Press briefing notes on Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville Location: Geneva
Date: 8 November 2013

(1) Central African Republic

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has put out a press release warning that a deteriorating cycle of violent attacks and reprisals in the Central African Republic risks plunging the country into a new conflict.

On 26 October, self-defence militias, known as anti-Balaka, attacked and occupied Bouar, a town that is some 375 kilometres north-west of Bangui, and quite close to the border with Cameroon. This led to clashes with ex-Séléka forces, and resulted in the death of at least 20 civilians. One teacher was repeatedly, deliberately, run over by ex-Séléka forces because of his perceived support of the anti-Balaka militias. At least 10,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting in and around Bouar.

The latest clashes between ex-Séléka forces and various self-defence groups, are extremely worrying. Such violent incidents have heightened tensions among communities, caused splits along religious and sectarian lines and could lead to further destabilization in the country.

Recent reports of a massacre of 18 mostly women and children shot in a house in a village near Bouar on 26 October illustrate the level of violence prevailing in the Central African Republic and the absolute disregard for human life shown by fighters – in this particular case, alleged ex-Séléka forces.

Fighting and violations are also taking place in other parts of the country. In Bossangoa, also in western CAR, clashes between the two groups have resulted in an unknown number of casualties since September 2013 and led to a large-scale displacement of population.

A UN human rights team which recently visited Bossangoa, which lies some 270 kilometres north of Bangui, where they received reports of widespread human rights violations committed by both groups, including summary executions, sexual violence, arrests and arbitrary detentions. Several hundred civilians, including two humanitarian workers from the non-governmental organisation Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) are reported to have lost their lives during the first two weeks of September.

The High Commissioner notes that for decades, diverse ethnic and religious communities have lived together in CAR. The current escalation of violence and hatred must be halted before it spins completely out of control.

As a result of the fighting in Bossangoa, most Christians have taken refuge in the Catholic mission, which has turned into a camp for at least 30,000 displaced people. Civilians, especially men, are afraid to leave the mission, fearing detention, beatings or murder by ex-Séléka forces, if they are suspected to be members of anti-Balaka militias. Muslim civilians have also been displaced and many have taken refuge in the Sub-Préfecture (sous-préfecture) and the Liberty school premises.

At least 20 villages surrounding Bossangoa have also been affected by clashes, which have forced villagers to flee and hide in the bush in precarious conditions and in constant fear for their lives. Civilians are clearly being targeted for their perceived support of a group or for their religion, and entire villages have been burned to the ground and widespread looting continues to take place, as well as poaching of cattle.

The High Commissioner is also expressing concern about reports of illegal arrests, detentions and torture in secret detention centres in the Central African Republic capital, Bangui. According to information we have received, ex-Séléka forces working for the CEDAD (Comité extraordinaire pour la défense des acquis démocratiques) -- a committee set up after the last ministerial reshuffle -- are allegedly responsible for illegal arrests and human rights abuses. The CEDAD building appears to be used as a private and illegal detention centre where torture is reportedly used extensively. The CEDAD is not legally mandated to detain individuals or investigate criminal offences.

We call on the authorities to immediately look into these allegations and, if they are confirmed, to take urgent measures to ensure that illegal arrests, detention and the use of torture are halted immediately.

There is an urgent need for the restoration of the rule of law in the Central African Republic. Unless immediate action is taken, both by the authorities and by the international community, there is a clear risk that the situation will degenerate rapidly and inexorably into a full-blown conflict. This would take a terrible toll on the people of the Central African Republic, and could also reverberate across the region.

(2) Democratic Republic of Congo

We welcome the apparently comprehensive defeat of the M23 armed group in DRC. We also note the surrender yesterday in Uganda of one of the M23 leaders Colonel Sultani Makenga. Makenga was one of five M23 leaders we singled out in a press release on 19 June 2012*. He should be brought to justice along with other M23 leaders. He is already subject to arrest warrants in the DRC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

* See: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12251&LangID=E

ENDS

For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 /rcolville@ohchr.org), Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 / cpouilly@ohchr.org )

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