Central African Republic: amid ongoing violence, UN rights chief urges accountability

Anti-Balaka fighters in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR). Photo: IRIN/Till Muellenmeister

19 February 2014 – Authorities in the Central African Republic (CAR) will be held personally accountable for the serious human rights violations committed in the country, Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights chief today said, urging that every effort be made to break the cycle of violence and revenge, and to restore security and rule of law.

“I remind all leaders in key positions, whether they belong to anti-Balaka, ex-Séléka or the former army, FACA, that they have clear obligations under international law,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said. “They have a responsibility to refrain from committing, ordering, inciting or instigating violations of international law and to prevent subordinates from committing such violations.”

“People who commit serious human rights violations after receiving instructions, directions and orders may also have direct individual criminal responsibility for their actions and omissions,” Ms. Pillay noted, adding that some offenses may amount to ‘crimes against humanity.’

Thousands of people are estimated to have been killed in CAR, and 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid in a conflict which erupted when mainly Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks in December 2012. The violence has since taken on increasingly sectarian overtones.

“Although a few groups of ex-Séléka in civilian clothes continue to target Christian civilians in Bangui, most of the ongoing human rights violations are being committed by anti-Balaka elements, which appear to be growing more organized by the day,” the High Commissioner noted.

Anti-Balaka elements are deliberately targeting the Muslim population of the capital in attacks they sometimes refer to as “clean-up operations,” which are widespread and include killings, rapes, plundering and the destruction of Muslim homes.

“The level of cruelty and disregard for life and dignity is horrifying, with public mutilation of bodies, amputation of body parts and genitals, beheadings and at least one case of cannibalism, spreading further terror among the Muslim population,” Ms. Pillay said.

She also expressed concern about hate speech against Muslims broadcast on TV by anti-Balaka, and strongly condemned public statements by some members of the National Transitional Council to the Parliament instigating inter-communal violence.

The overall situation in Bangui seems “slightly calmer,” the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR) said, there are reports of more killings and the situation outside of the capital is “evolving dangerously.”

After their retreat from the Southern and Western parts of the country, she said, ex-Séléka forces are now regrouping in their traditional stronghold in the north, notably in the regions of Vakaga, Batafango and Kaga Bandoro.

“This move is provoking a renewed cycle of violence as they employ scorched earth tactics, destroying villages, burning tools and seeds, and killing civilians on their way,” said Ms. Pillay.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos in in Bangui today on a joint mission with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and other officials from the UN and the African Union, but fighting in the north has reportedly limited their ability to travel around the country.

“I am extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in CAR. The country has plunged into chaos and deadly violence following months of political crisis and lawlessness,” Ms. Amos said. “We need more troops on the ground to provide security and protection to all civilians across the country.”

The UN last week allocated an additional $10 million from its emergency humanitarian fund to support the most critical relief operations in the country, the second such allocation in about two months from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

A total of $207 million in humanitarian funding to the CAR was pledged by donors at a special meeting held last month in Brussels. Around 30 per cent of the pledges have been committed or disbursed. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the $551 million Strategic Response Plan for CAR was just 13 per cent funded as of last week.

“There is no longer a fine line between living and dying in the Central African Republic. People are dying – we are on the brink of a health catastrophe,” said Mr. Sidibé. “If we do not act now, a generation will be gone forever – under our watch. This is not acceptable.”

The visiting delegation is due to meet with Christian and Muslim communities and visit a site for internally displaced persons in Bossangoa in the north-west.

Earlier, Ms. Amos and Mr. Sidibé met separately with the country’s President of the Transitional Government, Catherine Samba-Panza, and Christian and Muslim leaders, who said reconciliation was essential and that so far the root causes of the crisis had not been tackled.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to brief the Security Council tomorrow on the current situation in the country.


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