CAR: Rights group accuses rebels of 'deadly raid' on displaced people

Bangui, Central African Republic (PANA) – Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) killed at least 37 civilians, wounded 57, and forced thousands to flee when they razed a camp for displaced people in the country on 12 October, 2016, Human Rights Watch, a human rights group, has said.

It noted that United Nations peacekeepers deployed outside the camp in the town of Kaga-Bandoro, however, failed to halt the attack.

A statement issued by Human Rights Watch obtained by PANA on Wednesday said the rights group interviewed 32 victims and witnesses in Kaga-Bandoro and in the country’s capital, Bangui, between 12 and 21 October.

They said that the mostly Muslim Seleka forces, possibly with assistance from Muslim civilians, shot, stabbed, or burned to death the civilians, including at least four women, five children, three older people, and four people with disabilities.

The statement said the casualty numbers are most likely higher because some victims were buried quickly. In addition to field research, Human Rights Watch, using satellite imagery analysis, identified at least 175 destroyed homes in the neighbourhoods around the camp and 435 destroyed huts in the camp itself.

“This vicious attack targeted residents who were already forced from their homes by fighting and had already been through so much,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Deadly attacks like these show why UN peacekeepers were given a mandate to protect civilians with all necessary means – and why they need to enforce it.”

The UN has 12,870 forces in its Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), including 70 police officers and 200 soldiers who were in Kaga-Bandoro at the time of the attack.

The human rights watchdog quoted witnesses as saying the peacekeepers failed to stop at least 60 armed Seleka forces from crossing a UN-guarded bridge and attacking the civilians, although some peacekeepers later opened fire and killed 12 Seleka rebels on the outskirts of the camp. No national security forces, such as police or gendarmes, have been in the town since the Seleka took it over in December 2012.

The statement noted that on 31 October, MINUSCA issued a report on Kaga-Bandoro that documented 37 civilian deaths and assigned primary responsibility for “grave human rights and humanitarian law violations” to Seleka forces, though it attributed two of the deaths to anti-balaka militia. The report praised MINUSCA forces for having taken “strong measures to protect civilians during the crisis.”

Human Rights Watch stressed that the UN should urgently deploy more of the mission’s forces to the volatile central region, expand their patrols and, consistent with the mission’s mandate, use appropriate force to protect civilians under imminent threat.

In addition, the national government, the UN, and donors to the Central African Republic should increase their support for the Special Criminal Court (SCC) – a new judicial body with national and international judges and prosecutors that has a mandate to investigate and prosecute grave human rights violations committed in the country since 2003. In August, justice minister Flavien Mbata announced that the international prosecutor for the SCC would be named before the end of 2016.

"The new court offers a meaningful opportunity to hold accountable commanders on all sides of the conflict who are responsible for war crimes, such as those committed at Kaga-Bandoro," Human Rights Watch said.

Such attacks are also subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In September 2014, the ICC prosecutor announced the opening of an investigation in the Central African Republic into crimes dating from August 2012.

Fighting has raged in the Central African Republic since December 2012, when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels, claiming to represent the country’s aggrieved Muslim minority from the northeast, moved southwest into more populated non-Muslim areas, killing thousands of civilians. In mid-2013, Christian and animist militias, called the anti-balaka, formed to fight back, themselves committing serious human rights abuses.

In response to atrocities by both sides, the African Union (AU) increased the numbers of peacekeepers in the country in 2013. The AU was transferred to a UN mission in September 2014.

On 12 October, the town of Kaga-Bandoro, capital of the Nana Grébizi province, had approximately 30,000 inhabitants, plus about 3,000 displaced people from other parts of the region who had sought shelter there. Another roughly 7,000 people were sheltering in a displacement camp in a town called l’Évêché, behind the town’s Catholic parish.

The Seleka attack began between 8 and 9 a.m., apparently as a reaction to the killing of a Seleka fighter the previous night. Armed fighters, some in civilian clothes, crossed the bridge, which separates the Muslim neighborhood from the rest of the town, and almost immediately started shooting at civilians and attacking them with machetes and knives.

“People were yelling and telling me to flee,” said a 70-year-old man from the Catholic Mission neighborhood. “As I ran I saw bodies on the ground. The Seleka were shooting at everybody. I ran to the church, but it was attacked, so I ran to the displacement camp. Just a few minutes later the camp was attacked too.”

Human Rights Watch said within minutes, Seleka fighters moved past UN peacekeepers who were protecting the l’Évêché camp. Some peacekeepers opened fire, killing 12 Seleka, but could not stop other Seleka from entering the camp, attacking its residents, and burning grass huts to the ground.
-0- PANA MA 2Nov2016

02 november 2016 10:48:42

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