6 July 2017

Central African Republic: Rights Group Raises Concern Over War Crimes

Photo: Monde Kingsley Nfor
Mborgene camp in Eastern Cameroon

At least 566 civilians have been killed in war crimes committed by armed groups since 2014 in the violence-ridden Central African Republic (CAR), Human Rights Watch said.

In a report published on Wednesday, the international rights body provided a detailed account of the widespread abuses committed against civilians by mainly Muslim Seleka and Christian anti-Balaka forces in the central regions of CAR.

The rebel groups have also destroyed 4,207 homes between late 2014 and April 2017, the report said.

According to HRW, the crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Special Criminal Court (SCC), a new judicial body that, when operational, will investigate and prosecute grave human rights violations and war crimes in the country since 2003.

HRW held impunity and lack of accountability on the part of the rebel groups as the main reason for the violence.

"Since 2013, not one armed group commander has been held accountable for the serious crimes, including possible crimes against humanity," Lewis Mudge, a researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.

"These armed groups must know that judicial mechanisms, whether it be the local courts, this new hybrid court - the Special Criminal Court - or the International Criminal Court are watching them and they will be judged for their actions."

The CAR government struck a peace deal with 13 of the 14 armed groups active in the country on June 19.

The truce was shortly followed by violent clashes between rival factions which killed more than 100 people in the town of Bria, northeast of the capital, Bangui.

Mudge, who worked on the HRW report, said the SCC, made up of national and international judges and prosecutors, needs to start hearing cases as soon as possible.

"The United Nations and international donors need to recognize that any attempts at peace without addressing impunity will be short-term fixes," he said.

"There is no consequence to targeting and killing civilians. That has to stop."

MINUSCA, the United Nations peacekeeping mission, has been in operation in the country since April 2014.

Al Jazeera reached out to the MINUSCA spokesperson Vladimir Ponteiro for comment on HRW's findings, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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