The United Nations refugee agency today urged countries to refrain from repatriating refugees to the Central African Republic (CAR), amid worsening violence and human rights abuses there.
“Our aim through issuing this advisory is to see that humanitarian and asylum principles are upheld until conditions in CAR allow for safe and dignified returns,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN high Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told a news briefing in Geneva.
“It is also important that asylum remain civilian in nature, and for this reason we are recommending that States exert caution to identify combatants and separate them from the refugee population,” Mr. Edwards continued, adding that the agency’s advisory also stressed the exclusion from refugee status might apply beyond combatants to people involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The situation in the CAR has taken a turn for the worse since last December when rebels belonging to the Séléka faction launched a number of attacks from the north before taking over the capital, Bangui, in late March.
According to UNHCR, targeted killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and the recruitment of children as well as rape, disappearances, and kidnapping are being widely reported throughout the country with the violence in recent months causing up to 173,000 people to be displaced internally and almost 50,000 refugees.
Moreover, the country’s instability has been further fuelled by ethnic tensions in the north, rebel activity and the presence of members of the armed Ugandan group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which has caused significant internal displacement.
In a statement issued to the press late Monday, the Security Council also voiced concern over the worsening humanitarian and security situation, as well as the weakening of the Central African Republic’s institutions in the wake of the rebel takeover.
“The members of the Security Council expressed serious concerns at reports of human rights violations and abuses. They emphasized that those responsible for violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, including those involving violence against civilians, torture, summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence and recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, must be held accountable,” the 15-member Council declared, while calling for “a swift investigation of those cases in order to bring to justice all such perpetrators.”
Council members also expressed continued support for regional efforts spearheaded by the Economic Community of the Central African States (ECCAS) and the African Union to consolidate peace in the CAR and urged all countries concerned to also resume their efforts in addressing the threat posed by the LRA, as soon as possible.