The Central African Republic is now a country where vicious killers operate with impunity, says the United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay. Speaking Thursday in the C.A.R. capital of Bangui, she called on Central Africans to reflect on their values and on the international community to do much more to help restore law and order in the country.
Pillay's remarks follow two days of discussions here with the head of state, the justice minister, and local human rights organizations, among others.
Describing the current situation as dire, she said the large-scale killings seen in December and January seem to have been halted by French and African peacekeepers, but people continue to be killed on a daily basis, particularly by the anti-balaka militia groups.
Hatred remains at a terrifying level, she said, as evidenced by the extraordinarily vicious nature of the killings.
Asked by a journalist what was the single worst incident she had heard about in the C.A.R., she said was "particularly appalled about decapitation, mutilation of body parts, eating of the flesh of human beings; the incident of the mayor of Mbaiki is another extremely shocking incident, where he was killed, decapitated and a woman held up the genital parts that had been cut off him."
Pillay said children were among those who had been decapitated and her office knows of at least four cases where the killers ate the flesh of their victims.
Those committing these gruesome crimes have been allowed to go free, she noted.
"People apprehended with blood on their machetes and severed body parts in their hands have been allowed to go free, because there is nowhere to detain them and no means to charge them with the crimes they have clearly committed," Pillay said.
Pillay said the country’s top leadership told her that there is, in effect, no state, no coherent national army, no police, and no justice system in the C.A.R., and hardly any means to detain criminals.
She noted that two weeks earlier, nine prisoners escaped from Bangui’s recently reopened central prison - allegedly with the collusion of some of those supposed to guard them.
And so far, she added, there is little in the way of serious planning to restore law and order.
The human rights chief acknowledged the international community cannot fill all the gaps but she called for more urgent action.
"I am deeply concerned by the slow response of the international community," Pillay said. "The vital humanitarian aid effort is deplorably underfunded with only 20 percent of requirements met so far. Human rights NGOs do not even have the means of transport to travel to the countryside to find out what is going on."
Pillay reiterated the U.N. secretary-general’s call for a fully equipped force of 10,000 peacekeepers and 2,000 police for the C.A.R., and said that creating an effective justice system and other institutions for the country cannot be done on the cheap.
Alarm bells are still ringing, she said, adding that if the international community gets it wrong in this country, there is a risk of decades of instability, and the creation of a new and fertile breeding ground for religious extremism -- not just in the C.A.R. but in the wider region.