Protection of Civilians (PoC)
MINUSCA has a Protection of Civilians working group which coordinates information-sharing, analysis and response to protection threats. The mission “takes an integrated approach to protecting civilians which includes combining physical protection with prevention, dialogue and local peace processes.”[i]
According to a report by the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI), violence against civilians in CAR can be broken down into four distinct phases of the conflict:
- Predatory violence by the Séléka rebel alliance, a predominantly Muslim group also comprised of foreign fighters from Chad and Sudan, against the Christian population (August 2012-September 2013)
- Communal violence due to increasing number of Christian anti-Balaka self-defense militias. During this period the French Sangris military intervention sought to disarm the Séléka, which strengthened the position of anti-Balaka forces (September 2013-January 2014)
- Ethnic cleansing of Muslims by anti-Balaka forces in the West (Early 2014)
- Predatory violence by all parties to the conflict as Séléka and anti-Balaka forces fragmented, with increasing violence in the East and an increase in criminality in the center (Spring 2014)[ii]
The FFI report further outlines how young people became increasingly involved in the anti-Balaka movement for the purpose of self-defense and pastoralist communities joined Séléka forces to protect their economic interests, particularly their cattle from being raided. This engagement of the civilian population in the fighting increased the severity of violent incidents and further spread the conflict.
To further reduce the spread of violence, the UN established 83 community-based protection committees, with a total of 220 members, and 109 protection networks across the country.[iii] MINUSCA also trained community liaisons in all 16 prefectures who collaborate with the mission and national security forces to facilitate rapid response to threats against civilians.[iv] The mission also utilizes a Community Alert Network (CAN), a hotline that collects information on potential threats to civilians.
In 2019, MINUSCA also deployed civilian surge teams to Alindao and Batangafo, to improve outreach and early warning mechanisms since the mission does not have a permanent civilian presence in those locations. Joint assessment teams were deployed to assess protection risks in the following areas:
MINUSCA military forces have been active in the physical protection of civilians in the following areas:
- Basse Kotto
Despite these efforts, there continue to be significant protection incidents, such as:
- May 2019 – Fighters from the armed group Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation, or 3R, killed at least 46 civilians in three attacks in Ouham Pendé province. The 3R commander, General Sidiki Abass (also known as Bi Sidi Souleymane) was appointed by presidential decree a military adviser to the Prime Minister (Human Rights Watch July 2019).
- October 2018 – Two armed groups, the FPRC and MPC, attack the city of Batangofa destroying IDP camps
- November 2018 – Another ex-Séléka group attacks the town of Alindao, burning down a church with people inside and destroying IDP camps
- Ongoing threats against civil society, women leaders, and human rights defenders
CAR is working to document and address gross human rights violations that have occurred since the conflict began. It has adopted a UN Protocol for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and all Forms of Discrimination, which resulted in the establishment of a National Committee against Genocide and related crimes. There is also a national Truth, Justice, Reparations and Reconciliation Commission, and some war crimes cases have been referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC)
In January 2019, the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC) signed an Action Plan with the UN to end and prevent grave violations against children. The plan addresses four violations for which the FPRC is listed:
- Recruitment and use of children
- Killing and maiming
- Rape and other forms of sexual violence
- Attacks on schools and hospitals[v]
The UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict has recommended that all armed actors within CAR issue command directives prohibiting the recruitment and use of child soldiers. In 2017, the FPRC issued a command directive in this regard, which allowed the UN access to verify that children were no longer in the ranks.[vi] The UN signed a similar Action Plan was signed with the Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC) in May 2018.
The Report of the Secretary General on CAAC on 20 June 2019 gives specific figures for violations recorded in 2018:
Grave Violations Total Girls Boys
- Recruitment/Child Soldiers 75 14 6
- Killed 71
- Maimed 43
- Attacks Schools 34
- Attacks Hospitals 22
- Abductions 62 28 34
- Denial Humanitarian Access 112
- Killing of Aid Workers 6
The SG report on CAAC also acknowledges that two anti-Balaka leaders were arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes including child recruitment.[vii] As part of the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme initiated at the end of 2018 in Paoua, 389 children were confirmed to have been associated with both factions of Révolution et justice (RJ). The report also specifically calls upon the leadership of UPC to develop an action plan against the recruitment of children.
In September 2017, the Government of CAR ratified the Operational Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The Secretary General’s Report also encourages the Government of CAR to adopt a protocol for the handover of children associated with armed groups to child protection actors. UNICEF is actively engaged in child demobilization efforts in Paoua.
Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA)
In 2014, CAR became embroiled in a Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) scandal. A Human Rights Officer working in MINUSCA became aware of allegations that French Sangris forces had sexually abused several young boys between the age of 9 and 13 in exchange for food and cash.[viii] The abuse occurred near a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) close to the Bangui International Airport, where soldiers allegedly coordinated with one another by bringing children onto their base. These reports were significantly mishandled once they were sent up the chain, passing from “desk to desk, inbox to inbox with no one willing to take responsibility” to investigate the violations.[ix]
Some of the confusion was due to the fact that French forces were not under UN leadership, and therefore fell outside traditional SEA reporting mechanisms. However, even after the cases were referred to France for further investigation, a panel of French judges threw out the case due to insufficient evidence from the alleged victims.[x]
A report from the Independent Review of SEA in CAR found that the Human Rights and Justice Section (HRJS) of the mission failed to investigate the claims once it became aware of them, and senior leaders within the mission who became aware of the allegations also did not take measures to investigate. This further implicated the UN Children’s Agency, UNICEF, which referred the cases to a local NGO that failed to properly document the cases and did not offer the children medical or psycho-social support.[xi] UNICEF only followed up with the children directly after the cases received significant media attention, a full year after the initial allegations were brought forward.
The CAR scandal initiated changes in the way the UN manages SEA claims. The Secretary General took leadership by instituting a number of reforms, including publicly reporting SEA allegations by TCC, and insisting that forces found guilty of abuse are repatriated. However, UN forces remain under the legal authority of their respective nations, requiring TCCs to refer SEA cases to the proper national authority for further investigation. In actuality, this means that few cases result in prosecution. To address this challenge, the Secretary General established an office of the UN Special Coordinator for improving the response to SEA, which developed a Voluntary Compact on SEA highlighting the mutual responsibility of the UN and the member state to prevent and respond to SEA cases. As of January 2019, 101 member states had signed onto the Compact.[xii]
As a result of the CAR scandal, the U.S. State Department also developed a new SEA policy mandated by Congress which has strengthened accountability through bilateral follow up with TCCs. The Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) has also funded new training for National Investigative Officers (NIO) on the procedures for following up on SEA claims.
Despite reforms, significant numbers of SEA cases continue in MINUSCA. In 2016, 41 cases, 25 of which involved the abuse of children, were corroborated involving peacekeepers from Gabon and Burundi. In 2017, the UN demanded the repatriation of the entire Rwandan military contingent (but not the police contingent), and the Republic of Congo contingent, after the Force Commander conducted a review of its performance and behavior.
In 2018, there were 43 reported cases of SEA in CAR involving forces from Burundi, Cameroon, the Congo, Mauritania, Morocco, and Niger. The UN has requested that all personnel of the mission be vetted for a history of misconduct in the service. Despite these preventative efforts, SEA remains a serious problem in the mission.
In the first quarter of 2019, 18 cases of SEA have been reported in CAR. From these, 7 cases involve military officers from Cameroon, 4 from Burundi, 2 from the DRC, 1 from the Congo, 1 from Gabon, 1 from Senegal, and 1 from Serbia, and 1 involving a civilian contractor.[xiii] The cases have involved allegations of exploitative relationships, transactional sex, rape, attempted rape, and abuse of children.
The UN has established a Trust Fund in Support of Victims of SEA, which allows UN agencies to provide specialized services to those affected, address gaps in services to provide assistance, and provide other support mechanisms for communities and children born as a result of SEA. As of June 2019, 19 Member States have donated to the Trust Fund, bringing its total to USD 2 million, including some USD 400,000 received from payments withheld from United Nations personnel against whom allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse have been substantiated.[xiv] In addition, the Secretary General has placed a Victim’s Rights Advocate within missions with high levels of SEA, including MINUSCA, to facilitate assistance to those affected.[xv]
Behind the significant number of cases is the underlying question; why is SEA such a problem?
The Secretary General points out that one reason is the systemic gender inequality, which makes women and girls more vulnerable in conflict. However, the UN system continues to grapple with other root causes including a culture of impunity and weak legal frameworks within host nations that consider sexual violence a misdemeanor rather than a serious crime.[xvi] In one UNICEF report, experts argued that the UN has been plagued by an “over-emphasis on structures and guidance” and a lack of focus on implementation.[xvii] Indeed, it is hard to determine what impact the many high-level reforms have had on vulnerable populations on the ground in CAR.
Women, Peace and Security (WPS)
The new government which formed in late March 2019 included a number of women appointed to ministerial posts. However, only three women were elected to the National Assembly, which is far below the requirement in the law on gender parity adopted in November 2016. The law mandates 35% representation of women in state and private institutions for a transitional period of 10 years. The American Bar Association (ABA) has received support from the State Department Bureau of African Affairs Women, Peace and Security Initiative to support Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in monitoring the implementation of the law.[xviii]
In April 2019, the National Assembly adopted the electoral code in preparation for elections in 2020 and 2021. According to the Secretary General’s June 2019 report, members of civil society criticized the code, stating it failed to ensure the adequate representation of women based on the law. In June, the Constitutional Court ruled that the gender parity law was applicable to the electoral code and returned the code to the National Committee stating it could not be passed until it complied with the gender parity law.[xix] Thus, it is expected that the 35% quota for female representation will be met in the upcoming elections.
Prevention of Conflict
The local Peace Committees established to monitor the Peace Agreement includes women’s groups, civil society representatives, and members of armed groups working on conflict prevention and dispute resolution measures. Women’s involvement in the committees at the community level has been crucial to de-escalating tensions and preventing violence. For example, Barbara Sanga, who serves on the local Peace Committee in Bangui, described how things are changing to a peacebuilding NGO:
The situation in our arrondissement during the crisis was really terrible. I will give you a statistic. During the crisis no less than 1700 houses in our arrondissement were destroyed and no Muslims could come to the crossroads at the beginning of our arrondissement. Since 2014, we have been working with the 3rd arrondissement who are our neighbors and collaborating with them, and now I can tell you that we have 75% security.
We also set up a local security council. If something is not going right in our arrondissement, we hold a security meeting and we advocate to the local authorities and pass on information to them. And sometimes with the local authorities we advocate to the ministry of public security. We have contributed to the return of the police station. They have worked with the young people because at the beginning many young people did not want the police circulating in the 5th arrondissement. Now they have more trust in the international forces (MINUSCA). And now tensions have reduced and we can sleep at night in the 5th arrondissement.[xx]
Protection from Violence
Sexual violence against women and girls is widespread. The CAR report of the UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict indicates that the majority of violent incidents against women and girls in 2018 occurred in the south-east region as a result of widespread attacks against the civilian population by anti-Balaka and Union pour la paix en Centreafrique (UPC) forces. Women were attacked during farming activities and while fleeing to safety.[xxi] In 2018, the UN documented 259 incidents of sexual violence by the following parties to the conflict:
- Muslim ex-Séléka groups (101),
- Fulani pastoralists, who may have been affiliated with the ex-Séléka (62),
- Christian anti-Balaka (45),
- Lord’s Resistance Army (2),
- 5 to Retour, Reclamation et rehabilitation-Abbas Sidiki (5),
- Bangui-based armed gangs (7),
- Révolution et justice (2),
- Unidentified perpetrators (27),
- Armed Forces of the Central African Republic (3)
These incidents involved rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence. Almost 70 per cent of the crimes were committed by more than one perpetrator. MINUSCA also verified the recruitment of young females ranging from age 11-17, as wives for members of armed groups. These cases were attributed to anti-Balaka (5), ex-Séléka factions (3) and Lord’s Resistance Army (2).
The mission also worked with the Government of CAR to establish a Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Suppression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children (UMIRR) which documented another 33 cases of conflict-related sexual violence and reported another 320 cases of sexual violence to the Bangui Criminal Court.[xxii] This special unit also worked with UN Police to investigate allegations of mass rape allegedly committed by Fulani groups in Nana, Bakassa sub-prefecture. However, the response unit did not receive regular funding from the government budget to continue operations. Also, only a few of the cases reported to the court resulted in trials. The UN is working to establish a Special Criminal Court and to develop investigative and prosecutorial procedures to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable for their crimes.
[ii] Oen, Ulrik Hallen. Protection of Civilians in practice – emerging lessons from the Central African Republic, Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt (FFI) Rapport 2014/01918, 23 October 2014, https://www.ffi.no/no/Rapporter/14-01918.pdf
[iii] UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, CAR Report https://www.un.org/sexualviolenceinconflict/countries/central-african-republic/
[iv] Ibid, UN Report of the Secretary General, June 2019
[v] Relief Web, “Central African Republic: Signature of a New Action Plan to Protect Children,” 5 July 2019,https://reliefweb.int/report/central-african-republic/central-african-republic-signature-new-action-plan-protect-children
[vi] Ibid, Relief Web, July 2019
[viii] Deschamps, Marie and Jallow, Hassan B. and Sooka, Yasmin. Taking Action on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers: Report of an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic, 17 December 2015, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Independent-Review-Report.pdf
[ix] Ibid, Deschamps 2015.
[x] Morenne, Benoit. “No Charges in Sexual Exploitation Case Involving French Soldiers,” New York Times, 6 January 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/world/africa/french-peacekeepers-un-sexual-abuse-case-central-african-republic.html
[xi] Ibid, Deschamps 2015.
[xii] United Nations, Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Voluntary Compact as of 23 January 2019, https://www.un.org/preventing-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse/content/voluntary-compact
[xiii] UN Peacekeeping, Conduct in UN Missions, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Allegations as of May 2019, https://conduct.unmissions.org/table-of-allegations
[xiv] United Nations, Note to Correspondents: United Nations and Member States pledge further commitments to the Trust Fund in Support of Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, 21 June 2019, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2019-06-21/note-correspondents-united-nations-and-member-states-pledge-further-commitments-the-trust-fund-support-of-victims-of-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse
[xv] United Nations Report of the Secretary General, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse: a new approach, 28 February 2017, https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/sg_report_a_71_818_special_measures_for_protection_from_sexual_exploitation_and_abuse.pdf
[xvi] Williamson, Sarah. The U.S. WPS Agenda and UN Peacekeeping, U.S. Civil Society Working Group Policy Brief, 10 January 2017, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/US-CSWG-Policy-Brief-US-WPS-Agenda-and-UN-Peacekeeping.pdf
[xvii] UNICEF, Independent Panel Review of the UNICEF Response to PSEA, September 2018, https://www.unicef.org/evaluation/files/Independent_Panel_Report_UNICEF_Review_PSEA.pdf
[xviii] American Bar Association (ABA), Seeking Peaceful Governance through Women in the Central African Republic, 01 February 2017, https://www.americanbar.org/advocacy/rule_of_law/where_we_work/africa/central-african-republic/news/news-car-seeking-peaceful-governance-0117/
[xix] [xix] Ibid, UN Report of the Secretary General, June 2019
[xx] Central African Women have a great role to play in national peacebuilding, Conciliation Resources online article, https://www.c-r.org/news-and-views/stories/central-african-women-have-great-role-play-national-peacebuilding
[xxi] UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Central African Republic (CAR) Report 2019, https://www.un.org/sexualviolenceinconflict/countries/central-african-republic/
[xxii] Ibid, UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence 2019
These products are the results of academic research and intended for general information and awareness only. They include the best information publicly available at the time of publication. Routine efforts are made to update the materials; however, readers are encouraged to check the specific mission sites at https://minusca.unmissions.org/en or https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/minusca.
Central African Republic Country Profile
United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)