unlawful killings documented by Human Rights Watch, at least 51 were committed by this single GP unit. Neither Lieutenant Ngaïkossé nor any of his troops have been held accountable for their crimes, or even disciplined within the army. Three FACA officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch all acknowledged the level of atrocities committed by the GP, but described them as “untouchable.”  One linked this impunity directly to President Bozizé, telling Human Rights Watch: “Everyone knows there is impunity, but the President makes these decisions.”55  A senior officer told Human Rights Watch, “What we need is to stop this impunity. The problem is that these renegade commanders are not prosecuted.”56

However, it is clear that while some senior CAR military officials are disgusted with the widespread killings and village burnings, this does not mean that such killings and village burnings are simply the actions of rogue military units. The fact that such killings and village burnings have been allowed to continue since at least December 2005 until today, suggests at minimum tacit approval of the reprisals against the civilian population by CAR’s leadership. Perhaps the most appropriate summary of what has been happening in northern CAR and the role of the GP was given to Human Rights Watch by a religious leader: “Ngaïkossé and his men specialize in the dirty work.”57

The culture of impunity for serious abuses such as summary executions is pervasive, even applying in the capital, Bangui. The Central Office for the Repression of Banditism(Office central de répression du banditisme, OCRB), a paramilitary police unit set up to deal with “banditry” in the capital, carries out summary killings of suspected “rebels” and “bandits” with disturbing regularity, often in public with no attempt to cover their tracks. On February 13, 2007, OCRB officers publicly extrajudicially executed two handcuffed Chadian ex-libérateurs just five kilometers from the center of Bangui, after arresting them at a market checkpoint.58 These killings sparked a large protest by thousands of Chadian residents in Bangui, but did not result in any charges against those responsible. They have not even led to a cessation of French cooperation with the OCRB. On March 3, two weeks after the executions, Human Rights Watch observed two French gendarmes meeting with OCRB members outside the OCRB headquarters as five half-naked and obviously beaten “bandit” detainees were being transferred between cells right next to them.

Execution of Benjamin Mbaigoto, Martin Yalissey, and Bonaventure Danyo, and four other persons, Bodjomo, December 29, 2005

On the early morning of December 28, 2005, a group of about 100 APRD rebels launched an unsuccessful attack on the village of Bodjomo, located 25 kilometers southeast of Markounda. The same day, FACA reinforcements arrived at Bodjomo from Markounda and began burning villages. Early on the morning of December 29, the FACA forces were reinforced with the arrival of Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkossé’s GP unit.

Two adult civilians and a child—Benjamin Mbaigoto, 35, Martin Yalissey, 45, and Bonaventure Danyo, 10—were detained by the GP unit at the village of Bobéré, five kilometers southwest from Bodjomo, apparently as the unit was making its way to the village. As the unit arrived in Bodjomo, they executed the three detainees.

Over the next days the GP unit and the FACA soldiers proceeded to burn many of the surrounding villages, shooting dead at least four other civilians who were unable to flee quickly: Paul Bénandé in Kadjama Kota, Simon Ngotinga in Bélé, Iphonse Mayade in Galé II, and Sébastien Ngaba in Galé I.

Killing of at least 33 civilians, Paoua, January 29-31, 2006

At about 11 a.m. on January 29, 2006, a group of about 100 APRD rebels attacked government positions in the town of Paoua. According to witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the APRD rebels were unkempt and poorly dressed, and most were armed with home-made hunting weapons, spears, knives, stones, and a few AK-47s.59  The rebels attacked and ransacked the offices of the Gendarmerie; the homes of the police commissioner, the secretary-general of the subprefecture, and the subprefect; the tax office; the office for the management of water and forests; the court building; the prison; the police station; the mayor’s office; and the office for youth and sport, looking for weapons and other loot. The shops in the market and private homes were not looted by the rebels, who appeared focused on finding weapons.60

After initially retreating, the local FACA soldiers noticed that the APRD rebels were poorly armed and mounted a counter-offensive, quickly putting the rebels to flight. After the rebels had fled, however, the FACA soldiers began randomly firing at young men throughout Paoua. According to a report prepared by a local humanitarian organization: “After the retreat of the rebels along the roads from which they had come, the FACA soldiers systematically hunted down all the young men they could find in the neighborhoods. It was during this operation that a number of heads of families mistaken for rebels were killed, by gunshots at close range.”61

In the aftermath of the rebel attack, on January 29 and January 30, FACA soldiers shot dead at least 27 people, although the actual death toll is believed to have been significantly higher because many bodies were never recovered and buried as the population fled into the bush. The vast majority were killed while trying to flee. Florentin Djember, 18, a shopkeeper at the market, was shot dead by FACA soldiers in front of several witnesses after he went to the market to retrieve goods after the fighting had calmed down.62  Other civilians shot dead by the soldiers that day include: Vincent Bozoko, a father of five; Apollinaire Béro; Lucien Béréo, 24; Gbanono Abba; Joseph Béninga, a father of seven; Basile Béatem; Bruno Sembai, 24; and Sorro (first name unknown).63  FACA soldiers took two wounded persons from the Paoua hospital on January 29, and executed them in front of the hospital.64  At least seven other civilians were wounded by FACA bullets.65 

FACA soldiers also arrested and brutally beat at least eight detainees following the January 29 attack, beating six of the detainees to death. Frédéric Ganoni, a 27-year-old student at the Lycée, was arrested by the FACA soldiers at about 3 p.m. on January 29, together with his younger brother, Apollinaire Bissi, a 22-year-old farmer. After being kept overnight tied up by the roadside, the two detainees were taken to the FACA base the next morning. Ganoni recalled to Human Rights Watch what happened at the base:

At the base, they tied my arms behind my back and also my legs, arbatachar style.66  They cut me with razor blades on my arms. We were a total of eight youngsters who were detained, and they beat us for a long time. They beat us with their batons. The whole time they asked us questions: were we married, did we work, were we ever in the army, were we with the rebels? I kept saying no. There were many soldiers, a few would beat us and then others would come. We spent two days like this.

Five of us died from the beatings on the first day. …The Abbé from the church came to see us the second day, and then they let us go. He took us to the hospital, and my younger brother died from his wounds on February 9. I was at the hospital for a long time and even had to go to Bangui for treatment. They had to remove [infected broken] bones from both my front arms. There still is a big unhealed wound on my foot. I still can’t use my hands because of the arbatachar tying.67

The FACA soldiers burned the corpses of the five men beaten to death at their base.68  When Human Rights Watch located Ganoni, more than a year after his ordeal, he was severely and permanently disabled because of the severe beating, having lost bones in his forearms, and was unable to use his hands.

Killing of at least 30 civilians, Nana Barya to Bémal, February 11, 2006

On the morning of February 11, the GP unit based at Bossangoa, led by Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkossé, arrived in the Nana Barya area in three vehicles, heading north towards the Boguila-Bémal road. On a single day, the unit attacked dozens of roadside villages, firing randomly and causing at least 28 civilian deaths in at least a dozen locations. The impact of the one-day shooting spree was devastating: some 120 villages situated along the Boguila-Bémal-Markounda R1 road were completely abandoned for months after the offensive, their population having fled into the bush.69

The mayor of Bémal recounted to Human Rights Watch what had happened in his village:

The Presidential Guards came to attack on February 11. They killed two people here: Luc Mouabé, 48, an active police officer, and Dominique Diyafara, who worked at the customs office. When the Presidential Guard arrived at about 1 p.m., the people started fleeing and they just shot at them. But Mouabé, the policeman, went towards them [as a police official] and they shot him. They looted the hospital, took bicycles and many other things; they also looted the houses, but they didn’t burn them. Since then, we have been staying in the bush, all 1,800 people of Bémal. Ngaïkossé was with them, as was his deputy Abdoulayé.70

That day the same pattern of deadly attacks was repeated in village after village on the Boguila-Bémal and Bémal-Béboura roads. In Béogombo III, members of the GP shot dead Bondouboro Kouro and four other civilians, and wounded another two. In Békoro, the soldiers asked Mathias Ndobi to approach their car and then shot him dead. Eight civilians were shot dead in Bédoro, including the village chief Grégoire Djanayang, Joseph Béninga Gawa, Clément Ndokiyai, Jackson Loban, fifth grade student Wilfred Béré, Lotar (first name unknown), and two unidentified persons. Béamadji Nbairam was killed by the troops in Béogombo II, and Béré Lamadje was killed in Béganguero.71

Three people were shot dead in Bendoulabé: two minors, Eric Guelno and Ndonai Dabtar, both fourth grade students, and Luther Bérayang Bobet (age unknown). In Bésa, members of the GP killed three civilians: Gaston Col, a blind man, Joseph Marboua, a demobilized soldier, and Benjamin Rogaguem. In Kébbé, they shot dead Alfred Nadji and seriously wounded his seven-year-old son, Blaise, who survived. Sévérin Djasrabé, a student, Richard Ndouba, and Théophile (family name unknown) were shot dead in Bongaro I. In Boya, two unidentified men were killed.72  It is likely that there were additional deaths that went unrecorded by the sources identified by Human Rights Watch.

Killing of Four Civilians and Beheading of Léon Roman, Bémal, March 15-22, 2006

Following a March 15 attack on a commercial truck near the Chadian border by unidentified gunmen, the Bossangoa-based GP unit led by Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkosséreturned to the Boguila-Bémal area. As with their February 11 attacks, the GP unit again killed a number of civilians as they passed through villages, indiscriminately shooting at fleeing civilians. Serge Feidangai Mahamat, a woodworker, was shot dead in Bétoko on March 15; Doumbé (family name unknown) was shot dead in Béboy 1 on March 16; and Sabin Diadiam and Salomon Ndobi were shot dead in Kébbé on March 22.73

At about 7 p.m. on the evening of March 22, about 75 GP troops led by Lieutenant Ngaïkossé arrived in three pickup trucks in Bémal. Almost the entire population of the village was already living in the bush, but most of those who remained in the village took flight. The soldiers spent the night in the village. At about 6 a.m. the next morning, the village teacher, Léon Roman, went to the market to get tobacco and was stopped on his way home. After tying up Roman, the GP troops beheaded him by cutting off his head with a knife: “We could hear him screaming,” one of his relatives recalled to Human Rights Watch. The soldiers put the severed head in a bag, apparently intending to take it with them, and then left it behind 100 meters from the corpse as they left towards Bétoko. Villagers found Roman’s headless corpse and his head in the bag shortly after the troops departed.74

Execution of Christophe Doroma, Marc Kabo, and Didier Zaura, Gbaïzera, late May 2006

In early May 2006 APRD rebels took control over a series of villages on the Batangafo-Kabo road, concentrating several hundred APRD rebels in the larger village of Gbaïzera. On May 5, FACA forces arrested eight persons from Bamara Kase village, located a few kilometers from Gbaïzera, including the village chief and his son, a 25-year-old woman, and 22-year-old Christophe Doroma, a visitor from Gbaïzera. The detainees were taken to the Gendarmerie jail in Batangafo, where they were kept in detention for three weeks and received almost daily beatings. One of the former detainees recalled the beatings and said the female detainee was raped by the soldiers:

We were beaten each day, for the entire three weeks we were kept. They didn’t ask us anything about the rebels. … They also beat the woman, they abused her. She was raped: they took her away, beat her, and then they slept with her, several of them.75

According to the relatives of Christophe Doroma, the other families of the detainees managed to obtain their release after three weeks by paying the FACA a bribe of 10,000 CFA ($20) per detainee. Doroma’s family was unable to get the money on time and also had a more difficult time traveling to Batangafo from rebel-controlled Gbaïzera.76

On May 22 or 29, 2006,77 FACA soldiers arrived in front of the church in Gbaïzera at about 3 p.m. They took Christophe Doroma and two other young men out of their vehicle, executed them in front of the church, and drove off.78 Human Rights Watch later established that the other two young men executed that day were Marc Kabo and Didier Zaura from Zoumanga village, located on the Kabo-Ouandago road, who had been detained earlier by FACA while riding their bicycles to Kabo to sell goats and honey. Kabo and Zaura had also been held in Batangafo before being executed in Gbaïzera.79

Execution of Placide Bamandia, Nganaoui Voudakpa, Elias Yambassa, and Georges Bamandia, Kpokpo, September 11, 2006.

Placide Bamandia, aged 32 (father of one), Nganaoui Voudakpa, 23 (father of one), Elias Yambassa, 27 (father of four), and Georges Bamandia, 37 (father of three) were all hunters and fishermen and had been away from their homes in the Kaga Bandoro area for three months, hunting and fishing in the Bamingui-Bangoran province, when they returned to Kaga Bandoro on September 10.80  The men were unaware that FACA soldiers had deployed in the area during their absence.

At around 8 p.m. on December 10, 2006, the four men were detained by FACA soldiers at the Sérébanda bridge and taken to the Gendarmerie offices in Kaga Bandoro (where the FACA soldiers were based). At 1 a.m. on December 11, the soldiers took the four men to KpoKpo, located 10 kilometers from Kaga Bandoro, and shot them. Georges Bamandia survived the execution with serious injuries and was left for dead.

At about 8 a.m. in the morning, with the assistance of a passerby, the wounded Bamandia managed to make his way to his parents’ home in Ndomété and took them to the bodies of his fellow hunters. While they were at the killing site, a military truck arrived, apparently to dispose of the dead. After arguing with the civilians, the soldiers killed the wounded Bamandia and threw his body into a pit toilet before burying the other three men in a communal grave.81

Execution of Bonaventura Sam, Kaga Bandoro, December 5, 2006

Bonaventura Sam, 25, also known as “Dassa,” was an ex-combatant who had been demobilized through UNDP’s demobilization program. Sam had been given an agricultural start-up package and was devoting himself to his new life as a farmer. At 10 a.m. on December 5, a FACA patrol found Sam in his field, harvesting crops. He showed the FACA patrol his demobilization certificate but was executed on the spot by the soldiers.

Following the execution, his parents and other relatives went to see the prefect, informing him of the execution of a civilian and asking him for permission to retrieve and bury the body, which was granted. While the family was holding the funeral wake, a FACA military vehicle arrived and the soldiers started firing in the air, dispersing the mourners and arresting six relatives who were taken to the FACA base in Kaga Bandoro and beaten throughout the night. They were eventually released at 4 a.m. by a FACA soldier who appeared to take pity on them.82

Execution of Jean Yellé and Mohammed Younis, Gbaïzera, December 9, 2006

According to local officials, Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkoissé and his GP unit from Bossangoa arrived in Kabo on December 8, 2006, and operated in the Batangafo-Kabo-Kaga Bandoro area until approximately December 18.83  The soldiers detained 25-year-old Jean Yellé, the son of the village chief of Zoumanga, on their way to Kabo, holding him that night at the military base in Kabo.

The next day, December 9, the unit traveled from Kabo to Batangafo, taking Jean Yellé with them. Upon arrival at Gbaïzera, they found 30-year-old Mohammed Younis, a father of one child, standing by the side of the road and immediately shot him dead. A witness in Gbaïzera described what happened next:

Then they stopped and executed the prisoner [Jean Yellé] that they had with them, and then they left again. It was a Saturday, December 9.84

The villagers showed Human Rights Watch the graves of the two executed men.

Execution of Dumnara, Kabo, December 2006

On December 12, 2006, local Red Cross officials in Kabo were told about the smell of a decomposing body located near the FACA base in Kabo. On investigating, they found the partially burned, decomposing body of a young man, who was still tied arbatachar-style and showed signs of torture to his genitals. He was identified as Dumnara, the younger brother of the village chief of Petite Sido, a village located some 30 kilometers north of Kabo. He had last been seen alive when he was arrested by soldiers in Petite Sido a few days previously.85 Although the GP unit of Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkoissé was present in Kabo when the body was discovered, it is unclear whether the unit played a role in the killing.

Execution of Ngario Nangassoum, Béhili II, December 16, 2006

On December 16, 2006, while still based at Kabo, the GP unit of Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkoissé detained 26-year-old Ngario Nangassoum, a farmer, in the village of Béhili II, located southwest of Kabo on the Kabo-Batangafo road. The soldiers accused Nangassoum of being a rebel, executed him in Béhili II village, and then tied his body spread-eagle to the hood of their car and drove back to Kabo, where they paraded through the town’s market to show off the “rebel” they had killed. The partially burned body of Nangassoum was later dumped behind the military base in Kabo, where it was recovered by the local Red Cross and buried.86

Execution of Salvador Dami and Rodrigue Wandé, Kaga Bandoro, January 5, 2007

On January 5, 2007, 27-year-old Salvador Dami, a farmer, was talking to his sister in his field when a FACA vehicle drove up. Soldiers forced Dami into the vehicle, ignoring his sister’s protests. The FACA soldiers forced him to cover his face with his T-shirt and took him to the Gendarmerie in Kaga Bandoro. A second young man, Rodrigue Wandé, aged 22, was similarly arrested.

At about 10 a.m., the two men were taken by FACA soldiers to the bus station in front of the central market and publicly executed. The execution was witnessed by a large number of civilians, as well as French Lieutenant-Colonel Alain Verdier, the head of FOMUC’s administration and finance cell, who happened to be in the area with two pilots. After killing the two, the FACA soldiers posed with the bodies—one such photograph is in the possession of Human Rights Watch. The bodies remained at the bus station for the entire day, as the FACA soldiers refused to allow any relatives to approach them.

According to a local religious leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Verdier was incensed by what he had witnessed and later that day confronted the FACA zonal commander, Captain Grémoboutou, at the airport. According to the religious leader, who accompanied Lt.-Col. Verdier, and other independent sources, the two men had a tense 20-minute conversation. The next day, the religious leader led a delegation of concerned religious officials to meet with Captain Grémoboutou, who appeared unapologetic about the incident. According to notes of the meeting shared with Human Rights Watch, Captain Grémoboutou told the delegation that he had “strict instructions” from the FACA chief of staff to “deal with such problems in the field,” which the religious leaders understood to imply that he had the authority to order the execution of rebel suspects. When asked if he could return the possessions of the two persons to their families (which included about 84,000CFA ($168) and a bicycle), the Captain refused, saying that the personal effects were “war booty.”87

Killing of Dieudonné Bouté, and Execution of Amadou Garba and an Unidentified Nigerian Merchant, Paoua, January 16, 2007

On the morning of January 15, 2007, a group of about 100 APRD rebels launched a major attack on the town of Paoua, exchanging fire with FACA soldiers for several hours before they withdrew, out of ammunition.88  During the attack, APRD rebels managed to briefly take control of the Paoua gendarmerie building and the police commissariat, looting weapons and goods.89 

As FACA soldiers pursued the fleeing APRD rebels, they shot dead 22-year-old Dieudonné Bouté, a farmer. According to Bouté’s mother, who was with him at the time of the shooting:

The FACA came to our neighborhood about one hour after the rebels had left, at about 10 a.m. When the FACA came, we heard loud explosions and so the whole neighborhood started fleeing. … They just came into the neighborhood and started shooting. Every time they saw a young man, they would just shoot at him.90

At about 8 a.m. the next day, three military vehicles with GP troops from Bossangoa, led by their new commander, Lieutenant Abdoulayé Alias, came to the house of a local tailor in Paoua, Amadou Garba, aged 55. According to his sister who lived next door, the GP troops, wearing their distinctive uniforms with green berets, came to the home and ordered Amadou Garba to come with them. Garba pleaded with the soldiers, saying he was suffering from stomach troubles and couldn’t leave the house, but the soldiers began beating him in the street and forced him into a vehicle.91

A second detainee who survived the incident later told the family that they were driven to Béyokara, located seven kilometers out of town. At Béyokara, Amadou Garba was ordered to get out of the vehicle and was immediately shot dead with four bullets. The troops then released the second detainee and drove off leaving behind the body.92

Also on January 16, government soldiers executed a 35-year-old Nigerian merchant with a gunshot to the back of the head at the abandoned village of Nzangara, a few kilometers from Paoua, on the Bozoum road. The merchant, whose name is unknown, spoke neither French nor Sango and expressed himself only in Pidgin English. Because he was unable to speak the local languages, FACA soldiers in Paoua had arrested him on suspicion of being a rebel supporter a few days before the APRD’s January 15 attack on Paoua.93

Execution of Roger Masamra, Batangafo, January 27, 2007

On January 27, 2007, FACA soldiers detained and then executed Roger Masamra, the son of the village catechist (a trainee Catholic priest) in Zoumanga, located on the Kabo-Ouandago road. The FACA soldiers accused Masamra of being a rebel because he was wearing a traditional gri-gri amulet on his body, and took him to their temporary base before shooting him in front of the local Gendarmerie building in Batangafo.94

Execution of unidentified Chadian merchant, Kabo, January 30, 2007

On the morning of January 30, 2007, FACA forces detained an unidentified Chadian Christian merchant at the Kabo market, on the suspicion that he was a rebel. Apparently, their suspicion was based on the fact that the visiting merchant did not speak French or Sango, had some protective gri-gri amulets on his body, and had scars on his hands that the FACA soldiers claimed were old bullet wounds. An international humanitarian official, on a routine visit to the FACA office, saw the hog-tied prisoner on the ground outside the office and briefly enquired about his status.95

Shortly afterwards, the bound prisoner was taken by four FACA soldiers in front of the police commissioner’s office, which is located next to Kabo’s school buildings, and executed as many of the school children and other civilians watched. According to a local humanitarian official who assisted in the burial, the eyes of the victim had been gouged out. The victim was never identified.96

Village Burnings

The widespread burning of homes by government security forces is almost the signature abuse of the conflict. The first burning documented by Human Rights Watch took place following the December 28, 2005 attack by APRD rebels on the village of Bodjomo, located outside Markounda, in Ouham province. Following the unsuccessful rebel attack, FACA forces based at Markounda, working with GP soldiers from Bossangoa led by Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkossé, burnt down an estimated 500 to 900 homes in about a dozen villages in the vicinity. In almost all of the affected villages, all of the homes were burned down, including over 280 homes in the large village of Kadjoma Kota.97

An overall assessment of villages burned in the entire northwest has not yet been conducted, but Human Rights Watch did conduct an in-depth assessment of the amount of village burning in one main area of rebel activity, the Batangafo-Kabo-Ouandago-Kaga Bandoro area. Going from village to village along all the main roads in the area, Human Rights Watch researchers counted a total of 2,923 homes burned by government security forces (and an additional 96 burned by zaraguinas or nomadic groups), destruction which affected at least 32 villages and towns along hundreds of kilometers of roads.

Along the Batangafo to Ouandago road, no civilian homes have been burned. The reason is that APRD rebels have destroyed at least three bridges on this road, and government security forces have not been active in the area. The fact that the lack of village burnings in this area coincides with a lack of government security force presence (and an active APRD presence) clearly demonstrates that government security forces, and not APRD rebels, are responsible for the village burnings (in a few cases, disputes between nomads and local villagers have been responsible for home burnings as well).

The village burnings documented by Human Rights Watch and other groups amount to a deliberate or de facto policy of forced displacement of the civilian population of northwestern CAR, and simply cannot be characterized as the actions of rogue soldiers or commanders. The FACA and GP have consistently burned civilian villages since the onset of the conflict in mid-2005, and this practice continues virtually unabated to date. Villages located hundreds of kilometers apart have been affected; an estimated 10,000 homes have been burned by the FACA and GP so far. Because of the random and extreme violence that has accompanied the village burnings, villagers remain displaced in the bush even more than a year after their homes were burned, still too afraid to return and rebuild. In the face of overwhelming evidence of abuses, the CAR authorities have completely failed to act to stop the village burnings, or to bring those responsible to account. The silence and lack of action of the authorities can only be characterized as acquiescence in the abuses.

Batangafo to Kabo Road

Along the Batangafo to Kabo road, burnt villages start at the village of Gbaïzera, located some 28 kilometers outside Batangafo, which has featured many previous times in this report. Human Rights Watch counted a total of 662 homes burned in 12 villages in the area. Starting in June 2006 FACA and GP forces burned homes in the area whenever they moved through, burning a total of 96 homes in Gbaïzera to date.98  From Gbaïzera to Kabo, Human Rights Watch researchers found all villages along the road deserted. Many were destroyed between June 2006 and the present, with a sharp peak in burnings during November 2006. All 29 homes were burned in Dimba I; 47 homes out of 102 in Kakobo were burned by FACA troops in November 2006; 1 out of 58 homes in Rubéringa; 67 homes out of 144 burned in Kava I on November 15, by FACA; 161 homes out of 323 in Ngonikira; 14 out of 44 in Mudiélé; 2 homes out of 7 destroyed in Samba; 1 out of 96 in Vafio II; 66 out of 71 in Béhili II; 94 homes out of 104 in Kemngvoyéyé; and all 84 homes destroyed in Ndabala.99

Kabo to Ouandago road

Along the Kabo to Ouandago road, Human Rights Watch found a more complex situation, with a number of villages closest to Kabo having been attacked by Chadian or Sudanese nomads, described as “Fulata” by the local population, in disputes over grazing rights and access to water sources, which have also involved killings.100  Human Rights Watch counted 96 homes burned in four separate villages in the area. Nomads burned three homes in Konga Litos in early February 2007, just days before the Human Rights Watch visit, and three more homes in Beltonou II in January 2007. The “Fulata” nomads also had a major confrontation with the village of Beltonou I in July or August 2006, which resulted in the killing of the village chief, 25-year-old Alfonse Totamani, and the burning of 90 homes in the village.101

However, the villages farther down the road towards Ouandago were burned by government security forces in the pattern familiar to other areas. Between Kabo and Ouandago, Human Rights Watch counted 270 homes and shops burned in four separate villages.

On December 8, 2006, GP units led by Lieutenant Eugène Ngaïkossé stopped at the village of Farazala while on their way to Kabo, burned three homes, and detained the village mayor, Damasco Mallo, and a woman, Denise Mokossa, demanding that they show where the APRD was based. The two detainees were taken to Kouvougou where they were further interrogated and witnessed how the GPs units burned down the village, destroying at least 220 homes and shops, and burning the entire market area. The two detainees were then released.102

The village of Dissi had 33 burned homes, destroyed by FACA in October 2006.103 Mid-morning on January 29, 2007, GP troops from Bossangoa burned 14 homes in Bilalo, where two villagers had previously been indiscriminately killed by FACA soldiers in September.104 

Ouandago to Kaga Bandoro road

The most extensive home burnings documented by Human Rights Watch took place on the Ouandago to Kaga Bandoro road, where the destroyed homes number in the thousands. Human Rights Watch counted a total of 1,991 homes burned in 16 villages and towns in this area. Most affected is the major market center of Ouandago itself.

The road between Ouandago and Kaga Bandoro is marked by massive burning of civilian homes, increasing in frequency as one approaches Kaga Bandoro. Kia I had two homes burned by FACA on October 5, 2006. In November 2006 FACA soldiers burned 14 homes in Boskoubé and an additional 75 in the adjoining Boskoubé Moderne. One hundred and fifty one homes were burned by FACA in the major town of Nana Outa on August 19, 2006. Thirteen homes were burned in Futa, and 84 homes in Ngoumourou (neighborhoods I, II, and III) by GP units between October and December 2006. A village leader of Ngoumourou 1 recalled the FACA and GP attacks, which began almost immediately after the Ouandago attacks described above, to Human Rights Watch:

The attacks started on October 12, 2006. They came suddenly, firing their rifles, in four vehicles, from the Ouandago direction. It was about 10 a.m., and we were all afraid and fled into the bush. They started burning the houses then. They returned on October 21 to burn more houses. We fled our houses, leaving everything behind. They took all of our goats and animals—that time, they took more than 100 goats with them.

We spent four months living in the bush. There were many cases of malaria and bush fires that burned the children. Five men, six women, and eight children died in the bush.

One person has been killed in the attacks on our village. Isa Manu, aged about 30, he was trying to flee when the army came at about 6 p.m., in August, before the burning of the houses. He was shot while he was trying to flee.105

The number of burnt villages increases closer to Kaga Bandoro. In one 20 kilometer stretch, almost every home has been destroyed. Patcho has 40 homes burned by GP and FACA forces in December 2006; all of Yamuvé’s 54 homes have been burned in January 2007; all 176 homes in Yamissi and Ngoulekpa have been burned, leaving only the village church standing; all 52 homes have been burned in Inguissa; all 106 homes in Pougaza and Béré have been burned, leaving only the village church; and all 44 homes in Kpokpo have been burned.

Other villages in the area have also been burned: 10 homes were burned by GP troops and FACA in mid-December in Gazao, on the road from Kaga Bandoro to Ndélé, and nearly 300 homes were burned in the villages of Mbiti, Bamala, Ousmane, and Bayiri on the Kago Bandoro-Bangui road.106

Around Paoua

A similar level of burning of civilian homes can be found almost all around the town of Paoua, where GP and FACA units have burned almost all villages on several main roads, including the Paoua-Bozoum road, the Paoua-Bétoko-Bémal road, and the Paoua-Borguila-Nana Barya road. As in other areas, the level of destruction is massive, involving the burning of thousands of homes, with hundreds of homes burned in some of the individual villages visited by Human Rights Watch. As in other areas, the burning around Paoua dates back to late 2005, and continues to date: numerous villages were burned by GP troops around Paoua following the January 15, 2007 attack.

Village burnings continue to occur in the Paoua area. According to Refugees International, on March 11, 2007, FACA troops traveling from Paoua to Bangui clashed with APRD rebels in Lia, some 30 kilometers south of Paoua. Two civilians were killed in the crossfire. Following the exchange, FACA soldiers got down from their vehicles and set fire to two houses, and then continued to set fire to other homes in four other villages, where they also shot indiscriminately into the civilian population. A baby was killed by a stray FACA bullet in Léourou, and an additional 10 homes were set on fire in Voh. Altogether, at least 20 homes were burned by the FACA soldiers.107

The impact

No comprehensive statistics exist on the total number of civilian homes burned by FACA and GP troops during the current conflict, but the numbers are definitely in the many thousands, probably amounting to at least 10,000 homes, and have taken place in hundreds of villages across the region.108 But the effect of the widespread campaign of village burnings, unlawful killings and summary executions, and the indiscriminate gunfire that FACA and GP soldiers direct almost routinely at villages in passing goes far beyond the destroyed homes. Almost the entire population of the affected areas has fled their homes in terror and fear, and hundreds of villages lie completely abandoned in the north. Where villagers have returned, they flee at the sound of approaching vehicles.

The displacement of some 102,000 civilians in the districts of Ouham, Ouham-Pendé, and Nana-Grébizi into the bush since December 2005 is a direct result of the campaign of reprisals, terror, and abuse unleashed by CAR security forces and has dire consequences for their humanitarian situation. In their makeshift, widely dispersed shelters in the bush, many displaced persons are beyond the reach of the humanitarian community. The displaced have limited or no access to safe, clean water, and often are desperately short of food supplies. Educational facilities in most villages are closed, because their students are hiding in the bush, so many children have now been out of school for more than a year. Aside from mobile clinics run by a few international humanitarian organizations such as Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF), medical services for much of the population are non-existent.

FACA military and civilian officials freely acknowledged the level of abuses committed by the security forces during meetings with Human Rights Watch. The governor of Ouham province, himself a Brigadier General in FACA, offered a long, unsolicited tirade about the behavior of government troops in his province:

I am against these home burnings, I don’t understand why they do it, and this is not part of the orders of the soldiers. The commanders of these units give these orders, but this is not part of the official orders. We need to stop impunity, the problem is that these renegade commanders are not prosecuted...The Presidential Guards are the most feared, look at what they did in Bémal. They think they are untouchable. I have had to interfere to try to stop the Presidential Guards from burning villages, but we don’t have the right to interfere with the Presidential Guards…When the Presidential Guards come here, they don’t even come to present themselves to me. They have held operations five kilometers from our town without informing the authorities. The Presidential Guard also loots the villages; they even steal from cars on the road.109

The FACA commander of Ouham and Ouham-Pendé (the 1st military region), Lieutenant-Colonel André Kada, was equally straightforward in his assessment: “The Presidential Guards are the ones who committed the abuses in the north, they burned the houses…They have no basic education…They are permitted to do anything, they only know how to fire their guns…The Presidential Guard didn’t receive direct orders to burn the villages, they committed these crimes on their own initiative. Everyone tells me there is impunity, but the President takes these decisions.”110

A local area FACA area commander also eloquently summed up the problem with impunity in CAR:

We have a directive which we were given from the Chief of the Army to respect human rights and the laws of war [pulls a paper from his briefcase and starts reading selected parts]. Prisoners should be taken to superior officers; interrogations should be conducted with respect for human rights; respect the population, it is prohibited to loot or burn villages; sensitize the population.

So the burned villages are not on orders; they are the bad carrying out of orders. The Presidential Guards are part of the army, but they are permitted to do anything. They can do whatever they want, but we can’t. ...

All of those around the President ignore the laws—this is the traditional African way. If I am called by the law, I will respond, because I respect the law. But this is the problem—not everyone is under the law.111

President Bozizé told John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator (the UN’s top humanitarian envoy) on April 1, 2007 that “military abuses would be investigated and dealt with promptly and correctly,” but to date no-one responsible for village burnings or summary executions and other unlawful killings has been “dealt with.” Formally, CAR officials continue to blame rebels for most of the abuses, such as the claim by the governor of Gribingui, Colonel Jean-Christophe Bureau, in December 2006, that “all the villages were burned by the rebels.”112

Abuses by APRD rebels

Human Rights Watch’s research into APRD rebel conduct did not find evidence to suggest that APRD rebels are responsible for widespread killings, village burnings or other similarly serious crimes since the beginning of the rebellion in mid-2005. Neither did Human Rights Watch interviews with CAR government representatives, military officers, local and international humanitarian officials, and human rights officials reveal allegations of such abuses committed by the group. Most of the APRD attacks documented in the press or by local and international human rights and humanitarian organizations have focused on military targets such as police stations, military bases, and military patrols, rather than on the civilian population. However, the APRD has recruited and used children in its fighting forces, and its soldiers have been responsible for widespread kidnapping, beatings, extortion, and theft of livestock.


Human Rights Watch researchers have identified two cases in which APRD troops were responsible for the unlawful killing of a civilian. The first took place in Gbaïzera in June 2006, after the APRD reoccupied the village. Mohammed Haroon, aged 50, who was the son of the village chief, was detained and then killed for informing the FACA commander in Batangafo of the initial occupation of the village by rebels in April. The FACA forces reacted to the APRD occupation by attacking the rebels in May and June, burning down nearly 100 homes, and in late May unlawfully executing three civilians. When the APRD returned to the village later in June, they detained Mohammed Haroon and publicly beat him to death with wooden sticks in front of the village church. After the killing, the rebels told the villagers to let the body rot in the sun and threatened to kill anyone who attempted to bury him.113

This is a serious crime. However, it is the only killing of its kind that Human Rights Watch identified as having been carried out by APRD troops since the beginning of the conflict in mid-2005. While Human Rights Watch cannot rule out that there have been other similar incidents, no other cases were reported during interviews with government officials, military officials, local and international human rights, and humanitarian organizations.

APRD rebels are also responsible for the death on June 11, 2007, of Elsa Serfass, aged 27, a nurse with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). APRD rebels fired upon an MSF vehicle, killing the humanitarian aid worker. While the APRD immediately characterized the shooting as a “mistake”114 and apologized for the incident, those responsible within the APRD for firing on a clearly marked humanitarian vehicle, resulting in the unlawful death of a civilian, should be held accountable.

Use of Child Soldiers by APRD

One practice, readily admitted by APRD rebel leaders to Human Rights Watch, is the use of child soldiers, a serious violation of international law. APRD rebel commanders said that there are many children in their ranks, including some as young as 12, and that many are armed and participate in combat.115 Almost every APRD unit encountered by Human Rights Watch had some child combatants in its ranks. A leading APRD commander told Human Rights Watch that many of the children had come to the APRD for security from attacks by government forces:  “Our recruitment is voluntary, and we have some child soldiers with us. Since the Presidential Guard moved here [around Paoua], the children were insecure. So they came to stay with us because they wanted security, it is for their own safety.”116 

Even if the APRD commander is correct, the APRD’s use of children as combatants remains a serious violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime117. Human Rights Watch explained this to APRD commanders, who appeared unaware that their conduct violated the laws of war. When informed of the relevant international standards, and the current ICC prosecution of a Congolese warlord for the use of child soldiers,118 a top APRD commander immediately offered to demobilize the child soldiers, as long as their security could be guaranteed, and asked Human Rights Watch to contact UNICEF for assistance with the demobilization.119

Kidnapping, Beatings, and Extortion

On the Fourth of July [2006], the rebels came here for the first time. Since then, they come all the time, whenever their food is finished. They have taken all of our goats, over 100 goats from the village. They have kidnapped me twice, and then my people have to pay money to get me released, 10,000 CFA [$20] each time.

Village chief, Ngaipellé village120

There is also plentiful evidence that the APRD has committed other serious abuses against the civilian population, including widespread kidnapping for ransom, beatings, extortion, and looting. The reported level of such abuses varies greatly among different regions where the APRD is present. Around Paoua, APRD rebels apparently mostly limit themselves to demanding “road tax” from vehicles and passengers passing through their area of control. However, in some areas in the Batangafo-Kabo-Ouandago triangle, the APRD have taken almost all the goats and chickens from villagers and have repeatedly kidnapped and beaten village leaders to extort money.

The worst cases of kidnappings, beatings and extortion by APRD rebels have occurred on the Ouandago-Batangafo road. Here the APRD rebels have destroyed several bridges and thus cannot get money from a “road tax” since there is no significant commercial traffic. Human Rights Watch found many villages completely deserted, without any visible livestock. The civilian population Human Rights Watch did manage to locate often suffered from malnutrition—the only area visited by Human Rights Watch where severe malnutrition was visible. A village leader in Botéri I village explained:

We have a lot of problems here with the rebels, but not with the army, ever since the rebellion started. On August 15 [2006], they came and took all of our goats and money. They even beat our village chief, because he tried to stop them. They came with nine rebels from Ouandago. We never went to complain to their commanders, who is there to complain to? Monday a week ago, the rebels [came to our village] and beat us, they were demanding money. They took 6,000 CFA [$12] from us, and a chicken and a goat. They have come to our village six times, each time they take things, even our manioc. All of our goats have been taken by them.121

A religious official in Sébongono village, along the same road, gave a similar account of rebel abuses:

FACA has not come here since the start of the war, but we do have problems with the rebels. They take our goats and money, and they catch our men and then make us pay ransom—they ask for 15,000 or 10,000 CFA [$30-$20]. They also beat us if we refuse to give them our goods…. They come sometimes two or three times per week, very often, starting in June 2006. They come in groups of nine or 10, different groups of rebels, there are many groups of rebels around here.122

Also in Sébongono village, a school official recounted to Human Rights Watch how he had been held by APRD rebels demanding money, on August 8, 2006, for several hours. Initially his captors demanded 40,000 CFA [$80] for his release, but ultimately settled for 12,000 CFA [$24]. Because he was also a government-appointed village official (conseilleur), he was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized.123  Similar accounts were collected by Human Rights Watch at villages all over the Batangafo-Kabo-Ouandago triangle.

Abuses by Chadian Forces

Abuses suffered by the civilian population in northwestern CAR are not limited to those committed by the APRD rebels, CAR forces, and zaraguinas—Chadian troops also regularly conduct cross-border raids, looting villages, and committing rape.

Chad’s role in CAR is complex. Chadian elements can be found on all sides of the various conflicts: Bozizé’s personal security detail is Chadian, and so are many of his GP troops that helped bring him to power (the ex-libérateurs). Many Chadian ex-libérateurs are found in the ranks of the UFDR fighting in the northeast; Chadian bandits are involved in the zaraguinas criminal groups attacking civilians in the north; Chadian troops form part of the FOMUC regional peacekeeping mission; Chadian anti-Déby rebel groups have based themselves in CAR; and Chadian army troops have carried out independent raids against CAR rebel groups on CAR territory, and have also engaged in abusive looting raids inside CAR, some involving the rape of civilians.

On July 10, 2006, Chadian army soldiers in army trucks raided the village of Bétoko, located 20 kilometers south of the Chadian border town of Goré, firing randomly at the population and looting the village after the population had fled. During this raid, the Chadian troops raped five women at Bétoko.124  In December 2006, Chadian troops in three army trucks attacked Bémal, located next to Bétoko, firing randomly at the population and taking 32 cows from the village, as well as farming implements and sacks of peanuts.125  Local villagers told Human Rights Watch that such Chadian army raids are common, taking place every few months.

Chadian army troops have carried out regular, direct raids on APRD bases, including attacks by a 10-vehicle Chadian army column on APRD positions around Boguila on November 5 and November 18, and a major attack in August 2006 that destroyed the APRD’s main Vami base, located outside Ouandago, which was then home to some 600 APRD rebels. CAR government officials gave Human Rights Watch conflicting information about whether such Chadian army operations were coordinated with the CAR authorities.

31 According to UNFPA, the estimated 2007 population of CAR is 4,216,666. UNFPA, “Population Projection for CAR, 2007”. The estimated populations of the affected provinces are: 390,641 for Ouham, 445,483 for Ouham-Pendé, and 124,651 for Nana-Grébizi, for a total of 960,775 persons. UN OCHA, “Central African Republic Factsheet”, February 2007, (accessed July 11, 2007). One-hundred-two thousand persons are believed to be displaced by the conflict in the northwest: 30,000 from Ouham, 37,000 from Ouham-Pendé, and 35,000 from Nana-Grébizi. UN OCHA, “Central African Republic Fact Sheet”, June 2007,$FILE/MYR_2007_CAR.doc?OpenElement (accessed July 11, 2007).

32 Constitutional Act No. 1, dated March 15, 2003.

33 The new Constitution, the sixth constitution in CAR’s post-independence history, was promulgated by President Bozizé on December 27, 2004, after a referendum that approved the new constitution with an 87 percent “yes” vote.

34 The four former Ministers of Patassé’s Presidency were: Jean-Jacques Démafouth, a former Minister of Defense; Jean-Paul Ngoupandé and Martin Ziguélé, both former Prime Ministers, and Charles Massi.

35 FIDH, “Forgotten, Stigmatised,” p. 44.

36  Human Rights Watch interview with Wafio Bertin, Boja, February 15, 2007.

37 “8,000 Central Africans flee to southern Chad in fresh exodus from fighting,” IRIN, June 15, 2005.

38 Human Rights Watch interview, AndréYokandji, Chief of Tantalé village, Bozoum, February 12, 2007.

39 Human Rights Watch interview with André Yokandji, chief of Tantalé village, Bozoum, February 12, 2007,

40 Human Rights Watch interview with Léonard Bangué, Mayor of Bozoum, February 12, 2007

41 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean-Marie Ngouakouzou, subprefect of Kabo, February 20, 2007

42 Human Rights Watch interview (name and place withheld), March 1, 2007.  Nick Paton Walsh, “France’s African War?,” Channel 4 news (UK),  June 25, 2007, (accessed July 11, 2007).

43 Human Rights Watch interview with Bertin Wafio, Boja, February 15, 2007.

44 International officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch do not believe the APRD possesses any military vehicles or heavy weapons.

45 Those which were not home produced were likely to have been looted from government stocks. Many of the initial attacks of the APRD focused on small military and gendarmerie outposts which were looted of weapons and then destroyed. Since the APRD command consists mainly of former Patassé Presidential Guard troops, pro-Patassé troops most likely also took their personal weapons with them when they deserted after Bozizé took power.

46 This is based on extensive interviews conducted in the Ouandago area with local residents, local and international humanitarian officials, and APRD rebel officials.

47 See Paul Melly, “Central African Republic: Insecurity in the Regions Bordering Cameroon, UNHCR Writenet Report, June 2005, (accessed July 11, 2007)

48 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ouandago, February 19, 2007.

49 Such prohibitions are a matter of customary international humanitarian law for both international and non-international armed conflict and explicitly articulated in Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions applicable in non-international armed conflict, Article 4 (2), as well as Geneva Convention IV, Article 33, and Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, Article 51.

50 UN OCHA, “Central African Republic Fact Sheet,” February 2007, (accessed July 11, 2007). According to OCHA, 30,000 people have been displaced from Ouham, 37,000 from Ouham-Pendé, and 35,000 from Nana-Grébizi. The percentage of displacement ranges from 7.6 percent (Ouham) to 28 percent (Nana-Grébizi).

51 This second convoy included Mia Farrow, UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador, and accompanying staff.

52 Commission Diocésaine Justice et Paix, “Atrocities Committed by FACA in the Kaga Bandoro region, October-10 December 2006“ (Exactions commises par les FACA dans la région de Kaga Bandoro, Octobre-10 Décembre 2006,) undated.

53 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Gbaïzera, February 20, 2007.

54 The criminal responsibility of commanders is a long-standing rule of customary international law and is articulated in Article 86 (2) of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions.

55 Human Rights Watch interview with FACA officer (name and place withheld), February 16, 2007.

56 Human Rights Watch interview with FACA officer, (name, date, and place withheld).

57 Human Rights Watch interview with religious leader, (name, date, and place withheld).

58 “Centrafrique: Manifestation de Tchadiens à Bangui,” Reuters, 14 February 2007.

59 Human Rights Watch interview with local humanitarian official (name withheld), Paoua, February 13, 2006; Comité Sous-préfectoral de la Croix-Rouge de Paoua, “Report and Summary of the Events of Sunday, January 29, 2006,” (Rapport et Synthèse Des Evénements Survenus le Dimanche 29 Janvier 2006) undated.

60 Ibid

61 Comité Sous-préfectoral de la Croix-Rouge de Paoua, “Report and Summary of the Events of Sunday, January 29, 2006,” (Rapport et Synthèse Des Evénements Survenus le Dimanche 29 Janvier 2006) undated.

62 Human Rights Watch interview with local humanitarian official (name withheld), Paoua, February 13, 2006.

63 Comité Sous-préfectoral de la Croix-Rouge de Paoua, “Report and Summary of the Events of Sunday, January 29, 2006,” (Rapport et Synthèse Des Evénements Survenus le Dimanche 29 Janvier 2006) undated.

64 Confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch.

65 Prior to visiting the country, Human Rights Watch was aware of reports that 17 schoolchildren had been summarily executed by FACA soldiers at the Lycée (college) in Paoua in January 2006 (see FIDH, “Forgotten, Stigmatized,” p. 50, and Amnesty International, “Central African Republic: Government Must Take Action Against Soldiers Who Killed Injured and Displaced Unarmed Civilians in the Northwest, April 5, 2006). Despite extensive investigations and a visit to the Lycée, Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm these reports. According to the officials at the Lycée, no students died at the college during the January 29 attack and its immediate aftermath. However, they reported that two 15-year-old students were killed by Presidential Guard troops at Béogombo on February 11, 2006.

66 Arbatachar is a common form of torture in the region. It consists of tightly tying the forearms and legs of a detainee behind his back, similar to “hog-tying”. The tight ropes cut off circulation and can result in permanent disability.

67 Human Rights Watch interview with Frédéric Ganoni, Paoua, February 14, 2007.

68 Ibid. The burning of the bodies was further confirmed by other sources.

69 FIDH, “Forgotten and Stigmatised,” p. 50; Confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch.

70 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Bémal, February 14, 2007. According to the mayor, a year after the attack, only 300 to 400 of the 1,800 residents of Bémal were sleeping in their homes at night, the rest remaining in the bush or having fled to Chad. Human Rights Watch found no information to support the contention by FIDH and others that 13 schoolchildren were killed that day by Presidential Guard troops in Bémal, as the village mayor did not mention these deaths and they are not listed amongst the victims of that day’s killings in the Red Cross report.

71 Comité Sous-préfectoral de la Croix-Rouge de Paoua, “Report and Summary of the Events of Sunday, January 29, 2006,” (Rapport et Synthèse Des Evénements Survenus le Dimanche 29 Janvier 2006) undated; confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch.

72 Comité Sous-préfectoral de la Croix-Rouge de Paoua, “Report and Summary of the Events of Sunday, January 29, 2006,” (Rapport et Synthèse Des Evénements Survenus le Dimanche 29 Janvier 2006) undated; confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch.

73 Comité Sous-préfectoral de la Croix-Rouge de Paoua, “Report and Summary of the Events of Sunday, January 29, 2006,” (Rapport et Synthèse Des Evénements Survenus le Dimanche 29 Janvier 2006) undated; IFRC, “Chad: Central African Refugees Information Bulletin,” vol. 1 2006, March 2, 2006; confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch.

74 Human Rights Watch interview, victim’s relative, (name withheld), Bémal, February 14, 2007; confidential sources on file with Human Rights Watch.

75 Human Rights Watch interview, former detainee (name withheld), Bamara Kase, February 20, 2007.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with relative of Christophe Doroma, (name withheld) Gbaïzera, February 20, 2007.

77 The family was certain Doroma was killed on a Thursday in late May, but was uncertain of the exact date.

78 Human Rights Watch interview with Michel Djatobayé, Gbaïzera, February 20, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with relative of Doroma, (name withheld), Gbaïzera, February 20, 2007.

79 Human Rights Watch interview with Dieudonné Lomangda, Zoumanga, February 21, 2007.

80 In northern CAR, such extended hunting and fishing trips are common. The meat and fish collected is smoked and dried, and then sold in town upon return.

81 Commission Diocésaine Justice et Paix, “Atrocities Committed by FACA in the Kaga Bandoro region, October-10 December 2006“ (Exactions commises par les FACA dans la région de Kaga Bandoro, Octobre-10 Décembre 2006,) undated.

82 Ibid

83 Confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch.

84 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Gbaïzera, February 20, 2007.

85 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Kabo, February 21, 2007.

86 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Kabo, February 21, 2007; Confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch. Another source dated the incident on December 17.

87 Commission Justice et Paix, “The events of Friday, January 5, 2007 in Kaga Bangoro” (Evénements du Vendredi 05 Janvier 2007 a Kaga Bandoro,) undated; Confidential information on file with Human Rights Watch; OCHA, “Inter-Agency Mission to Birao (CAR), 12 to 23 January, 2007” (on file with Human Rights Watch).

88 Human Rights Watch interview with Wafio Bertin, APRD commander, February 15, 2007.

89 Comité Sous-préfectoral de la Croix-Rouge de Paoua, “Report of the events of January 15, 2007 in Paoua” (Rapport des Evénements survenus a Paoua le 15/01/2007) January 16, 2007.

90 Human Rights Watch interview with Elizabeth Denadji, Paoua, February 14, 2007.

91 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Paoua, February 14, 2007.

92 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Paoua, February 14, 2007.

93 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Paoua, February 14, 2007; Comité Sous-préfectoral de la Croix-Rouge de Paoua, “Report of the events of January 15, 2007 in Paoua” (Rapport des Evénements survenus a Paoua le 15/01/2007) January 16, 2007.

94 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Batangafo, February 19, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], Kabo, February 21, 2007.

95 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Batangafo, February 19, 2007.

96 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Kabo, February 21, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with subprefect Jean-Marie Ngouakouzou, Kabo, February 20, 2007.

97 UN OCHA, “ Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) for the Central African Republic, 2006” (Procédure d’Appel Global (CAP)—Examen Semestriel de l’Appel Humanitaire 2006 pour la République Centrafricaine,) July 18, 2006; Confidential sources on file with Human Rights Watch. The burned down villages were: Bobéré, Kakambia, Kadjoma Kota, Mandunga, Maiban, Galé II, Galé I, and Koukou.

98 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Gbaïzera, February 20, 2007.

99 Human Rights Watch counts, February 20, 2007.

100 For example, on July 10, 2006, a group of six armed Fulata came to the village of Bouaki I at 5 a.m. and demanded to see Bernard Ndikisi, the 80-year-old village chief, who they then shot dead. Two other villagers were killed while fleeing from the gunmen: Jérémi Ndounama, 18, and Didier Zoranga, 22. The Fulata did not burn any homes on that occasion (Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Bouaki I, February 21, 2007).

101 Human Rights Watch interviews and counts, February 21, 2007.

102 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld) Farazala, February 21, 2007.

103 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld) Dissi, February 21, 2007.

104 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Bilalo, February 21, 2007.

105 Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], February 22, 2007.

106 Confidential humanitarian report on file with Human Rights Watch.

107 Refugees International, “Central African Republic: Army House Burnings Continue in Tense Northwest,” March 15, 2007.

108 Human Rights Watch counted a total of 2,923 homes burned in the Batangafo-Kabo-Oaundago-Kaga Bandoro area alone, but there are much larger areas of burned villages that have not been assessed to date, including some areas immediately outside the area assessed by Human Rights Watch (some homes north of Kabo have also been burned, but security restrictions prevented Human Rights Watch from visiting this area). The area affected around Paoua, including the Paoua-Bozoum road, the Paoua-Bétoko-Bémal road, and the Paoua-Borguila-Nana Barya road, is significantly larger than the area counted by Human Rights Watch, and has an equal or greater level of destruction. Thus, a figure of 10,000 homes burned offers a conservative assessment of the overall number of homes burned throughout the region.

109 Human Rights Watch interview with Brigadier General Raymond Ndougou, Bozoum, February 12, 2007.

110 Human Rights Watch interview with Lt. Col. André Kada, Bossangoa, February 16, 2007.

111 Human Rights Watch interview [name, date, and place withheld].

112 “CAR: Blame game as villages burn,” IRIN, December 19, 2006.

113 Human Rights Watch interview with village chief (name withheld), Gbaïzera, February 20, 2007.

114 “Further clarification on the death of our colleague, Elsa Serfass, in Central African Republic,” MSF Press Release, June 13, 2007, (accessed on July 11, 2007); “An MSF aid worker has been killed in the Central African Republic,” MSF Press Release, June 11, 2007, (accessed July 11, 2007).

115 Human Rights Watch interview with Wafio Bertin, Boja, February 15, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with APRD soldier (name withheld), Boja, February 15, 2007.

116 Human Rights Watch interview with Wafio Bertin, Boja, February 15, 2007.

117 For example, under Articles 8(2)(b)(xxvi)and Article 8(2)(e)(vii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court it is a war crime to conscript or enlist children under 15 years into armed forces or groups, or use them to participate in hostilities. Article 77 of Additional Protocol I and Article 4(c) of Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, outlaw the recruitment and participation of children under 15 years. Article 38 of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child provides that: States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities (Paragraph 2). States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. (Paragraph 3). The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 May 2000 and entered into force on 12 February 2002) sets 18 as the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities and for recruitment into armed groups.

118 Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former leader of the Union des patriotes Congolais (UPC), an armed group responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was the first-ever person brought to trial before the ICC, charged with enlisting and conscripting children as soldiers and using them to participate actively in the conflict in Ituri.

119 Human Rights Watch interview with Wafio Bertin, Boja, February 15, 2007.

120 Human Rights Watch interview with village chief (name and place withheld), February 19, 2007.

121 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Botéré I village, February 19, 2007.

122 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Sébongono village, February 19, 2007.

123 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Sébongono village, February 19, 2007.

124 Human Rights Watch interview with Eric Djiji, Bétoko, February 14, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with Interview with Florent Dolomboto, in Bétoko, February 13 2007; “CAR: Living with rape, harassment in the northwest,” IRIN, February 22, 2007.

125 Human Rights Watch interview with Benoit Bédomnolé, Bémal, February 14, 2007.