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Zeid warns of risk of re-escalation of violence in CAR

GENEVA (4 July 2016) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday warned that the security and human rights situation in the Central African Republic may be starting to deteriorate again, after a series a major incidents in the capital Bangui and in rural areas.

“While 2016 began on a positive note, with the successful holding of elections in February, recent events in Bangui and in several other parts of the country make me fear a re-escalation of violence in the coming months,” Zeid said. “There is an urgent need to disarm the armed groups – who remain far too powerful and retain the potential to reignite the conflict – as well as to restore State authority and rule of law, and to ensure the security of all civilians.”

Tensions have been on the rise in Bangui since mid-June. Clashes between armed elements and MINUSCA soldiers in Bangui’s Muslim PK5 neighbourhood resulted in the six armed men being killed and some 15 civilians injured on 20 June. The incident started after a number of Fulani herders were arrested by CAR security forces, which then led to six policemen being taken hostage and MINUSCA’s intervention to free them. After the clashes, an angry crowd erected barricades and burned tires.
On the same day, MINUSCA forces also had to intervene to extract CAR and UN police officers from a Commissariat building surrounded by a hostile armed crowd. A few days earlier, three civilians were killed in reprisal for the stabbing of a motorbike-taxi driver from the PK5 neighbourhood.

On 24 June a Senegalese UN peace-keeper was also killed in Bangui by unidentified armed men in circumstances that remain unclear.

A number of incidents have also taken place recently in several regions where armed groups continue to exercise control, committing serious human rights violations and preying on the civilian population.

In all, clashes outside Bangui involving armed groups, including ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka, resulted in the killing of at least 17 people during the month of June. Fighting between Fulani herders and other armed elements resulted in the deaths of at least three people in the northern Batangafo region on 19 June. In a separate incident, a series of attacks and counter-attacks by groups supported by anti-Balaka elements on one side, and Fulani herders supported by ex-Séléka elements on the other, killed at least 14 people in Ngaoundaye, some 500 km northwest of Bangui, and led to the displacement of thousands of people. Armed youths also torched houses belonging to the Muslim community in Carnot, in Mambere-Kadéi Prefecture, on 21 June, injuring some 20 civilians.

“Improved security and accountability remain absolutely key to the establishment of a sustainable peace and reconciliation in the Central African Republic,” the High Commissioner said.

He also stressed the “urgent need to rebuild the justice system and restore confidence in State institutions, so people do not feel the need to take justice into their own hands or to rely on armed groups for their security.”

“The steps taken by the authorities to establish the Special Criminal Court and the adoption of a new Constitution are promising, but I remain concerned at the large number of arbitrary arrests and detentions by security forces,” the UN human rights chief said. “More resources and political will are needed to ensure proper justice for past and current crimes and human rights violations.”

The High Commissioner also expressed his concern at the continuing human rights violations committed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the south-eastern part of the Central African Republic and called for an increased effort to combat the group which has been responsible for large-scale killings, mutilations, abductions, sex-slavery and forced recruitment of child soldiers across four different countries in Central Africa over the past three decades.

The Haute-Kotto and Mbomou Prefectures have been particularly targeted by the LRA, with an increasing number of attacks against civilians since the beginning of the year, including killings, abductions and gender-based violence. Between January and April 2016, over 290 people were reportedly abducted by the rebel group, including 60 children. Thousands of civilians have also been displaced in the areas where they are operating.

The High Commissioner said he was also deeply concerned by credible and deeply worrying allegations of human rights violations and abuses by members of the Ugandan army deployed to the Central African Republic as part of the operation to counter the LRA. These include allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation, abduction and forced marriage.

During preliminary investigations, at least 18 women and girls said they were subjected to sexual violence and harassment by members of the Uganda People Defence Forces (UPDF). Some 14 cases of rape, including cases involving victims who were minors at the time, have also been reported. All cases took place in and around the town of Obo, in the eastern prefecture of Haut-Mbomou. Several women and girls reported they had been taken from their villages by UPDF members and forced to become prostitutes or sex slaves, or to marry Ugandan soldiers.

The UPDF were first deployed to Obo in 2009 to fight the LRA as part of an intergovernmental agreement with the Government of the Central African Republic. They were subsequently integrated into the African Union Regional Cooperative Initiative for the Elimination of the LRA in November 2011.

“I am profoundly disturbed by these extremely serious allegations. My Office has already approached the Ugandan authorities on this issue and will continue to follow it up with great attention. I am encouraged by the commitment expressed by the Ugandan authorities to investigate these alleged crimes, as well as the very strong public reaction of the African Union. However, I hope that these assurances are followed by rapid action to shed full light on the behaviour of UPDF troops vis-à-vis the civilian population. The Ugandan authorities must ensure that no further abuses occur, that all alleged perpetrators are investigated, and – if sufficient evidence is found – that they are convicted and punished with the full force of the law.” 

ENDS

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