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49th Session of the Human Rights Council

High-level dialogue on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

30 March 2022

Mr Vice-President,
Minister of State Arnaud DJOUBAYE ABAZENE,
Excellencies,
Colleagues,

I welcome the participation today of representatives of the Government, the African Union, and key national institutions, as well as this Council's Independent Expert. After well over a decade of intense conflicts that have inflicted great suffering on millions of people, there is a pressing need for work to advance human rights, justice, and genuine reconciliation for the people of the Central African Republic.

I acknowledge efforts by the Government to give stronger emphasis to human rights, including through the appointment of two Minister Counsellors to the President to combat sexual violence in conflict, and to promote human rights and good governance. Regular discussions between the Ministry of Justice and our staff have also helped to advance accountability, and in that regard I note that there has been some progress regarding national justice processes and the Special Criminal Court.

However, despite the unilateral ceasefire that was declared by the President on 15 October 2021, the country's conflicts continue to generate severe violations and abuses of human rights by all parties. According to OCHA, as a direct result, over 1.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes, and 3.1 million people – 63 per cent of the population – are in need of humanitarian protection and assistance. Never in the past five years have there been so many people in acute need in the Central African Republic.

Multiple armed groups have continued to perpetrate serious human rights abuses. Military operations against these groups by the Government's security forces, supported by various armed elements and foreign private contractors, have also reportedly resulted in serious human rights violations. Killings, conflict-related sexual violence, and grave violations and abuses against children have been alleged against all parties.

During the last three months of 2021, the Human Rights Division of MINUSCA documented 363 incidents of human rights violations, abuses and breaches of international humanitarian law – many extremely severe. 848 victims were recorded. Some 59 per cent of these incidents were attributed to armed groups that were signatories to the Peace Agreement of February 2019. National security forces and their allies were responsible for 40 per cent of incidents – a sharp increase from 23 per cent in January 2021.

In Boyo village in the Ouaka Prefecture, a newly formed pro-government militia, made up of former Anti-Balaka and other recruited youth, allegedly killed 20 people, raped five women and girls, and burned and looted 547 houses in December 2021. Most of the victims were Muslim, and the village appears to have been targeted as a punishment for perceived support for the UPC armed group. We will be issuing a public report on this incident.

Just the following month, in January 2022, in Aigbando village in the Haute-Kotto region, Army personnel and members of private military companies, who were engaged in an anti-rebel offensive, reportedly indiscriminately opened fire on civilians, and committed extra-judicial killings, resulting in at least 17 people killed. One girl was raped, houses and shops were looted and destroyed, and at least 750 people fled the area. Following this incident, members of the private military companies blocked MINUSCA from accessing the area, obstructing an urgent human rights investigation. Such obstruction to the protection work of human rights officers of MINUSCA and other international and national actors is unacceptable, and must cease immediately.

Conflict related-sexual violence by armed groups is a major concern. In Bakouma, in the Mbomou prefecture the Office documented 72 cases of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated by two armed groups, the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, from December 2020 to April 2021, affecting 25 women and 46 girls. The FPRC was also involved in 57 conflict-related sexual violence incidents that affected 49 women and 16 girls in the Haute-Kotto region between November and December 2021. These abuses were committed while the armed groups controlled the villages in question.

Excellencies,

I am concerned that the Government's response to armed groups increasingly involves arbitrary arrests of members of already vulnerable communities, such as Muslims and Peuls, whom they associate with armed groups.

This pattern of violations affecting minority communities is deeply disturbing. The rights of many people are being violated – and targeted discrimination and ill-treatment risk once again set off a new cycle of violence along communal, religious, and ethnic lines. The setbacks to peace and reconciliation of such an evolution would be profound.

Mr Vice-President,

As this Council has repeatedly emphasised, impunity for serious human rights violations and other crimes is at the heart of the violence in the Central African Republic.

Recently, national courts have resumed criminal sessions, and magistrates are being re-deployed. As of 1 February 2022, 80 per cent of first instance and appellate courts were operational. However, the fragile security context impedes their work.

I note important progress in terms of transitional justice. The Special Criminal Court has received more than 230 complaints. At least 12 files have been forwarded to investigating offices, 21 alleged perpetrators have been placed in pre-trial detention, and 25 other arrest warrants are pending execution. Some 305 victims and witnesses, including 24 women, have benefited from SCC protection measures. A special corps of lawyers has been constituted, with 32 national and 16 international lawyers. I regret that the Court's investigations are often impeded by security constraints and insufficient political support. I call for a more consistent funding mechanism for the crucial work of the Special Criminal Court, and equally for greater national support to the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission which is also an independent institution that is integral to effective transitional justice.

I welcome the ongoing contribution to accountability of the International Criminal Court, and the recent important cooperation by Chad with respect to the case against an alleged Anti-Balaka leader. This highlights the importance of close cooperation by neighbouring States and regional actors.

Mr Vice-President,

The increasing number of incidents involving serious human rights violations and abuses – and the rising role of the nation's defence forces and their allies in those violations – are matters of utmost concern. The absence of accountability for such violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law paves the way for further cycles of violence across the country. I urge all parties to comply with the ceasefire of 15 October 2021. I strongly encourage the Government to put an end to violations by its forces and allies, and to hold all perpetrators of violations and abuses to account – including armed group leaders and personnel.

I urge all national actors to support efforts to monitor human rights violations and abuses, to combat impunity, and to advance justice and truth-telling processes for all victims. I also urge strong national efforts to ensure that local elections, which are scheduled later this year, do not trigger hate speech, incitement to violence and violent clashes.

Thank you Mr Vice-President. I look forward to our discussion.