Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused government troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) of killing hundreds of civilians and torching the homes of thousands in an operation against insurgents since 2005, in a report released on 14 September.
"Just across the border from Darfur [Sudan], the army of the Central African Republic has killed hundreds of innocent civilians and forced tens of thousands to flee their villages," Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at HRW, stated in the report, State of Anarchy: Rebellion and Abuses Against Civilians.
"The widespread burning of homes by government security forces is the signature abuse of the conflict," Takirambudde stated in the report, based on three weeks of research in the affected areas. Most of the abuses were committed by the elite presidential guard, according to HRW.
HRW also noted that rebel groups in the northwest of the country were responsible for human rights violations. Bandits known as zaraguinas often kidnapped children for ransom, it added.
Atrocities included multiple summary executions and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, as well as the destruction of an estimated 10,000 homes.
"In one small area affected by the village burnings – the Batangafo-Kabo-Ouandago-Kaga Bandoro area – Human Rights Watch researchers counted a total of 2,923 burned homes, including more than 1,000 in the large market town of Ouandago alone. Similar destruction can be found throughout northwestern CAR, an area of hundreds of square kilometres," the report said.
HRW noted that not a single soldier or officer had been held accountable for the atrocities, and urged the authorities to take immediate steps to end the climate of impunity and put in place effective civilian protection mechanisms in the north.
"The sorry fact is that the perpetrators of violence and abuse, the majority of them government soldiers, have so far enjoyed total impunity for acts that include war crimes," said Takirambudde.
According to HRW, the rebel Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), a coalition of local Gula ethnic group and former rebels associated with current President François Bozizé, had become disenchanted with his rule. There have been allegations of rape by UFDR rebels, but HRW was able to corroborate only a single such case.
The organisation said the national army and the rebel Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy, known by its French acronym, APRD, as well as the UFDR, had large numbers of child soldiers in their ranks. They were discussing the demobilisation of the children with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), according to HRW.