Ghana: 'Pope's historic CAR visit must address sectarian conflict'

Accra, Ghana (PANA) - Amnesty International (AI) says Central African Republic (CAR) must seize the historic opportunity that Pope Francis’ two-day visit presents to place human rights and justice at the heart of national reconciliation efforts.

The human rights group notes in a statement obtained by PANA on Saturday that at least 75 people have been killed, many of them civilians, in a fresh wave of sectarian violence in the capital Bangui since 26 September 2015.

“The Pope has a real opportunity to call for the protection of civilians of all faiths and use his great moral authority to help reduce the tension that has recently resulted in deadly violence,” the statement quoted Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Central Africa Researcher, as saying.

“The Pope’s visit is a rare opportunity to press for an end to the impunity that too many of those responsible for serious violations and abuses of human rights still enjoy. The impunity is a key driver in the conflict and all those reasonably suspected of committing crimes under international law and other serious violations and abuses of human rights must be brought to justice through fair trials.”

AI says in more than two years of violence, thousands have been killed and at least 900,000 displaced. Civilians remain under severe threat of violence and serious human rights abuses – including killings, sexual assaults and looting.

The victims of September’s fresh wave of violence, including pregnant women and children, have been shot, hacked to death, stabbed, burned alive, or murdered in targeted killings.

The violence also displaced an additional 40,000 in Bangui alone. Most have ended up in overcrowded camps or with host families where they remain financially and psychologically vulnerable and with very little outside support available.

AI says in the fallout from this unrest it has documented an increase in verbal and physical attacks against the Muslim minority in the city of Carnot with at least one case of targeted killing.

"The renewed violence highlights that an under-staffed and under-equipped UN peacekeeping force is unlikely to be able to protect civilians from organized attacks. Much more needs to be done to anticipate, prevent or respond to major outbreaks of violence by armed groups and militias who target civilians," AI notes.

It adds that CAR’s establishment of a Special Criminal Court to investigate human rights abuses since 2003 is a welcome step but it requires adequate, secure and unconditional financing. To date however, few donors have committed resources.

The Catholic News Service says despite continued instability and outbreaks of violence in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis will spend about 33 hours in the country during a 25-30 visit to Africa which has already taken him to Kenya and Uganda.

The Vatican says while the pope is in the Central African Republic 29-30 November, he will visit a refugee camp, hold a meeting with evangelical Christians and visit a mosque in Bangui, the nation's capital.

The country has known little peace or development in its 55 years of independence. In March 2013, a rebel movement, Seleka, led by Arab-speaking Islamists, suspended the nation's constitution. French and African peacekeepers were deployed in January 2014 and the rebels were driven out of the capital.

The National Reconciliation Forum, convened by the country's transitional parliament in May, has been trying to bring Seleka and its Christian-dominated rival, Anti-Balaka, into talks and preparations for elections that originally were scheduled for 18 October. The vote, however, was postponed after violence broke out again in late September.
-0- PANA MA 28Nov2015

28 november 2015 06:45:02

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