The United Nations on Tuesday released its first interim report from on the ground in the Central African Republic, detailing for the first time the violence in early December that catapulted the conflict into the international spotlight.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was charged with producing a report for the United Nations Security Council on the situation in the CAR following an outburst of violence between Muslim and Christian communities killed scores in early December. After conducting 183 interviews with victims and witnesses, the first preliminary findings from the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ monitoring mission includes reports of alleged atrocities from both sides — the former rebel group known as the Seleka and the anti-balaka militias that banded together to oppose them, respectively.
Former rebel — and now former president — — Michel Djotodia disbanding of the Seleka officially last year, in the words of the mission, “compounded, rather than curbed violations against the majority Christian population by elements of the renamed ex-Séléka.” In response, members of the Christian community together with soldiers from the former national armed forces (ex-FACA) and Presidential Guard of deposed President Bozizé to form the anti-balaka. On December 5, the anti-balaka launched “coordinated attacks against ex-Séléka” in the capital city, Bangui. It was then that the fighting truly escalated.
Civilians and armed fighters alike were targets for both sides. “For example, a 55-year-old Chadian woman recounted that she lost two brothers and two sisters during the anti-Balaka attacks against Muslim communities in the Boy-Rabe and Boeing neighbourhoods on 5 and 6 December 2013,” the mission reports. “The bodies of two of the victims had been mutilated.”
That level of horror was met in kind during reprisal attacks in Bangui and around the country. “Ex-Séléka detained and reportedly executed civilian males, including boys, in their Camp Kassai, in Bangui, and searched for and executed men and boys at hospitals, including severely injured patients,” the report reads. “For example, on 5 December 2013, ex-Séléka reportedly entered the Hộpital de l’Amitié in Bangui, removed 14 men and shot them dead outside the hospital, also killing a man and the injured teenage boy he was wheeling towards the hospital.”
The next few days were filled with not just clashes between the two armed groups but also widespread violence throughout the country perpetrated by Christian and Muslim civilians. “In addition to killings, the mission received multiple accounts of sexual violence, torture, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as widespread looting and property destruction, including deliberate burning of civilian homes and instances of burning of churches and mosques,” the report notes. “Most of the accounts regarding attacks on places of worship involved anti-Balaka attacking Muslim mosques, such as in Fouh neighbourhood, where 200 anti-Balaka elements attacked the mosque, reportedly killed several people, mutilated their bodies and burnt the mosque.”
Among the more troubling aspects of the report is the role that fighters from neighboring Chad have played in the violence. Chadians have long been reported as part of the Seleka movement, as have fighters from around the region. Given Chad’s role in the Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC), now the U.N.-approved International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, the reported collusion between some soldiers sent to protect civilians and ex-Seleka is high troubling. According to several witness, on December 5, ex-Séléka, “[were seen] jointly with Chadian FOMAC, going door-to-door looking for anti-Balaka and indiscriminately killing at least 11 people, including elderly women, sick persons, and persons with mental disabilities, who had been unable to flee in the morning.”
Chad joined the U.N. Security Council last month after winning last year’s round of elections to take up one of the rotating seats held for Africa.
Providing security to the more than 1,000,000 displaced peoples within the Central African Republic has become a priority for the international community, but execution has been lacking, despite the upgrade of assets to the A.U. peacekeepers. France last month launched a military operation, with U.N. approval, to aid the African Union forces. The European Union is currently discussing plans to send roughly 700 to 1,000 soldiers to bolster the 1,600 that France has already sent into its former colony. The United States has so far avoided committing military forces to the conflict, instead providing $60 million to France and the A.U. missions and facilitating reconciliation efforts with religious leaders in the country.
Meanwhile, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, the head of the National Transitional Council (CNT) who is now head of the country following Djotdia’s resignation last Friday, told the soldiers under his command that they have permission to shoot “at point-blank range” to end the clashes. “The party is over. The robberies are over. The chaos is over. The Central African people must regain their honor,” Nguendet said.