BANGUI/NEW YORK (31 May 2017) - The CAR I visited these past 4 days is a striking contrast to the CAR I saw when last here in early 2014. The Bangui of three years ago, like the rest of the country, was a place where fear, chaos, violence and atrocities, a collapsed economy, and a humanitarian crisis reigned.
This time, I was struck by the vast improvement in the security of Bangui; bustling markets and signs of growing economic life; police, justice and corrections institutions beginning to take form; and above all, a clearly articulated vision by the Central African authorities of a peaceful, self-sufficient, and more prosperous CAR, based on justice for all -- and impunity for none.
Bambari -- the 'town without armed groups’ -- with its fledgling gendarmerie, police, judiciary, and civil authorities, represents a model of hope of the possible way forward, thanks to robust collaboration between MINUSCA, Government forces, international partners and NGOs.
But while much progress has been made, there are still deep tensions and some fear a sudden relapse. This is a time for leadership, strengthened partnerships, and a coordinated approach that puts Central Africans' 'Human Rights Up Front'.
Warning signs are flashing and must not be ignored. Armed groups coalesce into confusing alliances and continue their atrocious attacks against civilians, primarily women and children, as we have witnessed in recent weeks in parts of the east where they seek control over natural resources. Their disarmament is stalled. Perpetrators of deadly attacks against peacekeepers remain at large. And while police, justice and corrections officials have begun to deploy in many parts of the country, they lack the resources to carry out their functions.
The deep frustration and exasperation of the population over the slow progress in arresting those responsible for crimes, in seeing justice done, and in restoring State authority have become serious risk factors.
During my brief stay in CAR, I had the privilege of launching, alongside the Government, MINUSCA and UNDP, the United Nations Mapping Report. This major report, covering human rights violations from 2003 to 2015, sends an unequivocal message to the leaders of armed groups and criminals from all sides, and to those who support them: justice is coming, slowly but surely, and justice is impartial -- and it will come for all those responsible for the most serious crimes, regardless of affinities. The 'gros poissons', the ‘big fish’, who have instigated the worst violence are nervous about the report, and understandably so. Especially since it coincides with the arrival of the new international Special Prosecutor.
The report seeks to galvanize national and international efforts to tackle one of the most enduring root causes of conflict in the CAR: impunity. The Mapping Report will contribute to the efforts of the newly established Special Criminal Court, national jurisdictions, and the International Criminal Court. It provides a depth of research and analysis, as well as concrete recommendations to assist in developing an integrated strategy for bringing truth, justice, reconciliation, and reparations for the countless abuses suffered.
Leadership from Central Africans on these issues, and consistent support from international partners, including the United Nations, will be crucial in determining the way forward. Human rights institutions, such as the new National Human Rights Commission, should be made operational. Rule of law infrastructure require increased capacity, and prisons in particular must be constructed, and run in a more humane manner, including with adequate food. Human rights defenders, and leaders of women's groups and religious communities with whom I met in Bangui and Bambari have been courageously documenting human rights violations with few guarantees of security; their courage should be matched with support from the UN and other international partners.
During my stay, I heard a chorus of Central African voices, clearly expressing their desire to see a new country, built on justice and respect for the rule of law. Passionate demands for an end to impunity were expressed in all my meetings. People in the country are desperate to have the page turned on their tormented history and to ensure that the progress made since 2014 is not squandered.