The government of the Central African Republic and United Nations peacekeepers should urgently address sexual violence against women and girls by armed militia in the capital, Bangui.
Human Rights Watch documented some cases in which perpetrators used rape to punish women and girls suspected of interacting with people on the other side of the sectarian divide.
In Bangui between December 1 and December 13, 2015, Human Rights Watch documented at least 25 cases of sexual violence since September 26, when a new wave of sectarian violence gripped Bangui. The figures probably significantly underrepresent incidents of sexual violence, which are often not reported due to shame, stigma, or fear of retaliation.
A UN-led interagency group reported on December 10 that it had recorded thousands of sexual violence cases throughout the country in 2015, though the numbers require further verification.
“It is clear that sexual violence is a devastating element of the ongoing sectarian violence in the capital,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Transitional government authorities and UN peacekeepers should act to improve protection for woman and girls and to hold to account those responsible.”
Nine cases of sexual violence documented by Human Rights Watch occurred in and around M’poko displacement camp, including in the field to the south of the camp and in the nearby Fondo neighborhood, all largely controlled by members of the mainly Christian and animist anti-balaka militia. M’poko camp, which borders M’poko International Airport, houses 20,000 internally displaced people and is managed by a humanitarian organization under the auspices of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
Victims said anti-balaka raped them as punishment because the anti-balaka believed they were buying from or selling to Muslims in the Kilomètre 5 enclave, the capital’s last remaining Muslim neighbourhood.
On September 27, the anti-balaka stopped a group of six women just south of the M’poko camp. One of the victims told Human Rights Watch that the anti-balaka said: “You are going to the market to sell vegetables to the Muslims so they can have the strength to come and kill us. We will now rape you so your Muslim friends will know you are already dead.” The men raped all the six women over several hours, some repeatedly by multiple attackers.
In another case, a victim identified one of her attackers as a combatant she knew and had seen in the camp with Emar Nganafeï, an anti-balaka leader active in M’poko camp. The 35-year-old victim said she had been raped in early October by two anti-balaka who accused her of selling vegetables in Kilomètre 5. Before raping her, one of her attackers said, “We will rape you and then you will not dare to put a foot in Kilomètre 5.” She has since repeatedly seen her attacker in M’poko camp.
Several humanitarian officials in M’poko camp told Human Rights Watch that Nganafeï operates an anti-balaka base near a hospital in an area known as Zone 3. “His group kidnaps and rapes women, sometimes they let them go, sometimes they ransom them to the families,” one official said.
Nine other witnesses also told Human Rights Watch that since September 26, at least six women and girls, and possibly as many as 18, had been held hostage by anti-balaka loyal to Nganafeï. Many were released after their families paid a ransom. One woman, kidnapped on September 30 and held for 14 hours, said Nganafeï himself had told her: “There is no order, we make the law. If your family does not pay, we will kill you.” Human Rights Watch has also received other credible reports that Nganafeï may be responsible for killing a number of men and women in or near M’poko camp in recent months.
The Central African Republic is scheduled to hold presidential and legislative elections on December 27, with a runoff round planned for January 31, 2016, if there is no clear winner. Many local human rights groups fear there may be new violence.
“Women and girls should be able to seek food or support their families without fear of sexual violence,” said Hillary Margolis, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government and peacekeepers both should be doing more to protect women and girls and to make sure that rape survivors get the help they need, including post rape care.”