Statement by Mr. Andrew Gilmour
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
40th Human Rights Council session
Geneva, 20 March 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for this opportunity.
The signature, on 6 February, of the Global Peace Agreement between the Government and 14 armed groups marks an important milestone on the road to peace for all Central Africans. This initiative, developed in the framework of the African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR and under the leadership of the African Union, emphasizes a number of principles that are essential to lasting peace. We welcome, in particular, that respect for human dignity and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion, is recognized among the principles for a durable solution.
Another principle enshrined in the Agreement is the fight against impunity, and we welcome that it does not foresee impunity for serious crimes committed during the conflict. The parties to the Peace Agreement recognized that there will be no lasting peace without justice. Victims are entitled to the right to a remedy and reparation for the serious violations that they have suffered.
The Peace Agreement recognises the need for a coherent transitional justice strategy, which includes the establishment of truth through dialogue, reparations to victims, institutional reforms, and continued efforts to prosecute those responsible of serious crimes, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. We welcome the significant steps taken to gradually operationalize the Special Criminal Court, to resume trials by national courts and to transfer members of two armed groups to the International Criminal Court. Significant efforts are still needed, however, to ensure the functioning of the 28 ordinary courts that face major challenges in bringing justice to the people, and –this is a very important point – reducing long pre-trial detentions.
We also welcome the fact that the Agreement requests the establishment of the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission which should conform to international standards. Victims and witnesses should also receive more assistance and adequate protection to ensure their participation in criminal justice processes, as well as in upcoming truth-seeking processes and reparation programmes. It is our sincere hope that incidents such as the one which occurred in Bambari last November, where members of an armed group kidnapped young leaders, who were participating in a dialogue for peace organized at the local level, will never be repeated.
While we commend the positive developments linked to the Peace Agreement, we must not forget that the human rights situation remains highly volatile. Although no major attack against civilians was carried out last month, several attacks by armed groups were reported in the south-western part of the country in January. They resulted in at least 37 civilian deaths. In 2018, the Human Rights Division of MINUSCA identified 4,521 victims resulting from 2,640 cases of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, with civilians suffering killings, injuries, death threats, cruel and inhuman treatment and conflict-related sexual violence.
The process initiated by the Peace Agreement will only be successful if based on national ownership. This requires extensive and inclusive consultations at all stages. This Council recognized this imperative when inviting participants to this dialogue to place special emphasis on the participation of civil society. The interests and rights of the people of the CAR should remain at the heart of the peace efforts. In particular, representatives of victims, women, displaced people, refugees, people living in isolated rural areas, as well as people with disabilities, should be heard and actively engaged.
We are encouraged that members of the civil society, particularly women and youth, were invited as observers to the peace talks in Khartoum. The initiatives at local level to organize peace dialogues, such as in Batangafo, are also essential contributions to reduce violence and promote reconciliation. However, these are only first steps. We call on the national authorities and all actors to continue and step up these efforts and to ensure participation of the civil society in the development of transitional justice initiatives. And it’s important that what’s been called the Inclusive Commission – established under the Peace Agreement – will actually live up to its name and ensure the inclusion of civil society.
OHCHR remains committed to accompany the Central African Republic in its efforts to establish and operationalize human rights institutions and support the transitional justice process, working in tandem with the human rights component of MINUSCA. Special emphasis will be placed on supporting the newly established National Commission of Human Rights, accompanying the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission as well as supporting the work of the Mixed Rapid Intervention Unit (“Unité Mixte d’Intervention Rapide”) in their fight against sexual violence. In February, this Unit was able to carry out investigations outside the capital for the first time. Further, as mandated by the Security Council, the human rights component of MINUSCA will continue to monitor and report on violations by all parties. This contributes both to early warning and the protection of civilians.
We are talking today about a country that has made some important steps in the search for justice and peace. Our office calls on all member states to reinforce the courageous decisions taken by the people of the Central African Republic in this regard.