New Satellite Images Reveal Shocking Aftermath Of Abuses In Central African Republic

November 8, 2013

In the Bouca area, approximately 485 structures—represented here by yellow dots—appear burned in imagery from November 2013. Image (c) DigitalGlobe 2013.
In the Bouca area, approximately 485 structures—represented here by yellow dots—appear burned in imagery from November 2013. Image (c) DigitalGlobe 2013.

“These new images offer a glimpse of physical scarring to homes and civic life visible from space, but the true scale of the human impact of the crisis cannot be captured by satellite.” – Aster van Kregten, Deputy Africa Program Director at Amnesty International.

Expert analysis of new satellite imagery we have obtained from the Central African Republic (CAR) reveals the shocking aftermath of recent human rights abuses amid spiraling violence by armed groups and security forces.

The images – some less than a week old – include evidence of 485 homes being torched in Bouca as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs) massing near the town of Bossangoa as people flee the ongoing violence.

The international community cannot turn a blind eye to those suffering through the humanitarian and human rights crisis that has seized the Central African Republic. Gathered through ground research and from observation overhead, the evidence of potential crimes against humanity cannot be ignored.

The new satellite images, analysed by DigitalGlobe on behalf of Amnesty International, highlight the urgency with which national authorities and the international community must act to stem the widespread human rights abuses that have gripped the country. The imagery corroborates the findings in an Amnesty International report issued last week. CAR: Human rights crisis spiraling out of control highlighted the unprecedented scale of human rights violations committed across the country by Seleka, the coalition of armed groups which launched an offensive against former President Francois Bozizé in early December 2012 and seized power in March 2013.

Since 2006, we have regularly use satellites to document violations committed in conflict zones and highlight the impact on civilians, with the goal to hold the perpetrators accountable.

A Comprehensive Documentation

The imagery we released today shows the impact of attacks in the town of Bouca two months ago. On September 9, 2013, armed civilians known locally as Anti Balaka attacked a Muslim neighborhood in the town of Bouca. They killed at least three people and set fire to houses belonging to Muslims.

On the same day, Seleka – the coalition of armed groups which seized power in March after launching an offensive against former President Francois Bozizé last December – carried out reprisal attacks on Christians. They killed at least 10 people and burned houses belonging to Christians. Later that day, a Christian humanitarian worker employed by the government was accused of involvement in the attacks and summarily executed by a Seleka commander.

A comparison of satellite images of Bouca taken on April 27, 2012 and November 2, 2013 reveals significant fire damage in the central and eastern parts of the town, showing the aftermath of these attacks: approximately 485 houses are burned, leaving a large area severely damaged. A second, close-up comparison, clearly shows burned homes, with the walls of houses still intact, but the roofs missing. Video footage, which you can access through the YouTube playlist below, shows some of these burned houses on the ground.

Displacement Crisis

Insecurity is further fueling a growing displacement crisis, exacerbated since the escalation of armed conflict in December 2012. Several hundred thousands of civilians have been displaced while more than 60,000 Central Africans have fled to neighboring countries.

According to humanitarian sources in the CAR, there were more than 30,000 IDPs in Bossangoa as a result of fighting which started in September this year. Satellite imagery from the area from October 23 shows the emergence of tent-like structures and people sheltering in the open. Out of concerns for the safety of these IDPs, we are not publishing these recent images at this point.

Civilians remain at high risk in the Central African Republic. Since December 2012, hundreds of civilians have been deliberately killed, while thousands have been subject to horrific abuses, including torture and rape. The evidence that the human rights and humanitarian crisis in the country is spiraling out of control speaks for itself – now it’s time for regional and international organizations to act with uttermost urgency to ensure effective protection of civilians.