Rights Groups: no amnesty for Central African Republic atrocities

from the PK5 area in Bangui, Central African Republic under the protection of French troops and members of the Multinational Force of Central Africa. (Feb 2014) --Rex Features via AP Images

Discussions are currently underway to bring to an end the year-long strife and fighting that has beset the Central African Republic. The hopes is that a peace settlement will be agreed upon and the country will be able to regain stability. So far, things have not gotten off to a good start. The talks were canceled today after the ex-rebel Seleka group was a no show. Moving forward on suspending fighting and disarming fighters are now on hold.

One concern going into the talks is over whether the people who committed some of the most heinous crimes will be given a pass as a part of the deal. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights watch say that such an amnesty should not be available to persons that committed serious crimes.

“Mediators and participants at the Brazzaville forum need to keep the thousands of victims in the Central African Republic and their desire for justice at the top of the agenda,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a public statement. “Amnesty for those most responsible for crimes against humanity and other heinous crimes is simply not an option.”

A day later, Amnesty International released its own statement calling for no amnesties for war crimes.

“The Brazzaville peace talks must ensure that accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law are at the heart of any discussion to bring peace in CAR. Individuals suspected of these crimes must not be allowed to use these peace talked to secure positions in the government that they may use to enjoy impunity,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director, Research and Advocacy.

A coup in March 2013 has seen the troubled country fall into disorder and conflict. A spike in violence in December led activists to vocalize fears that a genocide may be on the horizon. Official estimates put the number of deaths at between 1,000 and 2,000. However, Doctors Without Borders says the number is likely much higher. The groups survey of 33,000 refugees show that 2,599 people died between November 2013 and April 2014. One in three families had at least one relative die. The findings also raised concerns about the targeting of Muslims.

“There are still massive deficits in the distribution of aid to the hundreds of thousands who managed to escape the violence and reach Chad or Cameroon,” said Dr. Mego Terzian, president of Doctors Without Borders. “The bare minimum that can be done for this population that has suffered incredible violence, lost family members, and been uprooted from their homes, is to provide them with humanitarian assistance.”

More than 900,000 people have been displaced from their homes since that time. The acceleration of fighting at the end of 2013 caused some 500,000 people to flee their homes in only one month. Some have returned home, but those displaced face an additional hardship since their lives have been completely disrupted.

Neighboring countries are struggling to support the nearly 400,000 people that have left the Central African Republic. The aid groups that are on the ground report families arriving with children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.  The UN refugee agency issued a plea today for more donor support directed at Central African refugees. Only 31% of the $210 million needed for more than 300,000 people by the end of the year has been funded.

The hope is that putting an end to the ongoing fighting in the country will allow for people to return home and ease the humanitarian needs. All that remains is the hardest part: negotiating peace between two fighting groups.

“It is important to have broad representation from nongovernmental groups for reconciliation and political dialogue to ensure that the voices of those who have borne the brunt of atrocities are heard,” said  Bekele.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.