Preventing the Central African Republic from sliding back into chaos

30/09/2015
Press release
en fr

(Bangui, Paris) FIDH and its member and partner organisations LCDH and OCDH in the Central African Republic (CAR) are extremely concerned about the wave of intercommunal violence that has hit Bangui, the CAR capital, since Saturday 26 September. Close to 50 people have been killed, nearly a hundred have been wounded and almost 30, 000 have been displaced. Our organisations condemn all types of violence and urge the transition authorities, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), and the French troops currently involved in Operation Sangaris in the CAR to do their utmost to protect the civilian populations and restore security, so that violence does not once again degenerate into open fratricidal conflict and spread throughout the country.

“The new heights reached by the violence serve as a warning which must impel the CAR transition authorities and international partners, MINUSCA foremost among them, to afford civilians better protection and to make rapid and effective progress towards disarming the militias and making the country secure. Without disarmament, any road map drawn up to extricate the Central African Republic from the crisis and to lead to inclusive, free and transparent elections and the advent of new institutions risks being doomed to failure.”
Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

The violence was triggered by the killing overnight between Friday 25 and Saturday 26 September of a young Muslim Fula, whose body was discovered in the Combattant neighbourhood of the 8th district of Bangui. By way of reprisal, young armed Muslims from the PK5 neighbourhood - which was the epicentre of intercommunal violence at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 - violently attacked civilians suspected of being Christians. A wave of violence then reached the neighbourhoods closest to PK5 before bringing the whole of the capital to a standstill, and numerous confrontations took place within the local population and between anti-balaka and pro-Seleka militias. Barricades are still in place on all main arterial routes in Bangui, homes, shops and places of worship continue to be looted and burned, and the community radio station, La Voix de la Paix, which has Muslims presenting some of its programmes, has been completely ransacked and destroyed. The premises of several humanitarian NGOs, including those of Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, Cordaid, Mercy Corps, Première Urgence Internationale, the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Aide médicale d’Urgence, have also been ransacked and some of their personnel evacuated. On Sunday 27 September, Prime Minister Mahamat Khamoun ordered a curfew, which has not been respected, nor has it helped put an end to the violence. And during last night, two petrol stations in the 4th district were reportedly looted.

Armed men continue to circulate freely in the capital, ongoing sporadic firing can be heard and confrontations took place on Monday 28 September in the 3rd, 5th and 8th districts of Bangui. Yesterday, Tuesday 29 September, heavy and small-arms fire was exchanged and tear gas deployed in the Avenue des Martyrs, between the French forces from Operation Sangaris and anti-balaka groups. French soldiers tried to dismantle the barricades erected on this main road which leads to Bangui airport, as the President of the transition, Catherine Samba-Panza, was returning from New York, where she had been attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting. No tally has yet been established for this violence.

On Monday, anti-balaka groups called on Bouca, Bouali, Bossangoa, Yaloké and Bozoum to send reinforcements to Bangui to bolster their ranks. Armed pro-Seleka groups reportedly made the same appeal to Ndele and Bambari, prompting fears that the situation would rapidly degenerate into a bloodbath. The transition authorities, MINUSCA and CAR international partners, including France, must do everything possible to prevent the Central African Republic from sliding back into chaos. Recent events should also impel the transition authorities to urgently draw up a realistic timetable for a secure electoral process and for the organisation of transparent and free elections, guaranteeing the people of the Central African Republic full participation.

“Investigations carried out by our organisations since 2013 have shown that violence and crimes have in part been organised by armed groups who have an interest in ensuring the country slides back into a state of chaos on the eve of the elections.”
Joseph Bindoumi, LCDH President

These events testify to the need to restructure and equip the Central African armed forces, gendarmerie and police. On Saturday 26 September, the police station in the 5th district of Bangui was attacked and set on fire. Police officers were hurt and weapons were retrieved by the attackers. Similarly, Ngaragba prison, situated in the east of Bangui, was abandoned in late afternoon on Monday 28 September by the officers of the Central African Armed Forces and, according to reports, around 600 inmates - among them numerous anti-balaka group members suspected of serious crimes - escaped, despite exchanges of fire with international forces stationed outside the prison. Our organisations call on MINUSCA and the transition authorities to intervene to arrest the escaped prisoners, who might commit acts of violence against the Central African population.

“Whether Muslim or Christian, whether members of armed militias or of international forces stationed inside the country, anyone suspected of serious violations of human rights committed in Bangui in recent days must be brought to justice and where necessary held to account. CAR international partners must continue to support the transition authorities in the struggle against impunity in the Central African Republic, in particular by affording technical and financial assistance to the Central African security forces and to the rapid operationalizing of the Special Criminal Court.”
Mathias Morouba, OCDH President

In addition, serious allegations hang over certain elements of MINUSCA, who reportedly killed three demonstrators by opening fire in an attempt to disperse a gathering in front of the presidential palace on Monday. This was immediately denied by MINUSCA. Certain sources have also condemned the behaviour of some MINUSCA contingents, accusing them of not fully protecting the civilian population and of acting in a partial manner by being complicit with certain militias. Our organisations urge the United National Security Council (UNSC), the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, and the head of MINUSCA, Mr Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, to ensure that all peacekeeping soldiers on Central African Republic soil honour the mandate set out in resolutions 2149 and 2217 of the UNSC and comply with their international obligations in a wholly impartial manner. Demonstrations are organised for today and the international forces must do everything to ensure the security and protection of all demonstrators. The international partners of the Central African Republic, who will take part in an extraordinary high-level meeting tomorrow, Thursday 1 October, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meeting, must at all costs commit to supporting the Central African Republic and put their commitments into practice with the minimum of delay.

Context


The Central African Republic has not experienced violence on this scale since the inter-faith massacres of December 2013, which plunged the country into a crisis from which it has still not emerged. Yet, on 4 October 2015, the people of the Central African Republic were due to vote in a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution and to subsequently elect their representatives during presidential and legislative elections in a first round of voting initially planned to take place on 18 October and a second round on 22 November. The transition authorities have been working for some weeks to defer the voting, but the Agence Nationale des Élections (ANE - National Election Agency) has yet to announce a new schedule, the electoral rolls have still not been drawn up and voting cards have not been distributed.

In September 2012, Central African armed groups, united under the Seleka coalition, launched an offensive in the north of the country. On 24 March 2013, following 4 months of intense fighting, the Seleka coalition, led by Michel Djotodia, took the capital Bangui and drove François Bozizé from power. Bozizé had himself arrived in power as a result of a coup d’Etat in 2003. During the summer of 2013, increasingly frequent attacks by armed pro-Bozizé self-defence groups, the anti-balaka, targeted the Seleka and Muslim populations in which they were assimilated. On 5 December 2013, the anti-balaka groups conducted a coordinated surprise attack on Bangui on the eve of the deployment of French troops. Part of Operation Sangaris, these troops were authorised by resolution 2127 of the United Nations Security Council to come to the aid of the African forces (MISCA), who were failing to stop the massacres of civilian populations. On 9 January 2014, under pressure from the international community, Michel Djotodia relinquished power and the Seleka withdrew from the south and west of the country to regroup in the north and east. The anti-balaka militias took advantage of this retreat to systematically attack essentially Muslim populations, whom they accused of being complicit with the Seleka and of supporting them.

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