WASHINGTON (Morning Star News) – With Islamist rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) continuing to commit atrocities unchecked, including violence against Christians, U.N. and rights officials are calling for outside military help to establish rule of law.
Up to 80 percent of those in the rebel group known as Seleka are foreign combatants from Chad and Sudan, a representative of the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) told Morning Star News, confirming reports that self-imposed President Michel Djotodia hired Islamist mercenaries to fight and oust Francois Bozize, the former president.
“Certainly, we have seen targeting of Christians,” Michelle Kissenkoetter, IFHR representative to the United Nations said. “We have seen selective attacks on Christians and their churches.”
Seleka rebels who appeared to be Sudanese bound and gagged the Rev. Beniamino Gusmeroli and another Christian as the militants looted Our Lady of Fatima mission in Bouar last month, the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram said in a press statement this week, according to the Catholic Herald. Another priest, the Rev. Aurelio Gazzera, told Fides that Seleka gunmen had slapped him and threatened to shoot him if he tried to persuade them to release captured youths, according to the United Kingdom-based newspaper.
Djotodia on Sept. 13 announced the “dissolution” of Seleka, the coalition of 25,000 rebel militants that ushered him into power in March, in a bid to excuse himself from inability to control them; he said they would be treated as “bandits,” though they have continued to kill and pillage without opposition from state security forces that Djotodia said would be responsible for law enforcement.
Kissenkoetter said Seleka forces operate without authority and commit violence with impunity because of the breakdown of law and order, warning that such “total lack of justice and accountability” must stop.
She said chaos reigns in the country, as there is “no army, no police, no judiciary, no national security, and even civil servants have fled from their posts” to escape the killing and destruction of Seleka.
Representatives of the United Nations, European Union, African Union (AU), CAR, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius attended a breakfast meeting last week seeking urgent U.N. Security Council approval to deploy a 3,650-man African Union peacekeeping mission to CAR.
The U.S government views with anguish “the horrific degree of suffering, and we are deeply angered by the atrocities perpetrated by Seleka rebels against innocent civilians, including many children,” Ambassador Power said at the meeting. “There must be accountability for those responsible for the horrific abuses.”
Financial, logistical and technical constraints have slowed the pace of implementing the AU plan. The U.S. government recently contributed $6.2 million to help CAR refugees in neighboring countries, in addition to $24 million it gave in humanitarian assistance to that country, Power said.
“There must be accountability for those responsible for the horrific abuses,” she said. “We strongly favor the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping mission, and we are exploring ways to furnish bilateral technical and financial aid. It is both vital and urgent that other states join in backing this effort, whether with money or troop contributions to the AU mission.”
Saying that no mission can succeed without international support, Power said, “there is still a chance for this mission to make the difference between death and life for thousands of people.”
At the meeting, French Foreign Minister Fabius urged the United Nations to act without delay, saying CAR had turned into “a lawless state,” with the possibility of degenerating into a haven for terrorists without urgent action.
It was not immediately clear whether AU troops, if deployed, would replace or complement those of the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central African Republic (MICOPAX), widely believed to be ineffective. Observers say Seleka warlords have carried out most of their killings and destruction in front of MICOPAX troops who looked on helplessly.
IFHR last week released results of an investigation conducted in July that revealed Seleka troops had committed “more than 400 murders” with impunity. The report also recorded several testimonies of victims of rape, kidnapping, torture, arbitrary arrests, burned villages and lootings, along with confirmation from witnesses.
“In this context, IFHR can only note the inability of the MICOPAX troops to respond to the security challenge,” the report on its fact-finding mission said in its report, entitled, “Central Africa Republic, a Country in the Hands of Seleka War Criminals.”
IFHR urged the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office to “investigate the crimes perpetrated and to prosecute those responsible.”
In the report, IFHR president Karim Lahidji states that if the international community does not act firmly, “serious crimes against the population will multiply, and the current lawlessness will have disastrous consequences on the security in the sub-region.”
Likewise, a member of the fact-finding mission to CAR, Eric Plouvier, notes in the report that “impunity is a major cause of chronic instability in CAR. Amnesty laws, and the failure of justice to judge international crimes, have bred repeated serious violations of human rights.”
The IFHR report recommended that “the international community must contribute to the fight against impunity in the country” by including in the mandate of the AU Peacekeeping Force the possibility for supporting justice initiatives.
“The international community should also support the establishment of a specific mixed jurisdiction, which would prosecute perpetrators of crimes under international law … with the International Criminal Court when appropriate,” it states.
IFHR also recommended that the international community “adopt punitive measures against Seleka leaders and warlords, including the freezing of financial assets.”
The AU, which comprises 55 African nations, released a statement on Friday (Sept.27) calling the security situation in CAR “dire.” El Ghassim Wane, AU’s deputy commissioner for peace and security, urged the international community to do whatever it could to end the destruction of lives and property in the country.
The AU on March 31 announced that it would not recognize Djotodia as the legitimate leader of CAR, saying Seleka’s forcible takeover of the government was illegal. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called repeatedly for “swift restoration of constitutional order” in CAR. He warned that “those who are responsible for committing acts of violence will be held accountable.”
Ambassador Power told last week’s meeting that she looked forward to working with partners in attendance “in a more intensive and sustained manner” to ensure that CAR follows through on its 18-month plan to restore democracy to the country.
“There are ghastly stories emerging from the CAR,” she said, “and there should be no question that the violence there constitutes a terrible human tragedy and a threat to international peace and security, and that merits the full and immediate prioritization and attention of the international community at the highest levels.”
Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission, on Aug. 15 called for an immediate end to the breakdown of law and order, saying in a press statement that the assaults “highlight the targeting of Christians.”
Muslims account for less than 14 per cent of CAR’s population of about 4.5 million people, according to Operation World.
Seleka rebels last month attacked Christians in Bossangoa, killing at least 100 civilians and setting homes and church buildings on fire, in retaliation for armed men aligned with the ousted Bozize on Sept. 8 killing Muslim civilians. The rebel militants also struck areas as far as Bouca, 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.
With Seleka previously attacking priests, pastors, nuns, church buildings and other Christian institutions unprovoked, the leader of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame, who is part of the National Transitional Council, joined other Christian leaders lamenting persecution of Christians (see Morning Star News, Sept. 4). They have complained of “massive and unprecedented violations of human rights in the form of large-scale looting … killings and murders, threats and intimidation, abductions, torture and summary executions, rape of women including nuns, desecration of churches and religious institutions and violence against servants of God.”
c. 2013 Morning Star News. Used with permission.
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Publication date: October 4, 2013