Central African Republic: is justice being sacrificed for the illusion of peace?

On 21 May, over 26 people were killed and dozens injured when an armed group attacked two villages in the north west of the Central African Republic (CAR). The attacks were reported by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, which confirmed that twelve people were killed in Koundjili village and 14 in Djoumjoum village. 

Whilst reports of violent and devastating attacks on civilians in CAR are not new, these attacks represent a new challenge for the recently re-constituted government following the latest peace agreement between the government and armed groups.

The alleged perpetrator of the attacks on the two villages is the rebel group known as 3R (Return, Reclamation and Reconciliation). The group was formerly part of the Seleka alliance that took over the country following a coup in March 2013.  The alliance was subsequently disbanded, but armed groups fragmented and seized territories outside of the capital, Bangui.

The price of peace

Previously the government could only condemn the actions of these armed groups and attempt to broker peace for the sake of civilians, but since the signing of the last peace agreement in February 2019 3R’s leader, Bi Sidi Souleymane, also known as Sidiki Abbass, is in the cabinet as a special military advisor to the Prime Minister. The military advisors are tasked with guiding the government as it reformulates the security infrastructure and integrates regular troops with fighters from the 14 armed groups operational in the country.

The integration of militias in the security infrastructure is as controversial as the inclusion of armed group leaders in the power sharing agreement.

The most recent peace agreement – the Agreement of Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic – was signed on 6 February 2019 in Bangui. The agreement was reached between the CAR authorities and 14 armed groups after talks were held in the Sudanese capital Khartoum between 24 January and 5 February. It was supported by the African Union and negotiated with the oversight of Sudan’s former president, Omar al Bashir.

The peace agreement called for the immediate surrender of arms by the militias and the cessation of hostilities; however, armed groups continued to use force in order to exert pressure as the power sharing arrangement was being negotiated.

Another key issue of contention during the drafting of the agreement was the issuing of amnesties to armed groups, a matter on which President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s government had previously refused to concede. Whilst amnesties were not explicitly dealt with in the text of the peace agreement, neither was the issue of impunity, aside from comments in the texts that committed parties to the fight against impunity.

A mixed response

The peace agreement has received a mixed response in the country. Some community and religious leaders are concerned that work to de-escalate tensions and reduce the drivers of revenge could be undone. At the height of the conflict, religious leaders in particular worked with communities impacted by the violence, urging victims to wait for the state to execute justice against the perpetrators, many of whom are known to these communities.

With the inclusion of armed groups in the government, people who have suffered grave violations may be disheartened by the perception that those responsible for the violence are being rewarded after using violent means to secure real political power and economic advantage.

The government faces a complicated set of circumstances that it needs to respond to, but it must begin, first and foremost, with the unequivocal condemnation of violence and a swift investigation into the recent attacks, ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

On 22 May the government and MINUSCA issued a statement condemning the violence and giving the leader of the 3Rs movement 72 hours to present the perpetrators to the relevant authorities, otherwise he would be held personally responsible. As the 72 hour deadline approaches, the world will be watching to see how the government resolves this breach of a hard won peace agreement. An integral part of dealing with this crisis is ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

The establishment and operationalisation of the Special Criminal Court is a significant step forward in the fight against impunity, but these judicial institutions need political and financial support in order to effectively execute their mandates. Measures must also be put in place to deal with the continuing acts of violent against civilians committed by armed groups that are now part of the government.

The monumental challenge of bringing the government and 14 armed groups to the negotiating table to sign a peace agreement is significant; however, it does not prevent the creation of alternative armed groups that resort to violence because they do not feel their needs are adequately represented by those that are part of the power sharing agreement. If this precedent is allowed to stand, then violence will be seen as a means of accruing political power and legitimacy. It is therefore incumbent on the state to ensure a robust response to the attacks by the 3R, if necessary, by holding its leadership to account for the actions of its members. 

By CSW’s Central African Republic Team

India’s general election: The church in Jharkhand under direct attack by the state government

In the lead up to India’s elections from 11th April-19th May, CSW is focusing on some of the issues faced by religious minorities in the country.

Last month, CSW’s South Asia Team Leader detailed the anti-conversion narratives that are often used to fuel religious intolerance. In this post, a guest contributor from Jharkhand state, whose name has been kept anonymous for security purposes, outlines the spread of hate speech by government officials in the state:

“On 11 August 2017 the front page of all newspapers in Jharkhand published an advertisement sponsored by the state government with a photograph of Jharkhand Chief Minister Shri Raghuvar Das and Mahatma Gandhi which misused the statement of Shri Mahatma Gandhi claiming that “If Christian missionaries feel that only conversion to Christianity is the path to salvation, why don’t you start with me or Mahadev Desai? Why do you stress on conversion of the simple, illiterate, poor and forest-dwellers? These people can’t differentiate between Jesus and Mohammad and are not likely to understand your preachings. They are mute and simple, like cows. These simple, poor, Dalit and forest-dwellers, whom you make Christians, do so not for Jesus but for rice and their stomach.”

“There is enough place in state prison for all the pastors and preachers if they continue to carry out missionary activity in the state.”

Continue reading “India’s general election: The church in Jharkhand under direct attack by the state government”

Attacks on places of worship: Armed groups raise the stakes in the Central African Republic

Attacks on places of worship in the Central African Republic (CAR) are not a new phenomenon.

In March 2013, the predominantly Muslim rebel alliance, Seleka, seized power, and in the crisis that followed, there were reports of looting and attacks on worshipers in churches initially, spreading to mosques and other places of worship as the conflict assumed an increasingly religious dimension.

Even after the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra three years later, attacks on places of worship continue at a disturbing rate.

In the capital city Bangui, tensions flare periodically near the KM5 district. In May 2018, at least 15 people, including a clergyman, were killed and 100 injured in an attack on the Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church. On 7 February 2017, three churches were burned and a pastor killed in the same district.

Attacks such as these have taken a new and alarming turn since November 2018.

Continue reading “Attacks on places of worship: Armed groups raise the stakes in the Central African Republic”

FoRB on the Frontlines: Fighting for freedom as long as it’s necessary

The Ladies in White are a Cuban peaceful protest movement comprising the wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents. Last year CSW interviewed their leader, Berta Soler, about her experiences, and the challenges facing Cuba:

“My activism really got started in 2003 when the government took [imprisoned] 75 men and one woman just because they defended the Declaration of Human Rights.

I and the other Ladies in White are women who are prepared, very well prepared, and aware that we are in a struggle for the freedom of political prisoners and for respect for human rights in my country. And we, the Ladies in White and I, are very conscious that in my country we need freedom and rights, especially for the men and women who are in prison just for demanding this and promoting and defending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Continue reading “FoRB on the Frontlines: Fighting for freedom as long as it’s necessary”

FoRB on the Frontlines: Under threat of violence

Nehemiah Thumbnail USE

In the run-up to Human Rights Day on 10 December and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on 9 December, CSW has been speaking with HRDs across South Asia to find out what it means to be a FoRB defender in the region.

Nehemiah Christie is a human rights defender working in India:

“My experience as a human rights and FoRB defender in South India has worsened ever since the Modi government came to power. With the BJP relying on the backing of Hindu fundamentalist groups, the threat to minorities has increased, especially with regard to Christians in India. In Tamil Nadu, where I and many others work on the front line defending people’s right to freedom of religion and belief (FoRB), we have faced extreme hostility.

HRDs here have been shot, raped, and threatened by both state and non-state actors. Threats are often perpetuated by police and other authorities trying to silence our voices by labelling us as anti-national elements working against the interests of India. Continue reading “FoRB on the Frontlines: Under threat of violence”