It’s not every day that you hear news from Central African Republic or CAR as it’s sometimes called. In fact most in the UK are not even aware of where it is (although perhaps the name is a bit of a giveaway). Because it’s not a country in Africa which has as high a profile as that of Zimbabwe or South Africa, it’s easy to dismiss the scale of horrendous rights abuses occurring there. Which is why reports from organisations like Amnesty, like the one published today, that reveal the enormous scale of rights violations occurring in that country, are so important?
Amnesty’s new report reveals that armed groups are continuing to kill, abduct, torture and rape civilians. These abuses are coming not only from armed groups but also the CAR’s own security forces which are ill-equipped and poorly-trained. Tragically, absolutely no-one has been successfully prosecuted for crimes under international law despite the crimes being incorporated in the CAR’s Penal Code since January 2010.
The armed groups aren’t only CAR-bred. The infamous Lord’s Resistance Army led by Ugandan Joseph Kony (who has international arrest warrants out for him) have left a trail of devastation in this expansive central African country. Ugandan forces have sought to quell the LRA attacks. In 2008 the US government financed and supported the Ugandan national army to end the LRA threat. The Ugandan forces killed some LRA fighters and dispersed others but have not brought an end to the group’s atrocities. Instead, the armed group has spread to other parts of the CAR.
Just a few days ago the US Government announced that it would send troops to support the Ugandan forces to tackle the LRA, while France is seeking to support the CAR troops. Whilst Amnesty welcomes this move, any human rights abuses committed by the CAR troops mustn’t be swept under the carpet and the perpetrators have to be held to account.
Amnesty’s Central African Republic researcher described the CAR as a ‘black hole for human rights’. It certainly does seem as though the phrase “respect for human rights” has been ignored by the country’s judicial system and human rights appears to have totally disappeared from the CAR dictionary.
Despite the Central African Republic being referred to the International Criminal Court in 2004 only one arrest has been made. Congolese armed group leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is currently on trial at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity and the war crimes of murder, rape and pillage. CAR may not be an immediately recognisable country, but the offences committed there ought not to be so easily dismissed. Hundreds of thousands of people in the CAR have suffered enough. It’s significant that countries like the USA and France are stepping up their commitment to the situation in the CAR, but a thorough investigation of the abuses there is essential. As is the task of bringing those responsible of committing these abuses to justice. Quickly and fairly.
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