Executions by Rebel Group in CAR
Feb.16, Nairobi: A rebel group in the Central African Republic (CAR) executed at least 32 civilians and captured fighters after clashes in December 2016 with another rebel group in the Ouaka province.
In the town of Bakala, rebels from the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (l'Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique, UPC), on December 12, executed 25 people after calling them to a school for an alleged meeting. Earlier that day, UPC fighters executed seven men who were returning from a nearby gold mine. Accounts of the incidents were provided by a survivor and eight witnesses, including five men who were forced to help dispose of the bodies. At least 29 other civilians have been killed in fighting around Bakala since late November.
“These executions are brazen war crimes by UPC fighters who feel free to kill at will,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The group is carrying out its killing sprees with no fear of punishment, despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers.”
The appointment on February 15, 2017 of a chief prosecutor for the Special Criminal Court – a court to be staffed with national and international judges and prosecutors in the capital, Bangui, to prosecute grave human rights violations since 2003 – marks an important step towards accountability, Human Rights Watch said. The court should now be further staffed without delay, so it can begin investigations and prosecutions.
Local residents and officials told Human Rights Watch that tensions between the UPC and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, FPRC), another rebel group drawn from the predominantly Muslim Seleka fighters, began escalating late last year. Fighting started around Mourouba, 18 kilometers west of Bakala, on November 27, 2016, and the UPC then attacked civilians they suspected of belonging to anti-balaka militia allied with the FPRC.
The FPRC has allied itself with anti-balaka militias, its former enemy, to fight the UPC. The anti-balaka emerged in 2013, largely from existing self-defense groups to resist Seleka abuses, and themselves went on to commit serious abuses against civilians.
In late January 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed 28 people in and around Bakala, including victims of other UPC crimes, relatives of victims, and UPC commanders. The total number of victims is most likely higher than the 32 people executed and the 29 civilians killed during clashes because dozens of other people are unaccounted for, family members of the missing people say. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm all reported killings due to limited access and security concerns.
“A UN helicopter circled the town for some time so we knew things were not normal,” said a 41-year-old man, when describing how UPC fighters gunned down civilians on December 11. “When the helicopter left, the Peuhl [UPC fighters] attacked. The town was encircled. I took my children and ran, but they were shooting at anything that moved.”
Around 5 a.m. on December 12, a group of UPC fighters detained and killed seven men in Bakala as they returned from a nearby gold mine.
“I was hiding in a house and I saw the Peuhl [UPC fighters] gather the men in front of a neighbor’s house and take them inside,” said “Joseph,” a 55-year-old resident of Bakala. “A short time later I heard screams from the men. They were yelling, ‘Why are you killing us?’ and ‘I’m dying!’ I also heard shots. This was all at 5 a.m. A short while later the Peuhl found me and made me help throw the bodies in a well.”
A Human Rights Watch researcher inspected the well and noted a putrid smell that might have come from decaying bodies. Another local resident, interviewed separately, said UPC fighters also forced him to help throw bodies in the water source.
Later that morning, UPC fighters in Bakala executed another 24 men and at least one boy, whom they accused of supporting the anti-balaka. Bakala residents said that UPC fighters sent a message around town that they would hold a meeting at a local school. Some men were already held at the school from the previous night and when others arrived, the fighters seized the men and gunned them down.
“I jumped up and managed to escape, but everyone else was killed,” said 24-year-old “Laurent,” whose 17-year-old brother was killed. “I ran into the bush and just heard shooting as I ran.”
A local official said he heard the shooting and then UPC fighters forced him to help them throw the bodies into a nearby well, located on the other side of town from the well into which the seven other victims had been thrown. “[The victims were] young anti-balaka and civilians,” he said. “Their bodies were scattered outside the school and the gendarmerie. I counted 25 bodies.”
Under the command of General Ali Darassa Mahamant, the UPC has controlled much of Ouaka province since 2013. The UPC has close links to the minority ethnic Peuhl, and armed Peuhl often fight with the group.
On January 23, 2017, Darassa told Human Rights Watch that his men did not kill any civilians in Bakala or the surrounding villages. “Soldiers in the UPC cannot execute civilians or prisoners,” he said. “What you have heard about the UPC are lies.” Darassa said that he exerts full control over his men.
The fighting in Bakala and the surrounding area displaced between 9,000 and 10,000 people, a town official said. Some of them are staying in other towns, and thousands are living in the forest savannah in Ouaka province.
The UN peacekeeping force in the country, the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), has 12,870 armed members and a temporary base in Mourouba. Consistent with its mandate, MINUSCA should take active steps to protect civilians, including when necessary by using force, Human Rights Watch said.
On February 11, MINUSCA helicopters opened fire on FPRC forces that were moving from Ippy to Bambari, destroying at least four vehicles and killing Seleka General Joseph Zoundeko. The FPRC forces had crossed MINUSCA’s declared “red line,” established to separate the FPRC and UPC and to protect civilians.
“MINUSCA is facing significant fighting in the center of the country, and it’s encouraging to see it enforce its mandate to protect civilians,” Mudge said. “Abusive commanders like the UPC’s Darassa need to understand that peacekeepers will not tolerate their attacks and they can be held accountable for war crimes committed by their forces.”
The Oslo Times International News Network