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(Bangui) - Thousands of civilians are in dire need of immediate protection and assistance in the Central African Republic. One year after a coup by the Seleka rebel coalition, international efforts to address the crisis remain woefully inadequate. There is particularly an urgent need to end impunity for ongoing abuses and ensure accountability for crimes committed by all parties. Human Rights Watch today issued a 133-page compendium of materials produced in the year since the Seleka rebel coalition overthrew the government of President Francois Bozizé, on March 24, 2013.
"The Seleka coup last year unleashed a reign of havoc and terror, evoking a violent and abusive response from anti-balaka militia, and both continue to endanger the people of the Central African Republic," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The scaled-up response by the international community since December 2013 has been unable to keep pace with the crisis, particularly the need to protect civilians and provide aid for the thousands of displaced people."
The Seleka, mainly Muslims from the country's northeast as well as from Chad and Sudan, committed massacres in numerous villages, burned and pillaged houses, recruited children as soldiers, raped women, and probably killed thousands of residents. The attacks created a massive humanitarian crisis, forcing people to live without adequate shelter, food, or health care.
To avenge Seleka abuses, a group of predominantly Christian and animist fighters known as the anti-balaka [anti-machete], who had been constituted under Bozizé to fight banditry, began in August 2013 to attack the Seleka and target Muslim civilians presumed to support the rebel coalition. In December, the anti-balaka carried out a major attack on Bangui, the capital, forcing the Seleka to retreat and regroup. The Seleka formally ceded power in January 2014. A new president, Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of Bangui, was elected to head the government's interim administration in the same month.
The African Union (AU) and France have deployed a growing number of peacekeeping troops to stabilize the Central African Republic, but the peacekeepers have been unable to stop the downward spiral of violence. On February 10, 2014, the European Union agreed to provide troops to contribute to international efforts to protect the populations most at risk, but that force has not yet been deployed in the Central African Republic. A full-fledged United Nations peacekeeping force should be authorized and deployed urgently, Human Rights Watch said.
Until that force is on the ground, the AU peacekeeping force, known as MISCA, and the French Sangaris need to take immediate additional measures to provide greater security, including actively patrolling areas vulnerable to violence, especially those where minority Muslim populations remain. In the wake of the Seleka collapse, thousands of Muslim residents have fled to the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Huge gaps remain in providing the most basic security for the people of the Central African Republic," Bekele said. "Thousands whose lives remain in imminent danger depend on the urgent deployment of additional peacekeeping troops and expanded protection from those already on the ground."