Central African Republic: Rights group says armed groups target civilians in CAR

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) – Armed groups fighting for control of a central province in the Central African Republic (CAR) have targeted civilians in apparent reprisal killings over the past three months, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The attacks have left at least 45 people dead and at least 11,000 displaced, the human rights watchdog said in a statement.

Since late 2016, two factions of the predominantly Muslim Seleka armed group have clashed heavily in the volatile Ouaka province - The Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (l’Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique, UPC), consisting mostly of ethnic Peuhl, and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, FPRC), which has aligned itself with the anti-balaka – the main armed group once fighting the Seleka.

“Armed groups are targeting civilians for revenge killings in the central part of the country,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “As factions vie for power in the Central African Republic, civilians on all sides are exposed to their deadly attacks.”

The statement said Human Rights Watch visited Ouaka province in early April 2017, and interviewed 20 people in Bambari who had recently fled the fighting. They gave names and details of about 45 civilians (17 men, 13 women, and 15 children) who had been killed by both sides. The total number is most likely higher because scores of people remain missing.

The UN peacekeeping force in the country, the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), has deployed approximately 1,000 of its 12,870 members to Ouaka province over the past three months, but the attacks persist.

Escalating violence in the area underlines the importance of getting the newly established Special Criminal Court (SCC) up and running, Human Rights Watch said.

The court – which was established by law in June 2015 – will have national and international judges and prosecutors, but will operate within the national justice system. It will investigate and prosecute grave human rights violations in the country since 2003.

Human Rights Watch said the latest round of killings began in mid-February when anti-balaka fighters ambushed a group of civilians on a truck in the village of Ndoussoumba, killing at least 16 Peuhl civilians.

The Central African Republic has been in crisis since late 2012, when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels began a military campaign against the government of Francois Bozizé, seizing the capital, Bangui, in March 2013.

Their rule was marked by widespread human rights abuses, including the wide-scale killing of civilians. In mid-2013, the Christian and animist anti-balaka militia organized to fight the Seleka. Associating all Muslims with the Seleka, the anti-balaka carried out large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians in Bangui and western parts of the country.

In 2014, African Union and French forces pushed the Seleka out of Bangui and, by the end of the year, the Seleka had split into several factions, each controlling its own area.

In 2014, the then-transitional government referred the situation in the Central African Republic since 1 August, 2012, to the ICC. The ICC opened an investigation in September 2014, but has yet to administer any charges.

Human Rights Watch said given the ICC’s limited mandate and resources, the SCC offers a meaningful opportunity to bring wider accountability in prosecuting commanders from all parties to the conflict who are responsible for war crimes.

On February 15, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra named Col. Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa, attorney general of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as the lead prosecutor for the SCC, but many other positions have not been filled. Systems to protect witnesses and court personnel are not yet in place, but are essential for the court to function. The government should make the court a priority and create a schedule with clear deadlines to put it in operating order.
-0- PANA MA 2May2017

02 mai 2017 06:23:22

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