Central African Republic
Armed groups continue to commit war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to a report released July 5 by Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailing violence in three central provinces between November 2014 and April 2017. During that time period, HRW documented at least 566 civilian deaths at the hands of the Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups. Armed groups also destroyed no fewer than 4,207 homes, forcing people to flee and causing the deaths of 144 children and elderly people. Those responsible for the deaths have not been "detained, arrested or otherwise held accountable," and are still free to roam the areas where their crimes occurred. In addition to seeking international support for improved civilian protection, the report also asks the UN and other individual governments to back the Special Criminal Court (SCC) financially and politically. Although President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has praised the SCC, the government has "lagged in steps to operationalize" it. The SCC, an institution within the CAR's justice system with international judges and prosecutors, has the "unique chance to hold accountable the perpetrators of these grave crimes."
A UN human rights expert warned June 20 that the Central African Republic (CAR) "must act now" to protect its population and implement justice. According to Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum, the expert on human rights for the CAR, armed groups are spreading throughout the country at a worrying rate, and a lack of response from the government to defend civilians has led to revenge attacks, public outrage, and "cries of distress" from citizens. The announcement from the UN comes on the heels of a peace accord signed by the CAR and most of the armed groups, aimed at ending the ethnic and religious conflict that has killed thousands. The peace accord was mediated by the Roman Catholic Sant'Egidio peace group (which brokered the end of the civil war in Mozambique in 1992) and was signed in Rome.
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.
After days of discussions, the Ugandan military decided on Jan. 13 to send Dominic Ongwen, a rebel leader with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), to trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC has sought to try Ongwen, who is thought to be the second-in-command to Joseph Kony, since 2005 when an initial warrant of arrest was issued. He is accused of enslavement and directing attacks against civilian populations, among other charges, for his actions in the early 2000's in which thousands were killed and children abducted to be used as soldiers or sold as sex slaves.
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.