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Amnesty Says CAR 'Out of Control'

  • Hannah McNeish

FILE - Child soldiers of the Seleka coalition sits on a pickup truck near the Presidential palace in Bangui, March 25, 2013.

FILE - Child soldiers of the Seleka coalition sits on a pickup truck near the Presidential palace in Bangui, March 25, 2013.

Rights group Amnesty International says the human rights crisis in the Central African Republic is spiraling out of control, with what it calls "unprecedented" levels of gang rapes, torture, executions and the recruitment of thousands of child soldiers.

The Central African Republic has been plagued by instability since independence from France more than 50 years ago, with coups toppling a series of governments.

But since a coalition of rebels calling themselves Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize and took power in March, lawlessness has dominated, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled increasing violence from so-called "security forces."

Amnesty International’s CAR researcher Godfrey Byaruhanga says that no one has reined in these forces.

“And these killings have continued unabated and continue up to this day. And the concern is the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of private residencies and public buildings, which has resulted in a lot of civilians injured and maimed. And a lot of civilians have been beaten and tortured by Seleka soldiers,” he said.

In a damning report released Tuesday, Amnesty documented a series of atrocities. In one instance, a taxi full of people found with a box of Bozize t-shirts was taken away. Some inside were tortured, executed and dumped in a river.

In another incidents, a mother was gang-raped for hours by Seleka soldiers in front of her crying children.

Byaruhanga says that unchecked, such brutal acts have become commonplace, while women suffer in silence in a country where services have crumbled and aid agencies are targets.

“We are also seriously concerned about the widespread rape of women and girls. This is a horrendous crime that has been committed all through the last 12 or so months by these Seleka soldiers and they’ve continued without anybody being able to stop them,” he said.

Amnesty says that the Seleka ex-rebels have forcibly recruited over 3,000 children, opened their ranks to former criminals and drawn in foreign fighters from neighboring Chad and Sudan.

Government officials could not be reached for comment, but Byaruhanga says that they have failed to check abuses.

“The situation is totally appalling and the government appears not to be either able or willing to prevent these soldiers from continuing with these human rights crimes,” he said.

Faced with so much violence and looting, villagers have formed self-defense units to fight back in a country where confidence in the state has crumbled and Christians are fighting the largely Muslim Seleka rebels in a deepening sectarian crisis.

“Long-term, the problem is that this could lead to the Central African Republic people becoming completely ungovernable and it becoming a failed state and the repercussions will not be felt just in the Central African Republic but far beyond, in neighboring African countries,” he said.

Security analysts also fear that the country will fast become a safe haven for other armed groups in the region. The CAR is already thought to be the favorite hideout of fugitive warlord Joseph Kony and his terrorist group The Lord’s Resistance Army.