GENEVA (20 December 2013) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday warned that the situation in the Central African Republic remains highly volatile, with ongoing violence, intimidation and a governance vacuum. The reported involvement of armed elements from neighbouring countries heightens the risk of a crisis that, if left unchecked, may become dangerously difficult to control, she warned.
A UN human rights monitoring team in the Central African Republic has been documenting human rights violations committed in recent months, including killings, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, attacks on hospitals, destruction of property and targeting of individuals on the basis of their religion. The team has also received reports of ongoing violations, both by anti-Balaka groups and by ex-Séléka forces in various parts of the country.
“In Bangui, individuals who had fled from their homes do not want to return for fear of imminent attacks by anti-Balaka groups, which, according to reports, appear to be getting more heavily armed and organised by the day,” High Commissioner Pillay said.
“In the west of the country, in Bouar, our team witnessed clear attempts to foment fear and distrust among religious communities, and the reported involvement of armed elements from neighbouring countries. We have also received reports that ex- Séléka forces have been distributing weapons to the Muslim civilian population,” she said.
“These developments are extremely worrying and should ring alarm bells around the world for sustained and urgent efforts to be taken to prevent the Central African Republic from plunging into disaster.”
Bouar was the site of a massacre of civilians by ex- Séléka forces on 26 October 2013, resulting in at least 18 deaths and several injuries. Since then, there have been a number of reports of reprisals by anti-Balaka groups.
The UN Human Rights team has also received reports of attacks, reprisals and counter-reprisals in Bohong, 75 km from Bouar in Ouham Pende Prefecture, resulting in numerous deaths. In the past 10 days, at least 12 Muslims have reportedly been lynched in Bangui. The team is looking into reports of ongoing attacks and abuses in Boganangone, 210 kilometres west of Bangui, by an abusive ex-Séléka Colonel. The team is currently visiting Bossangoa, 400 kilometres northwest of Bangui.
The High Commissioner warned that religious differences were being manipulated by political leaders, with deadly consequences.
“Too often in history we have seen the political manipulation of religious and ethnic differences result in horrific violations and long-term damage to the social fabric of a country,” Pillay warned. “I urge leaders at both national and local levels in the Central African Republic to stop stoking violence on the basis of religion.”
The High Commissioner highlighted the laudable efforts of the Archbishop of the Central African Republic Dieudonne Nzapalainga, Pastor Nicolas Guerékoyamé, and the Imam, Omar Kobina Layama, in spreading the message of peace between communities.
“The Archbishop, the pastor and the Imam have been showing important leadership at a time when it is so badly needed by their followers, and they have managed, with some success, to defuse tensions between communities,” she said.
“We have seen young Muslims take it upon themselves to protect churches, and churches are serving as safe havens for internally displaced people, regardless of their religious backgrounds. Such developments are extremely encouraging and I call on all religious and community leaders to redouble their efforts to ensure that entire communities are not vilified in the dangerous cycle of violence and reprisals that we have been witnessing.”
Christian and Muslim leaders in other towns, including Bouar, have also held joint meetings and are working together to spread messages of tolerance to the civilian population.
The High Commissioner also urged all sides to come together and resolve the situation in the country through dialogue.
“The only way to prevent large-scale suffering in the country is for all sides to renounce violence and move forward through constructive dialogue,” Pillay said.
“The international community also needs to prioritise the disarmament of all sides and accountability for perpetrators of serious human rights violations. The establishment of a Commission of Inquiry should send a strong message to perpetrators of violations that the international community is committed to holding them accountable.”
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