GENEVA (8 November 2013) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday warned that a deteriorating cycle of violent attacks and reprisals in the Central African Republic risks plunging the country into a new conflict.
On 26 October, self-defence militias, known as anti-Balaka, attacked and occupied Bouar, a town in the west of the country, on the main road to neighbouring Cameroon. This led to clashes with ex-Séléka forces, and resulted in the death of at least 20 civilians. One teacher was repeatedly run over by ex-Séléka forces because of his perceived support of the anti-Balaka militias. At least 10,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting in and around Bouar.
“I am deeply shocked by the killings and human rights violations that are being committed in the Central African Republic,” Pillay said. “The latest clashes between ex-Séléka forces and various self-defence groups, are extremely worrying. Such violent incidents have heightened tensions among communities, caused splits along religious and sectarian lines and could lead to further destabilization in the country.”
“For decades, diverse ethnic and religious communities have lived together in this country. This escalation of violence and hatred must be halted before it spins completely out of control,” the High Commissioner said.
Pillay said that recent reports of a massacre of mostly women and children in a village near Bouar on 26 October illustrate the level of violence prevailing in the Central African Republic and the absolute disregard for human life shown by fighters – in this particular case, alleged ex-Séléka forces.
“I urge the authorities to immediately launch a transparent, independent investigation to verify these shocking reports,” she said.
Fighting and violations are also taking place in other parts of the country. In Bossangoa, also in western CAR, clashes between the two groups have resulted in an unknown number of casualties since September 2013 and led to a large-scale displacement of population.
A UN human rights team which recently visited Bossangoa received reports of widespread human rights violations committed by both groups, including summary executions, sexual violence, arrests and arbitrary detentions. Several hundred civilians, including two humanitarian workers from the non-governmental organisation Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) are reported to have lost their lives during the first two weeks of September.
As a result of the fighting, most Christians have taken refuge in Bossangoa’s Catholic mission, which has turned into a camp for at least 30,000 displaced people. Civilians, especially men, are afraid to leave the mission, fearing detention, beatings or murder by ex-Séléka forces, if they are suspected to be members of anti-Balaka militias. Muslim civilians have also been displaced and many have taken refuge in the Sub-Préfecture (sous-préfecture) and the Liberty school premises.
At least 20 villages surrounding Bossangoa have also been affected by clashes, which have forced villagers to flee and hide in the bush in precarious conditions and in constant fear for their lives.
“The civilian population is bearing the brunt of this chaotic situation. Civilians are clearly being targeted for their perceived support of a group or for their religion,” Pillay said. “Entire villages have been burned to the ground and widespread lootings continue to take place, including poaching of cattle.”
The High Commissioner also expressed concern about reports of illegal arrests, detentions and torture in secret detention centres in the Central African Republic capital, Bangui. According to information received by the UN Human Rights Office, ex-Séléka forces working for the CEDAD (Comité extraordinaire pour la défense des acquis démocratiques), a committee set up after the last ministerial reshuffle, are allegedly responsible for illegal arrests and human rights abuses. The CEDAD building appears to be used as a private and illegal detention centre where torture is reportedly used extensively. The CEDAD is not legally mandated to detain individuals or investigate criminal offences.
“I call on the authorities to immediately look into these allegations and, if they are confirmed, to take urgent measures to ensure that illegal arrests, detention and the use of torture are halted immediately,” Pillay said.
“There is an urgent need for the restoration of the rule of law in the Central African Republic,” the High Commissioner said. “Unless immediate action is taken, both by the authorities and by the international community, there is a clear risk that the situation will degenerate rapidly and inexorably into a full-blown conflict. This would take a terrible toll on the people of the Central African Republic, and could also reverberate across the region.”
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