Extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrests, mostly attributed to the defence and security forces and encouraged by a culture of impunity, have contributed to a considerable deterioration in human rights in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to a United Nations report released today.
“The Central African Republic (Government) is urgently advised to resolutely follow a policy that is based more firmly on the struggle against impunity,” the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in the country, known by its French acronym BONUCA, says.
Drawn up by BONUCA’s human rights section, the report cites a serious worsening of the security situation in the north of the country where Government forces, rebels and highway bandits have been active, all of whom committed atrocities. In the south-east, the rebel Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been reported to be operating.
But most violations are attributed to the forces of order. “In effect, these agents do not respect the ban on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, nor that on arbitrary arrest and detention,” says the report, which covers the first six months of 2008.
“The forces of defence and security whose mission is to protect the civilian population blithely violate the laws of war. In their operations against rebels or bandits they make no distinction between those who have taken up arms and civilians… In reprisal raids, the military burn houses, execute people rightly or wrongly accused of complicity with rebels or bandits.”
The report cites the case of soldiers parading a vehicle in the town of Bouar with severed heads that they claimed belonged to highway bandits they had shot.
Meanwhile, the bandits – who, according to information received by BONUCA, could be Chadians – torture travellers, plunder local residents, and kidnap women and children for ransom. The rebel Armée populaire pour la restauration de la democratie (APRD) prevents some residents from moving around.
The presence of both bandits and the defence forces has also forced thousands of villagers who had returned to their homes after a previous flight to flee to the bush again.
In Haut Mbomou district in the south-east, 300 armed men from Uganda, whose modus operandi resembled that of the LRA, kidnapped 150 people, including 55 children and physically abused them. Several women said they had been raped.
BONUCA has also tallied cases of torture and cruel treatment across the board in detention centres. Police carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions in flagrant violation of the penal code under which they must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours.
BONUCA reports “a climate of perfect cooperation” with representatives of state human rights bodies and this has enabled some infringements of the law by the judiciary to be corrected.
But, it concludes, “the Central African authorities must take urgent concrete actions.
“Impunity remains the major factor in the persistence of extrajudicial and arbitrary executions,” it adds, calling for investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and the effective punishment of the perpetrators.