Saturday, December 21, 2013

Central African Republic: " Adjectives of annihilation "

Amnesty International reports

Central African Republic: War crimes and crimes against humanity in Bangui

More than 1,000 people have been killed in violent attacks in Bangui, Central African Republic.
© Amnesty International

War crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed in the Central African Republic, Amnesty International said at the close of a two-week mission to the country.
The organization is calling for the rapid deployment of a robust UN peacekeeping force with a clear mandate to protect civilians – and sufficient resources to do so effectively. 

Rapidly deploying a force has been ruled out by the UN

A UN peacekeeping force would take at least two or three months to deploy in the Central African Republic (CAR) even if there was a speedy UN security council resolution, Jan Eliasson, the UN deputy secretary general said on Wednesday

Lesley Ann Warner at the Lesley on Africa blog asks the question that should be be on all of our minds.  We have been aware of the situation in CAR for a year now and why has the world failed to get organised for this eventuality.   

“Our in-depth research on the ground in the Central African Republic over the past two weeks has left no room for doubt that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed by all parties to the conflict,” said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty International’s Central Africa expert.

The situation is out of control and there is no chance the transitional leadership of the country will be able to resolve the problem.

" The rebel-leader-turned-president of Central African Republic has acknowledged that he doesn't have total control over former allies who are accused of killing scores of civilians.

He said even "an angel from the sky" could not solve all his country's problems." 

“Crimes that have been committed include extrajudicial executions, mutilation of bodies, intentional destruction of religious buildings such as mosques, and the forced displacement of massive numbers of people.”

The three-person Amnesty International delegation has documented the violations and abuses that have taken place since violence erupted on 5 December in the capital, Bangui, with an early morning attack by anti-balaka militia.

Anti-balaka militiamen, who were former members of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), take part in a training session on the outskirts of Bangui on December 17, 2013.

The anti-balaka are reputed to be former member of the CAR military that were displaced when Michel Djotodia the new interim President and his Seleka coalition forces displaced the previous regime in March. Djotodia attempted to dissolve the rebel Seleka bands or at least he claims this but the reality is that they have been terrorising the local christian communities. Inevitably the conflict has now become one of sectarian violence.

" As ragtag as they may appear, they pose the greatest threat to the Muslim ex-rebels now ruling the country since they seized power in the majority Christian country nearly nine months ago. And in interviews with The Associated Press, both the militiamen and a former officers in the national army before the March 2013 coup confirmed they are working together to topple rebel leader-turned-President Michel Djotodia.

"We are revolting so that Djotodia and his fighters leave, and the country can live in peace," said Richard Bejouane, 27, who used to harvest manioc root and peanuts before taking up arms against the rebels known as Seleka earlier this year."

In some neighbourhoods, the anti-balaka forces went door to door and killed approximately 60 Muslim men. The de facto government forces, known as ex-Seleka, retaliated on a larger scale against Christians in the wake of the attack, killing nearly 1,000 men over a two-day period and systematically looting civilian homes. A small number of women and children were also killed.
During the days that followed the initial burst of violence in Bangui, human rights violations and abuses continued at a staggering pace. 

Something that will only get worse as the situation continues to deteriorate.

" The anti-balaka's power base is in and around Bossangoa, the hometown of Francois Bozize, the ousted president. As the movement has grown in strength and numbers, it set its sight on Bangui, the seat of government in the south of the country.
Douze Puissance says he joined the forces of anti-balaka after the Seleka forces attacked his home in April and destroyed his life. His wife and two children 8-year-old daughter Ornela and 10-year-old son Josias were burned alive, he says.

"We want the French to force Djotodia out of office, but if not we will do it with our machetes," he says. "We are farmers, we don't generally get involved in politics. But he sent his men to our villages to kill our families and chase us into the forest."

The anti-balaka movement grew in the aftermath of Seleka attacks on villages across the country's northwest in July and August, said Lewis Mudge, a researcher with Human Rights Watch's Africa division."

The Central African Republic is essentially a christian country 80% with a muslim minority of 15% add in to this equation that the Seleka rebels were supported by mercenaries from Chad and Sudan who seem to have opted to stay on and participate in murder rape and robbery.  I don't think the Djotodia regime can survive. 

Despite the presence of French and African military forces meant to protect the civilian population, civilians are being wilfully killed on a daily basis, with at least 90 additional people killed since 8 December. Some victims have been shot; others have been killed by angry mobs with machetes; others have even been stoned.

There are 1600 French troops with the apparent promise of more from other EC Nations. 

" At a European Union foreign ministers meeting on Monday, France requested more help from allies to bolster its peacekeeping mission beyond logistical and financial aid.

"We will soon have troops on the ground from our European colleagues," Fabius told parliament in response to a question on a lack of European support in Central African Republic."

A very optimistic assessment on the part of the French. 

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Polish Foreign Minister Donald Tusk stopped short of announcing ground troops."In CAR's case we will be ready for limited logistical support in terms of aviation," he said. "A transport aircraft and a group of soldiers, who would take care of it, is something that is within our possibilities," he said.

Belgium's defense ministry said on Friday it was sending tactical aircraft for two months for logistical support that would need 35 soldiers as support. A defense ministry official said Belgium had taken no decision to send any soldiers beyond that, denying a report it would provide 150 soldiers."

There are no where near enough troops at the moment to prevent the situation falling further apart and I doubt that there is much of an apatite in France to send more troops and France's hopes for Poland and Belgium would seem to be misplaced.

The complete absence of justice and accountability for these crimes has led to a downward spiral of revenge killings and to deepening inter-communal hatred and mistrust. In total 614,000 people have been displaced across the country – 189,000 in Bangui alone, a quarter of the city’s population.

“The continuing violence, the extensive destruction of property, and the forced displacement of the population in Bangui are feeding enormous anger, hostility and mistrust,” said Christian Mukosa.

Human Rights Watch has interactive imagery showing war crimes from a satellite's perspective ( Hat Tip Lesley Warner ) .

Above the villages of Bogoro and Bobafio in 2010 from space and below the same villages July 9 2013.


Daniel Bekele the Africa director of Human Rights Watch. 
" Seleka leaders promised a new beginning for the people of the Central African Republic, but instead have carried out large-scale attacks on civilians, looting, and murder. What’s worse is that the Seleka have recruited children as young as 13 to carry out some of this carnage."

“There can be no prospect of ending the cycle of violence until the militias are disarmed and there is proper and effective protection for the thousands of civilians at risk in the country. Residential neighbourhoods must be made safe as an urgent priority in order to allow people to go back to their homes and resume their normal lives.”

I doubt that there are anywhere near enough French and African Union troops to disarm the militias the best they can probably hope to do is create safe zones.

Any disarmament process must be accompanied by effective physical protection measures, particularly in crisis hotspots such as the PK5, Miskine and Combattant neighbourhoods. Amnesty International has learned of revenge attacks on those who have been disarmed to date.

One of the most worrying aspects of the current situation is the blurring of lines between organized armed groups and civilian mobs. In many cases it has been difficult to identify those responsible for the killings, but it is clear that many local civilians advocate violent acts of revenge, and some are participating in them. 

Hence the fears of a genocide. Reuters in a piece called the ' Ghost of Rwanda ' reports.

" But waves of massacres and reprisals by Muslim and Christian militias have killed hundreds there since rebels seized power in March, waking the world up to the fact that it might be witnessing the prelude to another Rwanda, where 800,000 were hacked, shot or clubbed to death in 100 days."

Both the Christian and Muslim communities have a deep sense of anger and grievance – many people have shown Amnesty International researchers photos and videos of slaughter that they keep on their mobile phones.

Amnesty International believes that more international troops are urgently needed to ensure security in Bangui and elsewhere in the Central African Republic. 

The UN has left it very late and the French are little more than a stopgap measure until the UN gets organised. 

The African Union has promised to deploy up to 6,000 troops in a new peacekeeping force which is due to take authority in the Central African Republic on 19 December. This deployment is urgently needed but the makeup and deployment plans for the troops have not yet been spelled out.

Amnesty International is also calling on the UN to expedite its plans to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights.

A commission of enquiry is hardly a priority at this point. We need to get boots on the ground and minimise the workload of any future commission.

“It is important to establish responsibility for the crimes that have been committed by all sides in this conflict and ensure an end to decades of impunity that have prevailed in this country,” said Christian Mukosa. The organization has received credible information about militia leaders who are directly implicated in the attacks and should be brought to justice. 

“The international community has an important role to play in the Central African Republic, ensuring peacekeeping forces are deployed with all haste and are given the resources they need to prevent even greater bloodshed.”

The whole operating structure of the UN needs to be examined. Rwanda taught us, or should have, that you don't have three months to get organised in situations like this. In Rwanda 800,000 people died in a space of three months. There is surely an argument for the UN to have a standing ready reaction force that can deploy fast and stabilise situations such as this until a more traditional UN Peacekeeping is available to take over. 

Amnesty International will present its preliminary findings in a briefing at a press conference today in London. It will publish a more in-depth report in early 2014.
Human Rights Watch is publishing a separate report focusing on an escalation of sectarian violence and atrocities in Ouham province in northern Central African Republic.

Lets hope we can short circuit this now. 2014 doesn't need to kick off with a genocide.

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