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May 10, 2013

CAR Rebels Accused of Major Rights Violations

by Lisa Bryant

Human Rights Watch accuses rebels in the Central African Republic of committing serious rights violations before and after this year's coup in the turmoil-torn nation.

Summary executions, rape, torture and pillaging: Human Rights Watch says it has found compelling evidence of horrific rights violations committed by the Seleka rebel coalition in Bangui and elsewhere in the Central African Republic in recent months.

Released on Friday, HRW's accusations follow a 10-day investigation last month in CAR - a nation that some describe as "the wound in the heart of Central Africa."

HRW's Paris office chief Jean-Marie Fardeau says rights violations were also committed under ousted CAR leader Francois Bozize.
 
"That's why there is a need for an official investigation for all crimes committed in Central Africa since 2002, when Bozize took power," said Fardeau.

Diplomats at the CAR's embassy in Paris were not available to respond early Friday afternoon.  But HRW says it interviewed a number of Bangui authorities, including new President Michel Djotodia, who blame the abuses either on former members of the Bozize government or on so-called "fake" Seleka members.

Earlier this month, the country's interim government opened a probe into alleged rights violations committed under Bozize, who was toppled by Seleka rebels in March.

HRW says its report is based on the accounts of dozens of eyewitnesses, victims, human rights activists and authorities from both the CAR's previous and current governments.  Among other findings, it says rebels forces indiscriminately shot dead civilians, including a mother cradling a child. They also allegedly raped a number of women and girls.

HRW's Fardeau says it is important that the international community put pressure on Bangui to allow for a thorough and transparent investigation into the alleged crimes.

"Central Africa is highly dependent on the international community for security, for its development. It's a country which needs to cooperate with the international community to survive," he said. "So we do believe it's in the interest of the authorities to cooperate with the international authorities - with the UN and the ICC."

The Hague-based International Criminal Court says it is closely scrutinizing rights abuses committed after the rebel coup in Bangui.  ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says she will not hesitate to prosecute those responsible for civilian suffering.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva is also looking into reports of widespread rights violations in the CAR.