A senior United Nations official today voiced deep concern about reports of widespread violations committed by the Séléka rebel coalition against children in the Central African Republic (CAR), including killing, sexual violence and recruitment into armed groups.
Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, called on all military commanders in charge of the different armed groups in the Séléka coalition to immediately release children within their ranks.
“The presence of children in the Séléka alliance has been reported in nearly every town under control of the coalition. Boys, uniformed and armed, have been seen patrolling, manning checkpoints and participating in looting activities across the country,” said Ms. Zerrougui.
There have been widespread attacks on civilians and human rights violations since the Séléka rebel coalition launched an offensive in December. Although a peace accord was reached in January, the rebels subsequently announced they were withdrawing from the ceasefire and resumed their attacks, overrunning the capital, Bangui, late last month.
Ms. Zerrougui said in a news release that the situation of lawlessness and insecurity is a “breeding ground” for re-recruitment of children. Last week, 19 boys formerly associated with the Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix were re-recruited by elements of the Séléka alliance.
“I call on all military commanders in charge of the different armed groups in the Séléka coalition to immediately release children within their ranks and to issue command orders to refrain from further recruitment and use of children,” she stated.
A large number of children were killed and maimed in the ongoing crisis, the news release said. In Bangui alone, the bombardment of residential areas resulted in the killing and injuring of at least 29 children in the course of one week.
Cases of sexual violence and rape against girls, including collective rape, by elements of the Séléka coalition have been reported to the UN. In addition, over two million children are currently in need of humanitarian assistance and many schools have remained closed across the country depriving 166,000 children from accessing education.
The Special Representative called on the Séléka leadership and on new transitional authorities to take all necessary measures to end grave violations against children and to end impunity for perpetrators.
“The re-establishment of law and order and a peaceful and consensual transition are the only viable solutions for the many children suffering from the crisis,” she stated.
Earlier this week, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that education was becoming another casualty of the ongoing conflict in CAR, with half the country’s schools shuttered and hundreds of thousands of students at risk of missing out the entire year.
At least 250,000 children who started the 2012-2013 primary school year, and 30,000 who were in secondary school at the start of the crisis, could lose the entire school year if schools do not re-open in the coming weeks, the agency stated.
UNICEF called on CAR authorities and all parties to the conflict to ensure safe access of children, parents and teachers to schools in order to enable their immediate re-opening.