DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Amnesty International has identified government, militia and rebel leaders from the Central African Republic (CAR) for their roles in atrocities that have forced close to a million people in the strife-torn nation to abandon their homes over the past year.
Ex-Presidents François Bozizé and Michel Djotodia, Christian militia coordinator Levy Yakété and Muslim rebel commander Noureddine Adam are among those named in a report that documents crimes perpetrated across the mineral-rich nation.
“Those responsible for leaving hundreds of thousands of innocent people with nowhere to hide from their murderous violence must be given nowhere to hide from justice. Only by ending impunity can the cycle of violence that has gripped CAR be stemmed,” said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty’s Central Africa researcher.
Violence in CAR spiraled after the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the government of Bozizé in March 2013, and Seleka leader Djotodia declared himself president of the majority Christian country.
The Seleka’s time in power was marked by a string of rights abuses, which spawned militia known as anti-balaka, whose name means “anti-machete” in the local language, Sangho.
The Seleka stepped down earlier this year under intense international pressure, but under a weak interim government, violence continues despite the presence of about 6,000 African Union peacekeepers and 2,000 French soldiers.
The Amnesty report, “Central African Republic: Time for Accountability”, calls upon interim President Catherine Samba Panza’s government to bring offenders to justice with the support of the African Union and the international community, who have been criticised for not doing enough to stop the killing spree.
There is a lack of investigation into past atrocities, the report said, adding that even when arrested, suspects frequently escape from prison as there are no security guards.
Amnesty pressed for urgent action at local, regional and international levels to rebuild CAR’s judicial and law enforcement systems. Evidence of human rights abuses must be preserved, and witnesses and survivors must be identified and protected, it said.
Amnesty recorded eyewitness testimonies detailing the role of Seleka rebel commanders Colonel Bishara, Colonel Aba Tom and Colonel Yussuf Hamad in leading attacks in the capital Bangui.
One witness told Amnesty that Hamad, during a search at a hospital, “threatened to kill everyone in the hospital if we didn’t show them the anti-balaka.” One man was taken from the hospital and later found dead nearby.
The report described anti-balaka commanders Richard Bejouane, Colonel Dieudonné and Colonel “12 puissance” as so confident of their impunity that they have talked openly about their role in human rights abuses and made public statements inciting violence.
More than 920,000 people have left their homes in search of security in ethnically similar strongholds or neighbouring countries.
Amnesty welcomed the Special Investigations Cell set up by CAR authorities to investigate crimes, as well as the U.N.’s commission of inquiry into human rights abuses, but said more needs to be done to ensure accountability.
Amnesty called on authorities to consider creating a hybrid court of national and international experts to try crimes under international law and help strengthen the national justice system.
Furthermore, it said Chad and France should not provide safe haven for suspected offenders, and urged both countries to investigate allegations and if evidence is sufficient, prosecute or extradite the suspects to face justice.
For the time being, however, the Seleka and anti-balaka in the report do remain leaders and will be key players later this month at a summit in Brazzaville aimed at hammering out a ceasefire, said Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director for International Crisis Group think tank.
“As they are needed on the negotiations table, they will be regarded as legitimate political actors and therefore the time for accountability is definitely behind or (very) ahead of this summit,” Vircoulon told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“In exchange of a possible ceasefire, they will request government jobs. The main question is to know whether people who are under targeted sanctions (visa bans) by the U.N. will be invited to Brazzaville.”