At its heart, the crisis in northern CAR is one of human rights. Government troops and to a lesser extent rebel forces have committed grave human rights abuses against the civilian population. Government troops have committed hundreds of summary executions and other unlawful killings, of which at least 100 have been documented by Human Rights Watch, and have burned down more than 10,000 civilian homes. Rebel forces have committed widespread looting and beatings against civilians, and the UFDR has committed some executions and rapes. Both the APRD and UFDR have used child soldiers. As a result of the war, some 212,000 people have been displaced from their homes, living in precarious conditions in the bush, too afraid to go home and rebuild their destroyed villages.
In order to end this crisis, there is an urgent need for the protection of the civilian population, and those responsible for the abuses must be brought to account.
As one report on the crisis in Central African Republic has pointed out, it is incorrect to speak of it as one of the worlds forgotten crises, because the act of forgetting implies prior knowledge. The crisis in the CAR is not a forgotten emergency: it is virtually unknown and unrecognized.202 For most of the international community, the long-standing crisis in the Central African Republic simply does not make it unto their radar screen. Even today, most of the international communitys interest in events in CAR focus on the spill-over effect of the Darfur crisis and the efforts to contain the war in Darfur, ignoring the domestic causes of the unrest in CAR, as well as the responsibility of CAR government troops for much of the carnage in northern parts of the country.
After first denying the existence of any organized armed rebel groups, President Bozizé has frequently characterized the rebellion in northern CAR as a spillover of the Darfur conflict into CAR. In a July 2006 speech to the nation, President Bozizé characterized the UFDR rebellion as bloodthirsty and criminal individuals... supported by foreign powers hostile to the CAR, referring to Sudan.203 The description of the CAR rebellions as a spillover conflict from Darfur has become so common as to be widely accepted as conventional wisdom. A recent NGO report described the UFDR rebellion as armed groups of Chadians and Central Africans united by the Sudanese dinar.204 In his testimony to the US Senate in March 2007, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, James Swan directly linked the conflicts in CAR and Chad to Darfur, stating that We are seeing the brutal tactics of Darfurand their tragic consequencestransferred across the porous border into eastern Chad and the Central African Republic.205
The existence of some spill-over elements of Darfur in Chad has been clearly documented by Human Rights Watch and others. Sudan is certainly sponsoring Chadian anti-Déby rebel movements based in Darfur, and Sudanese militia have carried out brutal attacks in eastern Chad, exacerbating Chads internal tensions.206 However, suggesting that the conflict in CAR is merely a spillover effect of the Darfur war, and that the main sponsor of the CAR rebel movements is Sudan is inaccurate and misleading.
As documented in this report, the CAR rebel movements, particularly the APRD in the northwest, have received minimal external support and their grievances are local. In the northwest, the APRD rebel movement has grown out of dissatisfaction over the exclusion of ex-President Patassé from the current political scene in CAR, and perhaps even more importantly over the grave state of insecurity, caused by zaraguina banditry and attacks by the army against the civilian population. Although there are Chadians and Sudanese in the UFDR in the northeast, its membership is overwhelmingly local. The movement comprises members of the Gula minority community who feel marginalized and discriminated against; ex-libérateurs who helped bring Bozizé to power and now feel he betrayed his promises to them; members of CARs larger Muslim community who feel the current administration is anti-Muslim; and other residents of the remote Vakaga province in rebellion against the marginalization and underdevelopment of their region. These local rebel movements have local agendas and require a political solution. Painting them as agents of Sudan delegitimizes otherwise legitimate grievances.
This is not to argue that the conflicts in Sudan and particularly Chad have not had a significant impact on the CAR crisis. Sudans sponsorship of anti-Déby Chadian rebel groups has extended to supporting Chadian rebels based on CAR territory, and may have extended to some limited Sudanese support for the UFDR rebels based in the same area; Human Rights Watch also found some indications that Sudanese military advisors may have provided support to the UFDR military offensive in October-November 2006. The role of Chad is even more substantial in the northwest, but mostly in support of the CAR government.
Suggesting Darfur is the catalyst ignores the reality of the conflict in northern CAR and obscures the issue of responsibility and accountability for human rights abuses, particularly in northwestern CAR. The vast majority of the major atrocities being committed in northwestern CARthe widespread summary executions and other unlawful killings, and the massive burning of villageshave been committed by government troops, not by forces supported by outside elements.
In order to resolve the crisis in northern CAR, the civilian population must be protected from human rights abuses committed by armed parties in the north, including the CAR armed forces, anti-government rebels, and zaraguina banditry groups.
The duty to protect the civilian population in northern CAR lies first and foremost with the CAR authorities. The CAR authorities have the obligation to stop abuses committed by their troops and to bring those responsible for abuses to account. They are failing miserably in meeting this obligation: as documented in this report, FACA and GP troops are responsible for the vast majority of serious human rights abuses in northern CAR.
However, bringing security and protection to the north requires more than military reform. In the long-term, security can only return with the re-establishment of the devastated infrastructure of law and order, including a well-trained civilian police force, and a functional court system that allows access to justice for the civilian population.
The international community also must play a more active role in promoting civilian protection in the north. Diplomatic engagement with the CAR authorities must include calling for an end to human rights abuses by CAR forces as a central element of all discussions, and any security assistance to CAR should be contingent on a concrete commitment to end human rights abuses by the army, and should include core human rights training for the army. Vetting procedures should be instituted to remove officers and soldiers responsible for human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war from the security services.
One way to improve monitoring of and response to abuses in northern CAR would be to increase the number of international protection officials and dedicated human rights monitors in northern CAR. After a virtual absence of UN civilian protection staff from northern CAR for most of 2005 and 2006, the UN agencies active in CAR are slowly increasing their protection presence in the north and opening up UN offices in war-affected cities, but much more needs to be done before such a presence can be considered an effective protection presence.
Of particular concern is the passive role of the human rights unit of BONUCA, the long-standing UN peace-support mission in CAR. Even though the BONUCA human rights unit has a staff of 19 persons207 and has a mandate to monitor the human rights situation in CAR, the human rights section does not systematically collect information on human rights abuses in northern CAR, and issues no regular public or internal UN reports on its human rights monitoring activities, in sharp contrast with the human rights sections of the UN peacekeeping missions in neighboring DRC and Sudan, both of whom conduct extensive monitoring activities and issue weekly human rights reports. The BONUCA human rights section also seems to do minimal, if any, substantive reporting to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva. The failure of the BONUCA human rights section to effectively monitor and report on human rights violations should be urgently addressed by the UN.
In 2006 and early 2007, the UN Security Council sent two Technical Assessment Missions to Chad and the Central African Republic to evaluate the feasibility of deploying a UN protection mission to the region. The proposed UN protection mission was mostly envisioned as an alternative to a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur that remains blocked by the Sudanese authorities, and thus focused on containing the spill-over effects from Darfur. However, as this report shows, the situation in northern CAR is largely a home-grown one, and the populations most urgent protection needs are from abuses committed by the CAR army, not Sudanese-backed rebels. If the UN Security Council moves ahead with its plans to deploy the protection mission in the region, the mandate for any CAR force should include support to civilian protection among its tasks.208
The government of CAR has lauded a peace agreement signed with Abdoulayé Miskine, the leader of the Democratic Forces for the Central African People (Forces démocratiques pour le peuple Centrafricain, FDPC), in Libya in January as a breakthrough agreement that signals the end of the northern rebellions. However, it is doubtful that this peace agreement will have a significant impact on the conflict. Abdoulayé Miskinea former mercenary of Patassé, and a suspected war criminaldoes not represent either the APRD or the UFDR and has been rejected as a legitimate representative by both rebel movements. Although disavowed by some UFDR officials, including the ex-libérateur Saboune, the signature of a peace agreement by General Damane Zakaria, the UFDRs chief of staff, on April 13, 2007, appears to be a more significant step towards peace in the northeast.209
Accountability for the large-scale crimes committed in northern CAR has to be an essential part of resolving the northern rebellions: the victims of rebel and army atrocities deserve justice, and ending impunity by state security forces is an essential component of reducing the cycle of violence in the north. The identities of some of the most responsible perpetrators, such as commanders of the Bossangoa-based GP unit responsible for many summary executions and village burnings, are well-known. President Bozizé recently publicly recognized that there have been some serious lapses in behavior during military operations,210 and promised a top UN humanitarian envoy that military abuses would be dealt with promptly and correctly,211 but no FACA or GP officer has yet to be investigated or punished, let alone disciplined, by the CAR authorities.
In April 2006 CARs Court of Appeal recognized the inability of domestic courts to prosecute war criminals, stating that the inability of the Central African justice system to carry out effective investigations and prosecutions is clear. The Court of Appeal suggested that justice could only come from the ICC: the ICC offers the possibility of finding and punishing the perpetrators of the most serious crimes which affect the international community as a whole, in the place of States which are incapable of carrying out effective investigations and prosecutions. (emphasis added)212
On May 22, 2007, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced that his office would open a formal investigation into crimes under the ICCs jurisdiction committed in the CAR in 2002 and 2003, with a particular focus on the widespread rape and sexual violence committed during this period. The prosecutors office also announced that it would continue gathering information and monitoring allegations of crimes being committed during the course of the current fighting in northern CAR.213
All states have a responsibility to bring to justice perpetrators of war crimes and other international crimes committed in their jurisdiction, and CAR is no exception. Referral of crimes to the ICC should only take place when it is clear that the national institutions and authorities are unable or unwilling themselves to bring prosecutions, and even then it is those who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious of offences who will be prosecuted by the ICC. The weakness of state institutions and the widespread impunity that exists in CAR are not excuses for the domestic failure to bring about justice, but rather part of the problem itself. Disciplining, investigating, and prosecuting abusive troops must be part of the solution to ending the crisis in CAR, with international support. The ICC should explore ways to end the prevailing impunity for the serious crimes detailed in this report, not only through its own investigations but also by building national capacity.
As the former colonial power in CAR (known in colonial times as Ubangui-Chari), France continues to play a dominant role in CAR and has a prominent defense role in the country. France has a formal defense accord with the CAR, a stronger form of military support than the military cooperation accord it has with neighboring Chad. France maintains a contingent of 220 French soldiers in CAR and has augmented this contingent with additional soldiers following the UFDRs capture of Birao in October 2006.
Following the capture of Birao by the UFDR, President Bozizé claimed that Sudanese President Bashir was at the origin of the attacks our country has suffered, and made a direct call for French military intervention, stating in a speech to the population:
France responded by expressing its support for Bozizé, stressing that the instability in CAR was related to a large degree to the situation in Darfur. French officials stated that France would honor its military commitments to the CAR.215 France sent additional military troops to CAR and expanded its overflights, underway since January 2006, to collect reconnaissance information on the rebels.216
In late November and early December, the French led the military counteroffensive involving FOMUC, FACA, and GP troops to successfully retake UFDR-held towns. The offensive involved airstrikes by French fighters that led to massive displacement of the civilian population, although the majority of the casualties appear to have been rebels rather than civilians.217 French ground forces also accompanied FOMUC, FACA, and GP troops during the ground offensive.
The role of the French military is not limited to direct military assistance. French troops also engage in training of CAR military officials, both from FACA and from the GP.218 The close relationship between the French military and CAR military forces raises serious human rights concerns.
French forces often come uncomfortably close to abuses committed by their CAR counterparts, but often seem to continue with business as usual, ignoring the evidence before their own eyes. Although some individual soldiers have raised specific incidents they have witnessed with their military counterparts and have tried to take action to prevent abuses, other incidents appear to have gone unremarked and unreported. During the November-December counteroffensive, FACA and GP troops began burning homes in the Gula town of Ouandja in the presence of French troops and then executed civilians after the French troops had moved on. In Bangui itself, Human Rights Watch observed uniformed French Gendarmes at the offices of the OCRB, just two weeks after the OCRB unit had publicly executed two captured Chadians, and apparently oblivious to the five half-naked and obviously beaten bandits being moved in front of them.
The French authorities have so far maintained almost absolute silence on human rights abuses and possible war crimes being committed by the CAR military. The French military cannot avoid entanglement in the CARs military abuses and has a duty to take a more active role in preventing abuses by the CAR forces they are supporting and training, as well as pushing for accountability for the crimes committed by these forces. France has tremendous leverage in dealing with abuses by the CAR forces: French military support played a decisive role in Bozizés ability to retake the UFDR-held towns in northeastern CAR, and it is unlikely that the CAR army would be able to keep control of northern CAR without French support.
202 Refugees International, Central African Republic: An Unknown Emergency in a Dangerous Region, December 14, 2006, http://www.refintl.org/content/article/detail/9725 (accessed July 11, 2007).
203 CAR president calls for national solidarity following incursion, BBC Monitoring Africa, July 3, 2006.
204 FIDH, Forgotten, Stigmatised, p. 53.
205 U.S. Pledges Help for Refugees in Chad, Central African RepublicState Department official cites effects on neighbors of Darfur conflict, Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State press release, March 20, 2007, http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2007&m=March&x=200703201442231EJrehsiF0.321789 (accessed July 11, 2007).
206 Human Rights Watch, They Came to Kill Us: Militia Attacks and Ethnic Targeting of Civilians in Eastern Chad (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2007).
207 At the time of the February 2007 Human Rights Watch visit, the BONUCA human rights unit had the following staff: In Bangui, a chief of section, one human rights officer, one associate human rights officer, 3 human rights assistants, and an administrative secretary; at the Bouar field office, an officer-in-charge, 2 human rights assistants, and an administrative secretary; at the Bossangoa field office, an officer-in-charge, 2 human rights assistants, and an administrative secretary; at the Bambari field office, an officer-in-charge (vacant at the time), 2 human rights assistants, and an administrative secretary. The officers-in-charge in the Bouar and Bossangoa offices were members of the UN Volunteers (UNV) program.
208 Human Rights Watch has made detailed recommendations to the UN Security Council on how the proposed protection mission to neighboring Chad could ensure civilian protection. See Human Rights Watch, Ensuring Civilian Protection in Chad: the Proposed UN Mission, No 1, February 2007, http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/africa/chad0207/.
209 Central African Nation to Sign Peace Deal with Rebels, Associated Press, April 13, 2007. UFDR leaders have denied that an earlier deal (January 2007) between Abdoulayé Miskine, the head of Front démocratique du peuple Centrafricain (FDPC), and the CAR authorities had any relationship with the UFDR, although Miskine has frequently claimed to speak for the group (Communiqué de presse de lUnion des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR)-RCA, On the Importance of Dialogue in the Search for Peace in the Central African Republic (De LImportance du dialogue pour la paix en République Centrafricaine,) January 31, 2007.)
210 Sudans Darfur conflict destabilizing regionUN official, Associated Press, April 1, 2007.
211UN Humanitarian Chief Meets CAR President, Urges Protection, UN OCHA press release, March 31, 2007, http://ochaonline.un.org/News/OCHANewsCentre/PressReleases2007/2007JantoJuly/tabid/1927/Default.aspx (accessed July 11, 2007.
212 CAR Cour de Cassation, decision of April 11, 2006.
213 ICC Office of the Prosecutor, Background: Situation in the Central African Republic, May 22, 2007, available at http://www.icc-cpi.int/library/press/pressreleases/ICC-OTP-BN-20070522-220_A_EN.pdf (accessed June 20, 2007).
214 CAR: Help us kick rebels out of town, Bozize urges France, IRIN, November 9, 2006, http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=61515 (accessed July 11, 2007).
215 La France fidèle à ses engagements en Afrique, Panapress, December 11, 2006, http://www.afrik.com/article10847.html (accessed July 11, 2007); Central African govt asks France to help repel rebels, Reuters, October 31, 2006; Said Ait-Hatrit, Villepin met en garde les rebelles tchadiens et centrafricains, Afrik.com, December 1, 2006, http://www.afrik.com/article10783.html (accessed July 11, 2007).
216 Small Arms Survey, A Widening War Around Sudan, p.6.
217 CAR: Hundreds flee Birao as French jets strike, IRIN, December 1, 2006.
218 Human Rights Watch interview with French Ministry of Defense official, Paris, February 9, 2007.