CAR: If peace is to be reached, impunity must be tackled from the beginning

Muslims fleeing CAR in the PK12 area on the outskirts on Bangui © Amnesty International

Jean-Eric Nkurikiye is Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Central Africa. He has worked on Chad, Central African Republic (CAR), Cameroon and the Republic of Congo (DRC) for over seven years. Jean-Eric returned from a mission to CAR and Chad in February, and visited Brussels in March to discuss the CAR crisis (and its implications in Chad) with European Union (EU) civilian and military representatives. Raphael Warolin, foreign affairs assistant at Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, spoke to Jean-Eric about his findings and the current situation in CAR. But first some background.

The ongoing crisis in CAR and neighbouring countries

Over the course of 2013, the Seleka militia (“alliance” in Sango, CAR’s national language) carried out widespread and systematic human rights abuses in CAR, starting in the northeast,  spreading across the country, seizing the capital Bangui, and ousting President François Bozizé (March 2013).  The arbitrary and abusive nature of the Seleka’s rule contributed to the current sectarian hostility, spurring the emergence of the “anti-balaka” militia (“machete proof” in Sango), made up of Christians (CAR’s majority population) and animists opposed to Seleka rule. In the last four months of 2013, anti-balaka fighters carried out horrific attacks on Muslim communities, particularly in CAR’s northwest. CAR has also experienced massive ethnic cleansing in recent months, with a forced exodus of tens of thousands of Muslim civilians to neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and DRC.

French military forces arrived in CAR under a United Nations (UN) mandate in December 2013, joining the African-led peacekeeping force (MISCA). EU troops (EUFOR CAR) have progressively arrived, and will hand over to a UN peacekeeping mission in September 2014.

Sectarian violence and killings remain on-going, by the Seleka and the anti-balaka. CAR currently has no functioning justice system, with little possibility of police investigations, court proceedings, nor incarceration, resulting in total impunity for human rights violations.

What were your main findings during your February mission to CAR and Chad

The main objective of the mission was to go to Bangui to follow up on [Amnesty International’s] last report released in February on ethnic cleansing and sectarian killings. Our aim was to pursue advocacy and lobbying activities following this report, meeting stakeholders, including CAR authorities at the highest level (president), as well as civil society, international NGOs, and international forces.

The second leg of the mission consisted of going to Chad to investigate what was happening to people fleeing CAR. As you might know, there has been an exodus of the Muslim population into Chad; when we visited there was not a lot of information about what was happening on the other side of the border. We went to Ndjamena (the capital of Chad) to meet the people who had been evacuated from Bangui by planes chartered by the Chadian authorities. We also met people who had fled CAR and were staying in towns close to CAR’s border in the south of Chad.

Can you describe the situation in Bangui

The situation was quite tense, as you can imagine. I’ve been going to CAR for many years and I could see that it was completely different. It was not like what my colleagues saw on a previous mission in December 2013 when a lot of fighting was going on, when dead bodies were in the streets. In February you didn’t have such things, but it was still quite tense – you could still hear gunshots in the evening and stories about people getting killed.

In Bangui, most of the Muslim population had already fled. A small part of the Muslim community was still staying in two districts and there were also a lot of Muslims who had found refuge next to the airport in an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp. They were all hoping to be evacuated to Chad by planes sent to CAR by the Chadian government. On the other side of the airport, in another IDP camp, there were mainly Christians who had fled their homes after attacks by the Seleka. They were still afraid to return to their homes, or their homes had been destroyed.

What are the latest developments

The most important development was the adoption by the UN Security Council in April of Resolution 2149 authorising the establishment of a new peacekeeping mission for CAR (MINUSCA). This decision is a very important step for the resolution of the crisis. This is something Amnesty International had been calling for, and we campaigned a lot for this to happen.

Unfortunately the transfer of authority from the African-led International Support Mission to CAR (MISCA) to MINUSCA will not take place until 15 September 2014, so there is a lot still to be done in the meantime – not just in terms of making sure that MINUSCA can be deployed on time, but also in ensuring that there is no gap between now and when MINUSCA is deployed effectively with regard to the protection of civilians.

What role can the EU play in responding to the crisis

The EU has a big role to play. The EU has had an office in CAR for many years, and supported the national government before the crisis by providing development assistance.

The most important step that was taken by the EU was to authorise the deployment of EUFOR CAR. But unfortunately this has been delayed several times and, as we speak, hasn’t yet happened fully. I think that one of the most important things that the EU could do now would be to ensure a full deployment of the troops as soon as possible in order to boost security in Bangui.

The EU also has a huge role to play in rebuilding the security chain and the rule of law by providing technical assistance and funds.  For example, the EU needs to provide financial assistance to the government to develop a clear DDR (Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration) policy, but also to establish basic public services and ensure the functionality of the justice system [including] how to tackle the impunity which has persisted in the country for many years.

This is a very important step to pursue, for if peace in the country is to be reached, impunity must be tackled from the beginning [..] . Therefore, we are calling on to the EU to provide technical and financial support for any initiative that will strengthen justice and accountability within CAR.