Situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic
Statement by High Commissioner Pillay at the Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the Situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic
Geneva, 20 January 2014
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Excellencies and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In my interim report to this Council on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic I highlighted the perpetration by the Séléka of summary executions and attacks on civilians, torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence and widespread looting of public and private property, in Bangui and other localities, between December 2012 and 11 July 2013. At the time, I expressed serious concern over the increasing ethnic and religious dimensions of the crisis.
The official disbandment of the Séléka in August 2013, did not lead to a reduction of violations, mostly perpetrated against the Christian population by elements of the renamed “ex-Séléka”. In response to the continuing violations targeting Christian civilians, traditional community-based self-defence groups evolved into a more organised Christian militia, the “anti-Balaka”, and launched attacks against ex-Séléka and Muslim civilians suspected of supporting the latter. These attacks escalated dramatically on 5 and 6 December 2013 in Bangui and other localities in the country.
I deployed a mission to the Central African Republic (CAR) from 12 to 24 December, in order to gather reliable information. It carried out 183 interviews in Ouham, Nana-Mambéré and Bangui prefectures with victims, witnesses and other relevant actors. The OHCHR team met and liaised with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and a staff member from the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Sexual Violence in Conflict. My Office issued the mission’s preliminary findings on 14 January.
The OHCHR monitoring mission documented large scale human rights violations perpetrated in Bangui and other localities by the ex-Séléka and the anti-Balaka, and by Muslim and Christian civilians. In the context of the 5 and 6 December attacks by anti-Balaka, the team received testimonies of killings of ex-Séléka as well as deliberate summary executions of Muslim civilians, including women and children. It also received reports of summary executions of Christian civilians, mostly males, by ex-Séléka during a series of reprisal attacks in Bangui and Bossangoa. The mission concurred with estimates that in Bangui alone at least 1,000 people were killed during the 5 and 6 December violence.
The mission documented a range of other serious human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, widespread looting and property destruction, as well as instances of burning of churches and mosques.
The initial 5 December attacks in Bangui prompted a rapidly escalating cycle of sectarian human rights violations and reprisals by ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka, which spread across the capital and other parts of the country. These included cases of targeted killings, shooting at displacement sites, summary executions, mutilation and enforced disappearances.
The mission received consistent, credible testimony and photographs supporting allegations that anti-Balaka mutilated Muslim men, women and children, before or after they were killed, including upon the breasts of female victims and genitals of male victims. Bodies were found at the Ali Babolo mosque with limbs cut off.
A witness reported seeing four ex-Séléka armed with machetes, chopping off the arms and slashing the neck of a young Christian, on 9 December 2013.
Cases of sexual violence and other abuses, including rape and sexual slavery, by both sides, but mostly by ex-Séléka, were also documented.
Reports of the recruitment and use of children by both the ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka are perturbing: a concern also raised by UNICEF. The negative impact of the conflict on children generally and their right to education, as schools remain closed in Bangui and other parts of the country also needs urgent attention.
The deployment of the French soldiers, termed Sangaris, the increase in the number of FOMAC/MISCA troops, and the subsequent cantonment of ex-Séléka have to some extent deterred further large scale attacks by ex-Séléka against anti-Balaka and Christian civilians. However, the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces appears to have left Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks. Reprisal attacks by anti-Balaka and Christians have led to a massive exodus out of CAR of Muslim nationals from Chad, Senegal and Mali. The mission also heard witness accounts alleging the involvement of some FOMAC/ MISCA soldiers in the killing of Christian civilians, which should be further investigated.
Since 24 December, despite the relative calm in Bangui, the BINUCA human rights section has been receiving daily reports of civilian deaths in Bangui and other areas. Between 10 and 13 January alone, 39 persons were reported dead as a result of clashes following President Djotodia’s resignation. The BINUCA human rights section is currently investigating several cases of killings committed in Bangui, as well as continued attacks outside the capital which occurred this month. The security situation remains highly volatile with upsurges of sectarian violence and an increase in opportunistic criminality.
The humanitarian situation continues to be a major concern. OCHA estimates that, as of 7 January, there were 935,000 internally displaced persons, half of them in Bangui. The delivery of humanitarian assistance outside Bangui and in the bush is severely hampered by the volatile security situation. As a result, according to the United Nations and humanitarian organizations, nearly half of the country’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance.
Among the human rights issues that require the most urgent attention are: the continued sectarian violence, including killings and looting, and the need to take swift and concrete action to defuse the spiralling inter-communal anger and resentment that is becoming dangerously entrenched; the challenge for national authorities and foreign troops to respond adequately to the prevailing chronic insecurity; the continuing vacuum of legitimate State authority and the absolute impunity for human rights violations; and the dire situation of the displaced population, in Bangui and other localities throughout the country.
I welcome the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry by the Security Council, which will send a strong message to perpetrators of violations and abuses that the international community is committed to holding them accountable. On 14 January, I deployed an advance team to the Central African Republic and neighbouring countries to prepare practical modalities for the deployment of the Commission.
Furthermore, in order to strengthen the monitoring and reporting capacity of the Human Rights and Justice Section of BINUCA, additional human rights officers will be deployed to the Central African Republic in the coming weeks. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work and dedication of the staff of BINUCA, other parts of the United Nations, humanitarian organisations and civil society in this difficult context.
I also welcome the repeated calls by the country’s two most senior religious leaders for tolerance and respect within their communities. I urge them, and everyone with influence at both the national and international levels, to strongly encourage other religious, political and tribal leaders to join their efforts to defuse the inter-communal tensions and desire for revenge before they become totally uncontrollable. A strong and concerted nationwide effort is essential to stop CAR crossing the tipping-point into an all-out sectarian conflict.
I urge the international community to increase its support to the Central African Republic for prompt restoration of security and State authority throughout the country, the promotion of the rule of law, and the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.
A more robust response to the crisis is urgently needed in the Central African Republic to protect civilians, prevent further violence, end impunity and promote reconciliation.