BANGUI / GENEVA (19 OCTOBER 2016) – The United Nations Working Group on mercenaries called on the Government of the Central African Republic (CAR) to urgently tackle the threat of mercenaries and foreign fighters who have joined local armed groups, in order to prevent further escalation of violence in the country.
“We received information that mercenaries and foreign fighters from neighbouring countries including Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Sudan joined armed groups, primarily the Selekas, causing chaos and destruction,” said human rights expert Anton Katz at the end of the Working Group’s visit* to CAR.
“Some 500 or more mercenaries and foreign fighters remain in CAR today and have taken advantage of the current fragile state of the country to enrich themselves through criminal activities,” Mr. Katz noted. “The ongoing presence of these actors gravely undermines the right of Central Africans to self-determination and threatens the stability of the country.”
As a consequence of the 2013 conflict, there were over 5,000 deaths, 380,000 internally displaced persons, 450,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, some 6,000 female victims of sexual violence and around 10,000 children forcibly recruited as child soldiers. Today, more than half of the country’s population is in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
Porous borders have made it easy for foreign armed groups to enter the country. Rich natural resources such as diamond, gold, uranium and oil provide incentives for these fighters. Levying illegal taxes against the population as well as theft, pillaging and the trafficking and smuggling of goods have become a source of income for these actors.
The Working Group also raised concern about the presence of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) which caused an upsurge of violence in the south-eastern region in recent months. The LRA, predominantly composed of Ugandans, also includes members from Sudan, DRC and Niger. To date, it has abducted hundreds of individuals, particularly children to be used as soldiers, and subjected scores of women to sexual violence and slavery, among other atrocities. Their presence has exacerbated the security situation in the country.
Despite the enormous challenges to security, the Working Group commended the positive steps initiated by the authorities. “We congratulate the Government and people of CAR for the peaceful election held earlier this year, the efforts made toward national reconciliation and combatting impunity for human rights violations committed in the past years of conflict,” said Patricia Arias, member of the expert group.
Other positive initiatives have been the adoption of a new Constitution which recognises the threat of mercenaries, the follow up to the recommendations of the Bangui Forum, which included the Disarmament Demobilisation Reintegration and Repatriation of former fighters (DDRR); and efforts to establish a Special Criminal Court to investigate serious violations of human rights and prosecute crimes committed since 2003.
“We call on the Government to prioritise the protection of civilians against armed groups,” Ms. Arias stated. “We urge them to continue the reinforcement of national security forces and the strengthening of judicial mechanisms to tackle the threats of armed groups and combat the prevailing problem of impunity.”
The UN experts further urged the Government to ensure protection for witnesses and victims who wish to participate in judicial proceedings against perpetrators and that full protection and safeguards against reprisals be guaranteed.
“Victims of human rights violations should also have access to effective remedies. Without these safeguards, lasting reconciliation cannot take place,” the expert said. “The strengthening and participation of civil society including the religious platforms in all stages of the reconciliation process is also critical.”
With regards to the activities of private military and security companies (PMSC) and their impact on human rights, the Working Group recommended the adoption of robust legislation to regulate the PMSC industry and provide remedies to victims in cases of human rights violations.
“As the exploitation of natural resources often attract foreign armed actors, it is essential that the Government set up a system to secure these sites and a transparent mechanism to manage these resources,” Mr. Katz said noting that they had received information of a company that hired former Seleka members at a high salary to protect and guard an oil field in the north of the country.
The Group’s delegation visited Bangui and Bria and met with Government representatives, members of the judiciary and civil society organizations, members of the armed groups, victims of human rights violations and MINUSCA staff. It also visited M’poko camp for internally displaced persons and the Bimbo detention centre for women.
The Working Group will present its visit report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2017.
The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination was established in July 2005 by the then Commission on Human Rights. Its mandate was further extended by the Human Rights Council in September 2016. It is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Anton Katz (South Africa). Other members are Patricia Arias (Chile), Elzbieta Karska (Poland), Gabor Rona (United States of America) and Saeed Mokbil (Yemen). Learn more, log on to:
The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.