The European Union (EU) must immediately put into action its plans to deploy troops to protect civilians in the Central African Republic amid a worrying new surge in violence, Amnesty International said today.
Areas of the capital Bangui have increasingly come under the control of anti-balaka militias, who have in recent days launched repeated attacks on civilians and African Union-led MISCA peacekeepers.
“This flare-up in violence is cause for serious concern, given the backdrop of ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity across the Central African Republic since last December,” said Christian Mukosa, Central Africa Researcher at Amnesty International.
“It is just further evidence of what Amnesty International has been saying for months – that the small contingent of peacekeeping troops on the ground will not be able to protect civilians effectively without more help from the international community.”
Since 22 March 2014, the Red Cross has recorded at least 15 civilian deaths in Bangui, and the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières has treated almost 40 people for life-threatening wounds sustained in attacks. A MISCA peacekeeper was killed in the town of Boali, 80 km from the capital, and several more have been injured in a number of anti-balaka attacks against MISCA personnel and assets in the capital since 23 March.
The brazen new attacks have taken place despite the installation of a transitional government in January 2014 and the presence of 6,000 African Union-led MISCA troops and 2,000 French soldiers.
On a recent visit to the country, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described a horrific situation. The abuses she denounced include the decapitation of children.
Since the escalation of violence in December 2013, Amnesty International experts have made three separate trips of at least two weeks each to the Central African Republic as well as refugee camps in neighbouring Chad.
Extrajudicial executions, torture, looting and other atrocities are perpetrated against civilians on a daily basis. The organization was the first to document ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim population in January: thousands have since fled to neighbouring countries where they are now facing another humanitarian catastrophe due to dire living conditions.
The UN Secretary General has proposed sending a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force to the Central African Republic, but it cannot deploy until September 2014.
As a stop-gap measure, on 10 February 2014, the EU promised the rapid deployment of up to 1,000 soldiers to the Central African Republic, as well as supplies and equipment to assist existing international forces on the ground. But the troops have not materialized despite repeated requests from high-level officials, including EU foreign policy chief Baroness Catherine Ashton.
“An even greater humanitarian crisis looms if nothing is done to tackle this situation. The EU’s immediate deployment of troops is literally a life-and-death decision,” said Christian Mukosa.
Following the recent attacks, MISCA released a statement calling the anti-balaka militias “terrorists and enemy combatants, and they shall be treated accordingly”. On 25 March, MISCA troops reportedly killed 12 anti-balaka fighters in the town of Boali, in clashes in which a peacekeeper was killed.
“This is an extremely worrying development. Armed groups like the anti-balaka must immediately cease all attacks on civilians and peacekeepers,” said Christian Mukosa.