Central African Republic
Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Central African Republic—including arbitrary killings, and sexual violence—continue to plague the country, according to a United Nations report published Dec. 14. The report examined the ast 10 months of the transitional goverment, which formally ceded power in March. But the new government of Faustin-Archange Touadera has limited control outside the capital Bangui and has failed to convince armed factions to lay down their weapons. During the period covered, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) recorded 1,301 cases of human rights violations and abuses affecting at least 2,473 victims throughout the country, including 1,000 men, 261 women, 91 boys and 67 girls, with a further 808 unidentified adults and 246 whose age and gender could not be verified. The main perpetrators were identified as elements from the Anti-Balaka, ex-Séléka, Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and Fulani militants affiliated with the group 3R (Retour, Reclamation et Réhabilitation). (Reuters, Dec. 15; ReliefWeb, UN News Centre, Dec. 14)
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 20 declared unanimously (PDF) that Congolese ex-military leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for his role in armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. The case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo lasted almost eight years, following Bemba's arrest by Belgian authorities in 2008. Bemba was on trial for crimes committed during his time as the commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). He was found guilty of rape, murder and pillage; the verdict condemned the widespread use of sexual violence as a means of war. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, welcomed the judgment, stating the ruling "sends an important message across the world that international justice will finally prevail, even in cases where civilians with supervisory, or command, responsibility are accused of crimes committed in a country other than their own."
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, on May 30 called on several states to investigate allegations that members of their peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) have committed serious human rights violations. It is reported that soldiers have engaged in the killing of civilians, summary executions, abductions and sexual exploitation of local women and children. Zeid summarized the troubling contradiction by saying, "[t]he role of international forces in halting the worst of the fighting and sectarian slaughter in CAR has been invaluable, and their presence has unquestionably saved many, many lives. Yet, in some cases the longed-for protectors turned into predators." The High Commissioner's statement revealed that many states' forces are under suspicion of engaging in the "disturbing" behavior and some have disciplined the soldiers involved. In addition to requesting further investigation, the High Commissioner also announced he is sending a team to look into possible further measures to address human rights violations in the CAR.
Former Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen on Jan. 26 made his first appearance before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The pre-trial hearing was brief as Ongwen simply had to confirm his identity and that he clearly understood the charges against him. During his hearing, Ongwen thanked God and referred to himself as a former soldier saying that he "was abducted in 1988 and...taken to the bush when [he] was 14 years old." He spoke in Acholi, his native language. Ongwen faces three counts of crimes against humanity: murder, enslavement, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering; and four counts of war crimes: murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, and pillaging. A pre-trial confirmation of charges hearing has been scheduled for August. This hearing will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Ongwen committed each of the crimes with which he is charged. The ICC took legal custody of Ongwen in Central African Republic's capital Bangui earlier this month.
The UN published a report (PDF) Jan. 8 finding that acts committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity, but not genocide. The report summarized the investigation of the situation in the CAR, which began in December 2013. The purpose of the investigation was to identify and hold accountable perpetrators of violations against humanitarian law. The report states that holding perpetrators accountable will help bring an end to impunity in the CAR, which contributed to the cycle of violence in the country. The report identifies the responsible actors as members of the CAR Armed Forces under President Francois Bozizé and the principal militia groups Séléka and anti-Balaka. While the report concludes that the crimes committed do not meet the threshold required to be considered genocide, it holds the principal actors responsible for serious humanitarian offenses including rape and the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population.
The head of the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, on Sept. 24 announced the office will open a second investigation (PDF) into the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) with respect to crimes allegedly committed since 2012. Alleged crimes against humanity include murder, torture, rape, attacking personnel or objects involved in a humanitarian assistance missions, pillage, and the use of child soldiers under the age of 15. The ICC report states there is reasonable belief that both sides of the conflict may be culpable for crimes against humanity. Bensouda opened a preliminary examination in February 2014 due to escalating violence in CAR, and in May the transitional government of CAR led by Catherine Samba-Panza urged the ICC to pursue the investigation. Prosecutor Bensouda intends to accumulate criminal evidence to identify and prosecute those responsible for the most serious crimes:
Almost 20,000 people of Chadian origin have fled violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) in recent weeks, and many more are expected to join the exodus, which is straining humanitarian capacity in Chad, a country many of those fleeing have never lived in. "Those of us who were born here are Central Africans, but we are treated like foreigners. We have never seen Chad but have to go there for our own protection," said Awa Rabilou, one of thousands of people camped for the last two weeks outside the Chadian embassy in Bangui, waiting for a place on a truck headed for Chad. "Our houses were burnt. We left with only the clothes we were wearing. They even threw grenades at us. It was people who joined the anti-balaka who did this. If we stay in our neighborhood, they will kill us," added Rabilou.
France is escalating its military mission in the Central African Republic, airlifting troops and equipment to the capital Bangui ahead of an anticipated UN-backed intervention. With some 400 French troops stationed in Bangui presently, at least another 1,000 are on their way, said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Paris, echoing the findings of rights groups, says the country has descended into chaos since the Seleka rebel coalition, many of its fighters apparently from neighboring Chad and Sudan, ousted president François Bozize in March 24. (France24, Nov. 29) With the French announcement, Amnesty International issued a statement calling for the UN Security Council to "authorize a robust peacekeeping force" for the CAR. "If the Security Council does not act now to stem the horrific cycle of violence in the Central African Republic, that failure will hang heavily on the international community for years to come," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general. (AI, Dec. 12)