UN Establishes Commission of Inquiry and Independent Expert on Central African Republic, as Widespread Human Rights Violations Continue

Amid ongoing sectarian violence in the Central African Republic, including reported war crimes and crimes against humanity, the United Nations has established two expert mechanisms to monitor the human rights situation, but has so far stopped short of authorizing a UN peacekeeping mission to support the French and African Union troops already in the country. Hundreds have been killed and approximately 1 million people have been displaced since December 2012, due to attacks carried out by former rebels and militias.

Credit: OCHA/R. Gitau

Human Rights Situation in CAR

The current conflict began following a period of political instability when Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, launched an offensive and seized twelve towns in two weeks in December of 2012. [Aljazeera] While Former President Francois Bozize struggled to maintain power, his poorly equipped national army failed to withstand the rebel forces and ultimately the Seleka seized control of the government in March of 2013. Ensuing acts of violence resulted in revenge attacks by the Christian militia who are referred to as the “anti-balaka.” [Reuters]

In a recent message, Ms. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, commented on the highly volatile security situation in the Central African Republic, noting in particular the surges in sectarian violence, the increasing amount of internally displaced persons, and the continuing vacuum of legitimate State authority. [OHCHR: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Statement] Ms. Pillay reported on the findings of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which deployed a monitoring mission to the Central African Republic from December 12-24, 2013.

The OHCHR monitoring mission found that large scale human rights violations were perpetrated by all parties, which involved Muslim insurgents known as the Seleka, the Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka, and both Muslim and Christian civilians, in a series of deliberate summary executions and reprisal attacks. [UN]  Some of the ongoing human rights abuses include “sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, widespread looting and property destruction, as well as instances of burning of churches and mosques.” [OHCHR: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Statement] To diffuse the tension rife between the two sects, Ms. Pillay additionally counseled the country’s two most senior religious leaders “to strongly encourage other religious, political and tribal leaders to join their efforts to defuse the inter-communal tensions and desire for revenge before they become totally uncontrollable.” [OHCHR: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Statement]

The OHCHR reports coincide with the findings of non-governmental organizations documenting violations in CAR.  Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have published numerous accounts and analysis of the human rights conditions, and have called for increased protection for civilians, specifically requesting the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. [AmnestyHRW]

Human Rights Council Special Session

On January 20, 2014, the UN Human Rights Council held a one-day Special Session on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic. [OHCHR: Special Session] In a message to the Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the Central African Republic’s situation as a “crisis of epic proportions” that requires Member States to demonstrate their solidarity and act in order to remedy the appalling abuses that have harmed both the Muslim and Christian communities. [OHCHR: Secretary-General’s Message]

During the Special Session, the Human Rights Council adopted Resolution A/HRC/S20/L-21, which strongly condemned the continued widespread violations of human rights by all parties. [OHCHR: Special Session Concludes] The 47-Member Human Rights Council called for an immediate end to all human rights violations and a restoration of the rule of law in the Central African Republic. [UN]  In particular, the Council urged parties in the Central African Republic to protect women and children, who are especially vulnerable to sexual violence.  The Council also requested all parties to allow the UN and other relief organizations to provide humanitarian assistance for all civilians.

The Human Rights Council additionally named Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum of Côte d’Ivoire as the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic. [OHCHR: Independent Expert]  The Human Rights Council had decided to create the Independent Expert position in September 2013, through Resolution 23/24, for the purpose of monitoring the human rights situation in CAR and “to make recommendations concerning technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights.” See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 23/24, Technical assistance to the Central African Republic in the field of human rights, A/HRC/RES/24/34, 27 September 2013, para. 13. When naming Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum to the post, the Human Rights Council emphasized the need for this new special procedure, asked all relevant parties to cooperate fully in realizing the Independent Expert’s mandate, and requested support from the OHCHR to provide any necessary human and financial resources. [OHCHR: Independent Expert]

International Commission of Inquiry

In the wake of continued sectarian tensions and a breakdown in law and order, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2127 at its 7072nd meeting on December 5, 2013.  Through Resolution 2127, the Council called for the establishment of an International Commission of Inquiry to document abuses and human rights violations committed in CAR since January 1, 2013. Id. para. 24.  The International Commission of Inquiry will help investigate reports of human rights violations and compile information to identify the potential criminal liability of perpetrators. Id.  Its findings will be reported six months and one year from the adoption of Resolution 2127. Id. para. 25.

On January 22, 2014, the UN Secretary General announced the Commission of Inquiry’s composition. [UN]  The international legal experts appointed are: Jorge Castañeda (Mexico), Fatimata M’Baye (Mauritania) and Bernard Acho Muna (Cameroon).  The Commission members are expected to travel to Bangui shortly.

Ms. Navi Pillay noted that the establishment of the International Commission of Inquiry will “send a strong message to perpetrators of violations and abuses that the international community is committed to holding them accountable.”  [OHCHR: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Statement]

Security Council Resolution 2127 also emphasizes the need for the transitional authorities in CAR to take all immediate steps towards disarming and dismantling armed groups throughout the country and demands the swift implementation of steps leading to free and fair democratic elections.  UN Security Council, Resolution 2127, S/RES/2127, 5 December 2013, paras. 4-6.  After condemning the perpetrators of human rights abuses, Resolution 2127 further urges the transitional authorities to hold responsible all those who have committed violations of human rights and humanitarian law.  Id. paras. 17-18.

International Peacekeeping Efforts

After months of sectarian killings that have forced approximately 1 million citizens to flee their homes in the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza was elected as Central African Republic’s interim president in the capital city of Bangui on January 20, 2014. [Reuters]  Ms. Samba-Panza succeeds Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, who stepped down earlier this month when he had failed to end the bloodshed between both sects.

The European Union is expected to send approximately 500 soldiers to help in relief efforts, who are due to arrive in the Central African Republic by the end of February. [Reuters]  Detailed military plans still need to be laid out and it is not yet clear which States will provide troops. [France24]  As the Central African Republic is a former French colony, France had earlier dispatched approximately 1,600 troops to there, and 4,400 African Union soldiers are currently present as representatives of the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic. [UN]  In December 2013, the UN Security Council voted to approve African Union and French intervention. See UN Security Council, Resolution 2127, S/RES/2127, 5 December 2013.

The UN Security Council Resolution 2127 also imposes a one-year ban on the sale or transfer to CAR of any weapons, and notes that the Security Council may consider imposing other sanctions, such as banning travel or freezing the assets of any individual who undermines the peace, stability and security of the country.  Ms. Samba-Panza has commented on the importance of other States continuing to send troops and supporting the restoration of peace and order. [BBC]

For additional information, see the OHCHR webpages on the 20th Special Session on the Human Rights Situation in the Central African Republic and on the Central African Republic, which contain a wealth of relevant documents, statements, press releases, and webcasts.