On the eve of a constitutional referendum meant to help stabilize the Central African Republic (CAR) amid conflict between Muslims and Christians, the United Nations human rights chief today voiced deep concern at mounting sectarian language, warning of possible “dramatic consequences” given the highly volatile pre-election atmosphere.
“I strongly condemn the incitement of violence and provocation of inter-communal tensions by some armed groups and political leaders. This could very easily lead to yet another wave of targeted attacks in the country,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
“I am also deeply concerned that all sides, including the authorities at the highest level, are calling for vigilante groups to be established. The increasing tendency among Christians and Muslims to organize in self-defence groups and to exclude any person not considered part of their community is deeply worrying.”
The referendum is taking place this weekend, and Mr. Zeid deplored the violent incidents that erupted in Bangui, the capital, earlier this week after the list of eligible candidates for the presidential elections, to be held later this month, was made public.
He called upon the State authorities to take urgent action to stem incitement to violence and hatred, and ensure accountability for human rights violations.
A new wave of inter-communal violence erupted in September, killing at least 130 people, injuring 430 others, and triggering an 18 per cent increase in internally displaced persons (IDPs) to 447,500, after nine months of relative calm saw IDPs returning home following over two years of fighting between the mainly Muslim Séléka and mainly Christian anti-Balaka groups.
Eleven cases of sexual and gender-based violence have also been documented since then and attacks against UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) personnel and international troops are mounting, according to the statement.
Mr. Zeid noted that last month's visit to Bangui by Pope Francis and his call for inter-communal reconciliation “has created a momentum which could overturn the downward spiral of the past months.”
He praised the efforts to promote inter-religious dialogue by Pastor Nicolas Guerekoyamene-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Islamic Council, and Monseigneur Dieudonné Zapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui.
“To bring the country back to peace and stability, one of the key priorities, if not the most important, is to put an end to the long prevailing impunity,” he stressed. “The lack of accountability undermines the authority of State institutions and feeds the violence, by empowering armed groups and encouraging citizens to take justice into their own hands.” he added, calling for the establishment of a special criminal court.
Mr. Zeid urged the State authorities to reform the national army and investigate the mounting number of human rights violations it has been accused of, including alleged involvement in a mass prison escape and the killing of at least four Muslim civilians between 26 September and 17 October.
A first human rights report issued by MINUSCA and Mr. Zeid's office today showed that, despite a general improvement between September 2014 and May 2015, human rights violations continued on a daily basis. At least 785 people, including 88 women and 43 children, were victims of abuse, including killings, torture, abductions, sexual violence and hostage-taking.