Rampant abuses after coup in Central African Republic, says Human Rights Watch

Members of the Seleka rebel coalition, which ousted President François Bozizé of the Central African Republic on March 24, 2013, have committed grave violations against civilians, including pillage, summary executions, rape, and torture, Human Rights Watch said on 10 May 2013.

When the Seleka took control of Bangui, the rebels went on a looting spree, killing civilians, raping women, and settling scores with members of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), Human Rights Watch said in a press release. Many of these killings occurred in urban areas in broad daylight.

Seleka means “alliance,” in Sango, Central African Republic’s principal language. Seleka represents a coalition of several rebel forces that came together to address human rights abuses and poverty in the northeastern part of the country. Human Rights Watch previously reported that President Bozizé’s armed forces in this region in 2007 engaged in summary executions, unlawful killings, beatings, house burnings, extortion and unlawful taxation, the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, and many other human rights violations.

Over a 10-day research investigation in Bangui in April 2013, Human Rights Watch spoke with about 70 witnesses, victims, local human rights defenders, journalists, authorities from the previous and new governments, and other sources. Human Rights Watch uncovered scores of killings committed by Seleka forces in Bangui, the capital, after the March 24 coup and received credible information about further killings by Seleka troops throughout the country between December 2012 and April 2013.

Authorities in the new government claim that the documented abuses ad been carried out by former members of the Bozizé government, or by “fake Seleka.” But Human Rights Watch interviewed multiple witnesses who provided compelling evidence, including eyewitness accounts, that Seleka forces were responsible for the majority of abuses against civilians both immediately before and after the coup. In addition, Seleka commanders appear not to maintain discipline within their ranks, as Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases in which Seleka rebels killed their own members.

Human Rights Watch believes that the statements from witnesses establish that the rebels were, on a local level, taking orders from their immediate commanders. As one witness to the killing of a fleeing unarmed civilian told Human Rights Watch, “The [local commander] gave the order and then she fired.”

“The government has an obligation to control the rebels who brought it to power, to prevent abuses, and punish those who commit them,” Bekele said. “Without security, the government will not be able to govern effectively or protect civilians.” 

Human Rights Watch thus called on the Government of the Central African Republic and the Seleka leadership to:

  • Restore law and order in the 15 provinces under its control by urgently deploying zone commanders under the leadership of the Public Security and Defense ministries; 
  • Reinstate institutions in the entire territory, including the police, the gendarmerie, and the regular army;
  • Publicly declare that the government does not tolerate attacks on civilians and will bring to justice those responsible for pillage, murder, rape, and other serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law;
  • Provide access to health and other services for victims of human rights violations, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls who have survived sexual violence;
  • Investigate and prosecute all persons deemed responsible for the recent abuses, including Seleka members, in fair and credible trials that comply with international standards; and
  • Establish the National Commission of Inquiry announced by Presidential Decree n° 13.040 on April 26, 2013, and enable it to promptly, thoroughly, and independently investigate allegations of human rights abuses by all parties, including, but not limited to, the Seleka rebels.
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