Conflict and instability in the Central African Republic (CAR) have had a devastating impact on children, according to a new United Nations report that calls on all parties involved in the conflict in the country to immediately halt grave violations against children and abide by international humanitarian and human rights law.
“I am deeply troubled by the scale and nature of violations endured by children in the Central African Republic,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his latest report on children and armed conflict in CAR.
The UN documented the killing of 333 children and maiming of 589 others in brutal attacks targeting communities for reprisals or other motives between January 2011 and December 2015. The majority of these attacks were documented between 2013 and 2014, following the Government takeover by the Séléka and the rise of anti-Balaka self-defence militias.
The surge in violations included large-scale recruitment and use of children and the targeting of children based on their religious affiliations.
“At the height of conflict in 2013 and 2014, children were victims of relentless violence and appalling violations were committed in a climate of total impunity, aggravated by the collapse and disintegration of most State institutions,” said Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
The report called on CAR authorities to strengthen the country’s justice system and end impunity, including through the establishment and operationalization of a Special Criminal Court which would be funded by Member States.
Recruitment and inscription
Among other recommendations in the report, the Secretary-General called on the armed groups that had signed agreements at the National Forum of Bangui in May 2015 to respect and implement those agreements. The signatories had vowed to stop recruitment of children, as well as to end other grave violations.
In 2014, UNICEF estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 children were associated with all parties to conflict.
According to the report, the children were used as combatants, looters and in various support roles, including as sex slaves.
Sexual violations and exploitation
More than 500 children were confirmed to have been raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence during the time period covered by the report.
According to the report, “sexual violence was perpetrated by all parties to the conflict, with sexual violence against children by ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka forming part of a larger pattern of violations against civilians in areas under their control, particularly in 2014.”
The actual number is believed to be higher, as fear of stigmatization, shame and risk of reprisals by the suspects keeps victims and their families silent. Insecurity also prevents access to the victims.
The report also documented cases of violations such as rape and sexual violence against children committed by UN and non-UN forces.
Last December, the Secretary-General pledged to urgently review recommendations made by an independent panel which found that the UN did not act with the “speed, care or sensitivity required,” when it uncovered information about crimes committed against children by soldiers – not under UN command – sent to CAR.
As he continues to study those recommendations, the Secretary-General has released a new report calling for special protective measures, including pre-deployment training.