Rape, murder, forced recruitment overwhelms Central African Republic
A tweet from the London-based online newsmagazine ThinkAfricaPress, posted on September 3, reads: “Central African Republic Moves to Disarm Rebel Fighters. Some of those will be children.”
The tweet links to an article that discusses the humanitarian crisis that has threatened CAR’s population: The country has been “plunged into chaos,” with “children, some as young as 12 … carrying weapons and operating checkpoints,” the article says. The other part of the tweet refers to news of a disarmament program launched on Wednesday in response to the violence that has swept the unstable country. Authorities have called on armed rebels and civilians to turn in their weapons for the next 10 days, the reports say.
But the tweet’s emphasis on children underscores that this has become a conflict rife with human rights violations against civilians.
More than 3,500 boys and girls have been recruited into armed groups in the Central African Republic since the conflict began, according to an August report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Save the Children has said that more than 100,000 children face disease, sexualized violence, or forced recruitment into the country’s armed groups. The organization has begun launching health care programs for the survivors of sexualized violence and providing support to the country by distributing medical equipment to health care centers.
Sexualized violence against both children and women has also reportedly become a mainstay of the fighting, which has developed over many months.
In late 2012, rebel groups took over local towns in the Central African Republic. The groups eventually reached a peace deal with the government in January, which broke in March when Seleka fighters, a coalition of rebel groups, stormed the capital. The government was overthrown and President François Bozizé was forced to flee the country. Now, by launching the disarmament program, authorities are attempting to stem the violence that has ravaged the country.
A May report by Human Rights Watch documented “grave human rights abuses against civilians, including pillage, summary executions, rape, and torture by members in Bangui.” The report also included interviews with women who have said they were raped:
I was in my house, where I live with my younger sister … when many Seleka fighters entered the quarter. I am 33 years old and my sister is 23. She was eight months pregnant when they raped us on March 25. They were shooting in the air in front of our house. Two armed men entered the house, threatened us, and forced us to get undressed and lay down on the ground. … They both raped us, one after the other. They were shouting bad words in Sango and in Arabic. One of them was shouting the Arabic word charmouta (prostitute in Arabic) while raping me. Then, they left the house. Our neighbor took us to the community hospital, where my sister lost her baby the day after.
The report also interviewed the parents of a 14-year-old rape survivor: “While the Seleka held the parents at gunpoint, one of the Seleka members took the daughter outside on the veranda and raped her. The parents could hear her crying. When finished, the Seleka told the parents, ‘We have done what we came to do.’”
In a briefing to the UN Security Council in August, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said the situation in CAR had deteriorated “dramatically.” While the country “is not yet a failed state, [it] has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken,” she said.
Since the beginning of the conflict, nearly 63,000 people have fled the country and sought refuge in neighboring countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad, according to UNHCR. The agency said that another 206,000 had been internally displaced. Of CAR’s 4.6 million citizens, at least 1.6 million are called “vulnerable.”
Experts say that the medical situation in CAR is dire. In March, reports surfaced of offices and vehicles of humanitarian groups in the country being raided or stolen. In August, after a four-day visit to the country, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said that less than 20 percent of CAR’s health services were operational. Ellen van der Velden, the head of mission in CAR, told ThinkAfricaPress on Tuesday that in the first quarter of 2013, health facilities treated almost 75,000 patients for malaria, “a 33 percent increase over the same period in 2012.”
Journalist Mark Townsend described the human rights situation for an article in the UK’s Observer in July:
Evidence of human rights abuses in the far north are clear. Seleka rebels have repeatedly mass-raped the region’s women, say locals. Women are said to have been killed for refusing to have sex or surrender their food. Men have been summarily executed, tortured or have simply disappeared, witnesses say. Children have been recruited and, according to witnesses, provide a substantial proportion of the armed gangs. … In the remote north, war crimes against civilians continue to be committed.
Townsend also reported accounts by women who had survived attacks:
It was dusk when armed Seleka rebels dragged the teenager from the road leading north towards Kobe. They pulled her into the jungle and raped her for several hours. She was abandoned near Route Nationale 10 and, after stumbling into the town of Kaga-Bandoro, was taken to hospital. “There were five of them raping her until they tore her vagina. Her family paid the [hospital] expenses until she got well,” said her friend, Lisa Moussa, 17.
Moussa was more fortunate. As soon as she saw the rebels, she began running. They tried to kill her, shooting until she stumbled and fell. The gang caught her and frog-marched her to a police station and threatened to rape her until her father paid 6,000 Central African francs (£7.90) for her release.
On September 3, thousands of demonstrators in CAR staged a protest for peace. They waved banners reading, “We want peace and security for the Central African people” and “The Central African Republic is one and undivided.” The new president, Michel Djotodia, former leader of the Seleka coalition, who was sworn in on August 18, has vowed to “preserve the peace, to consolidate national unity, to ensure the well-being of the Central African people.”
Now we wait and see if disarmament leads to peace.
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