Central African Republic
At least 100,000 people have fled their homes in Central African Republic as a rebel coalition calling for the resignation of the president launches attacks around the county, throwing into question almost two years of peace efforts. The capital city, Bangui, has come under fire and major towns are occupied by the coalition of some of CAR's strongest rebel groups, which formed shortly before December elections won by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra but contested by the opposition. By capturing the western town of Bouar, the rebels—known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change, or the CPC—have cut off the main trade route linking Cameroon to Bangui in what could be a strategy to "asphyxiate" the city, according to Hans De Marie Heungoup, a Central Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group.
French and Russian military networks are backing rival forces to influence upcoming elections in Central African Republic according to a new report by The Sentry, a Washington-based NGO co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney. France used to call the shots in CAR, its former colony, but President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has allied himself to Russia and availed himself of the Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary organization linked to Vladimir Putin. The Sentry claims France now supports a rebel coalition that opposes Touadéra—who is standing for a second term in December—though the French foreign ministry denies the accusation. All of this spells bad news for ordinary Central Africans, who have suffered under rebel groups for years. More than one in four are currently internally displaced or living as refugees in neighboring countries.
Amid rising tensions and insecurity in the Central African Republic, deposed former president François Bozizé has announced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for December. Bozizé is currently under UN sanctions and subject to an arrest warrant issued by the government for "crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide." Authorities show little sign of moving to execute the warrant; Bozizé announced his candidacy July 25 before a large crowd of supporters at a congress of his party, Kwa na Kwa (Work, Nothing But Work in the Sango language), in the capital Bangui.
Sudanese militia leader and war crimes suspect Ali Kushayb has been arrested, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced June 9. Kushayb surrendered to authorities in a northern area of the Central African Republic, near the border with Sudan. This comes more than 13 years after the arrest warrant was issued. The warrant details 22 charges of crimes against humanity and 28 war crimes charges, including murder, rape and pillage. The warrant further claims Kushayb commanded thousands of Janjaweed militia fighters from 2003-4, personally taking part in the rape and murder of civilians during the Darfur conflict. He also held commanding positions in Sudan's Popular Defense Forces and the Central Reserve Police.
Armed groups continue to commit war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to a report released July 5 by Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailing violence in three central provinces between November 2014 and April 2017. During that time period, HRW documented at least 566 civilian deaths at the hands of the Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups. Armed groups also destroyed no fewer than 4,207 homes, forcing people to flee and causing the deaths of 144 children and elderly people. Those responsible for the deaths have not been "detained, arrested or otherwise held accountable," and are still free to roam the areas where their crimes occurred. In addition to seeking international support for improved civilian protection, the report also asks the UN and other individual governments to back the Special Criminal Court (SCC) financially and politically. Although President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has praised the SCC, the government has "lagged in steps to operationalize" it. The SCC, an institution within the CAR's justice system with international judges and prosecutors, has the "unique chance to hold accountable the perpetrators of these grave crimes."
A UN human rights expert warned June 20 that the Central African Republic (CAR) "must act now" to protect its population and implement justice. According to Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum, the expert on human rights for the CAR, armed groups are spreading throughout the country at a worrying rate, and a lack of response from the government to defend civilians has led to revenge attacks, public outrage, and "cries of distress" from citizens. The announcement from the UN comes on the heels of a peace accord signed by the CAR and most of the armed groups, aimed at ending the ethnic and religious conflict that has killed thousands. The peace accord was mediated by the Roman Catholic Sant'Egidio peace group (which brokered the end of the civil war in Mozambique in 1992) and was signed in Rome.
Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Central African Republic—including arbitrary killings, and sexual violence—continue to plague the country, according to a United Nations report published Dec. 14. The report examined the ast 10 months of the transitional goverment, which formally ceded power in March. But the new government of Faustin-Archange Touadera has limited control outside the capital Bangui and has failed to convince armed factions to lay down their weapons. During the period covered, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) recorded 1,301 cases of human rights violations and abuses affecting at least 2,473 victims throughout the country, including 1,000 men, 261 women, 91 boys and 67 girls, with a further 808 unidentified adults and 246 whose age and gender could not be verified. The main perpetrators were identified as elements from the Anti-Balaka, ex-Séléka, Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and Fulani militants affiliated with the group 3R (Retour, Reclamation et Réhabilitation). (Reuters, Dec. 15; ReliefWeb, UN News Centre, Dec. 14)
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 20 declared unanimously (PDF) that Congolese ex-military leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for his role in armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. The case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo lasted almost eight years, following Bemba's arrest by Belgian authorities in 2008. Bemba was on trial for crimes committed during his time as the commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). He was found guilty of rape, murder and pillage; the verdict condemned the widespread use of sexual violence as a means of war. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, welcomed the judgment, stating the ruling "sends an important message across the world that international justice will finally prevail, even in cases where civilians with supervisory, or command, responsibility are accused of crimes committed in a country other than their own."