|Just as a cease-fire takes effect in the deeply troubled Central African Republic, a new report by Amnesty International criticises both the scattered Séléka rebel coalition and the anti-Balaka groups that have been waging violent vengeance.|
The report also omits significant elements of the violent conflict, according to Dennis Pastoor, an analyst for Open Doors International.
Amnesty International’s report, issued in July, attempts to document the “reign of impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations and abuses” in the Central African Republic.
Here, Pastoor provides his assessment of the resulting report:
Amnesty International’s report Central African Republic: Time for Accountability, which builds on extensive field work, echoes UN Chief Ban Ki Moon’s declaration that both sides are committing war crimes. It acknowledges the increasing complexity of the conflict and shows that it’s not possible to identify a single organization or group of people as main culprit for the violence. Instead, the report gives the names of responsible people on both sides for the atrocities.
Time for Accountability basically mentions four responsible agents for the violence in CAR:
First agent: general impunity
The report notes the absence of a functioning judicial system, combined with a generalized lack of political will, explained in part by fear of reprisal, to address the human rights abuses. I had already underlined the former in a report for Open Doors, published in December 2013: Vulnerability Assessment of Christians in the Central African Republic.
Second agent: the anti-Balaka
Through six case studies, the report shows it is the anti-Balaka rebels that have been responsible for “widespread attacks against Muslims.” The report is careful not to describe the anti-Balaka as a Christian organization, although it cannot be denied that its members self-identify as Christians. That being said, Amnesty International recognizes that the anti-Balaka also has a strong animist identity, and reminds in an endnote that Christian leaders have clearly distanced themselves from the group. Moreover, the report identifies political ties — with ousted president François Bozizé — of a part of the anti-Balaka rebels. Importantly, the report also recognizes that some Christians have themselves suffered from the anti-Balaka when they were considered too close to the mainly-Muslim Séléka.
Third agent: Séléka
The report turns its focus to the Séléka — or remnants of Séléka, after its dissolution in January 2014. It rightfully notes that the group is responsible for many human rights violations since its uprising in December 2012 and during its takeover of power in Bangui, and that it continues to be “very powerful” in the north-eastern part of the country. Since December 2012, Séléka forces have been responsible for very serious human rights violations of Christians. It is only fair that both groups are presented as accomplices of the violence, although it is noteworthy that the report’s chapter about the violence caused by Séléka is much shorter than the chapter about the violence caused by the anti-Balaka.
Fourth agent: Chadian troops
Troops from Chad’s national army are part of the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, known as MISCA. Amnesty International found Chadian troops to be responsible for human rights violations. Amnesty documents a few incidents, but does not sufficiently stress the difficulty of distinguishing between the Chadian MISCA, the Chadian National Army and Chadian citizens who were part of Séléka. Indeed, reports from the field indicate that local Muslims of migrant Chadian origin were siding with Séléka, and that the Chadian troops belonging to MISCA were at times more loyal to their tribal links than to their peacekeeping mission.
Although the report is quite balanced, it features three important omissions:
The report fails to recognize that the violence against Muslims, which is by no means justifiable, comes after Christians have been confronted with the enormous brutality of Séléka, which has often been attributed, erroneously, to the Muslim population in general. This has led to the outrage of many Christians. Added to this, young Christians feel frustrated because of extreme poverty and the fact that Muslims dominate commerce. Finally, the high numbers of youths in the country with little hope for the future easily fall prey to violent impulses. With no democratic institutions to channel social discontent and virtually no economic opportunities, the violence caused by the Séléka triggered a vicious circle of violence and resentment.
In addressing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bangui and the western region of CAR, the report underestimates the near-genocide by Séléka of non-Muslims in the pre-December 2013 period, and neglects the thousands of non-Muslims who were victims of Séléka atrocities during its 12-months-long period of terror before, in the interior of CAR. The reader is especially put on the wrong track when the Amnesty report calls December 2013 as “the peak of the crisis.”
The report’s geographical focus is on Bangui and the Western areas of the CAR, where most of the anti-Balaka violence is occurring. However, out of sight of the international community, Séléka elements continue to commit crimes against Christianity with impunity.
By emphasizing the anti-Balaka violence in Bangui and the west of CAR, the report reveals only part of the picture. Aside from this important caveat, Time for Accountability must be welcomed. It is a step in the right direction. But it is clear that more research is needed about the violence currently still going on away from the eyes of the international community, particularly in northern areas of CAR where Séléka is still active. The report offers a well-documented and relatively balanced picture of the conflict the country at the heart of Africa is currently undergoing. It is reasonably objective and certainly more balanced than previous reports by the organization, as well as reports by Human Rights Watch and others which have almost exclusively focused on the violence committed by anti-Balaka rebels against Muslims, while not mentioning the violence by the Séléka against CAR’s Christian population. Nevertheless, the Amnesty International also has three important shortcomings related to the dating of the conflict and its geographical focus.
Dennis Pastoor is an analyst in the World Watch Unit of Open Doors International, a global charity that provides aid to Christians who live under pressure because of their faith. Open Doors facilitated the October 2013 Bangui Declaration, crafted by more than 100 church leaders representing all Protestant and Catholic deonominations in the country. The document called for international military help to disarm the Séléka insurgency and prevent “genocidal interfaith civil war.”