Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013: Central African Republic - Country of Concern update

Published 10 April 2014


We remain very concerned by the grave security and humanitarian situation that continues to have a severe impact on the civilian population in CAR. The first quarter of 2014 has seen little real improvement, with reports highlighting continued serious human rights abuses against the population. Abuses include extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence against women and children, seizure of property, attacks on places of worship, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Areas of CAR have been affected by conflict for decades but, until 2013, this conflict did not prevent diverse ethnic and religious communities from living and working together. However, long-term poverty and the vulnerability of key state institutions have led to an acute level of insecurity and a lack of rule of law throughout the country, compounding the poor human rights situation and exacerbating religious tensions.

Fighters associated with the Seleka rebel coalition were initially guilty of the majority of human rights abuses. But recent months have seen largely Christian “Anti-Balaka” or “self-defence” groups perpetrating attacks on Muslim civilians. This has resulted in large-scale migration of Muslim communities fearful for their lives.

The number of refugees at Bangui Airport has halved in recent weeks. But that is as much due to the Muslim population leaving as any improvement in security. Bangui’s Muslim population appears to have fallen from 120,000 to around 7-8,000. That has been driven by increased attacks on Muslims, their homes and businesses. This has decimated Bangui’s mercantile class and destroyed markets and livelihoods. It is now almost impossible to buy meat in Bangui as the (essentially Muslim) pastoralist farmers are too scared to venture into the city. Refugees are spilling into CAR’s neighbours (Cameroon is taking in around 5,000 a week).

The UN World Food Programme remains very concerned about a lack of funding for its emergency relief programme (which could result in farmers using the seeds for food, rather than planting them). The risk to health has increased, following the destruction of all hospitals outside the capital, and a growing threat of cholera due to the wetter weather.

Senior Minister of State, Baroness Warsi, met Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Imam Omar Kabine Layama, two of the three members of CAR’s Inter-Religious Forum, on 27 January at the House of Lords. Their message was that the violence in CAR should not be seen as a fight between different faiths, but rather as the legacy of neglect, economic marginalisation and political exploitation. In the face of the worsening crisis, our immediate focus must be on stopping the violence on the ground, in order to protect civilians, and to ensure humanitarian access The UK’s Non-Resident Ambassador to CAR, Mr Brian Olley, recently visited the country where he met the Head of CAR’s transitional government, Catherine Samba-Panza. As well as listening to Ms Samba-Panza’s views on the latest situation, Mr Olley expressed the UK’s commitment to remain a strong player in the international community’s efforts in CAR.

The Foreign Secretary’s speech at the CAR Mini-Summit in Brussels on 2 April highlighted the shocking levels of sexual violence in the country. He went on to pay tribute to the French and African Union troops who, in the words of the UN Secretary General, have “prevented near massacres and gross human rights violations”. The Foreign Secretary also announced a further £6 million of UK humanitarian aid for CAR, £2 million of which will be channelled through the UN Refugee Agency to protect communities at risk of violence, including women and girls at risk of sexual violence. The UK has now directly committed £23 million humanitarian aid to CAR since July 2013.