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HRW cites evidence of CAR massacre

May 3, 2022

"Russian-identified forces" may have committed grave abuses against civilians in the Central African Republic, Human Rights Watch has said in a new report.

A woman walks past a burnt house in Bagui
Central African Republic has been facing violent unrest for over a decadeImage: Herve Serefio/AA/picture alliance

Witnesses cited by Human Rights Watch (HRW) implicated "Russian-speaking men in uniform" in relation to a massacre in the Central African town of Bossangoa in June 2021, the organization said on Tuesday.

The Bossangoa incident claimed at least 12 lives, HRW said.

The group also spoke with a local administrative official who blamed local rebel forces for the massacre.

What did witnesses say happened in Bossangoa?

"Based on its interviews, Human Rights Watch concluded that between four and six men blocked the road about 12 kilometers [7.5 miles] north of Bossangoa. They were standing next to four motorbikes, spoke Russian, and wore beige khaki clothes, scarves to cover their faces, military boots, gloves, and sunglasses," HRW said.

The uniformed men allegedly stopped a group of civilians who tried to pass through the road on motorbikes. The civilians were told to hand over their phones and money. According to witnesses, the armed group then surrounded the civilians and started beating them, before two of the uniformed men pulled the civilians to the side one by one, forced them to kneel and shot them in the head. The rest of the victims started praying loudly, with the distraction allowing two of them to escape.

CAR – a country under siege

While HRW believes the attackers were white and spoke Russian, they also cited the prefect of Bossangoa as providing a different account. According to the official, survivors of the attack said the gunmen were a part of a local militia.

Why is there unrest in the Central African Republic?

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been facing an armed insurrection for almost a decade, which started when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels started an uprising against the government of Francois Bozize in late 2012. They managed to take the control of the capital and oust Bozize in 2013. In turn, Christian and other militias took up arms against the Seleka. France also launched a military intervention to push the rebels back, which was brought to a close in 2016 with the election of current president Faustin Archange Touadera. The fighting had eased, but flared up again last year when armed rebels launched another offensive against the government.

The legal status of Russian-speaking operatives in the CAR is not fully clear. HRW cited UN experts as saying the African country signed a bilateral agreement with Russia in August 2018 which allowed "Russian instructors" to be deployed on its soil.

What are HRW's recommendations?

According to HRW, Western officials and UN experts say there is evidence that the contingent includes "a significant number of members of the Wagner Group" — a Russian private military company with connections to the Kremlin.

"There is compelling evidence that Russian-identified forces supporting the Central African Republic's government have committed grave abuses against civilians with complete impunity," said Ida Sawyer, crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch.

HRW urged the CAR government to publish the findings of the commission it had allegedly set up into the Bossangoa killings, and to look into all other allegations of abuse. The activists also urged Russia to cooperate with the injury.

"The Central African government has every right to request international security assistance, but it can't allow foreign forces to kill and otherwise abuse civilians," Sawyer said.

dj/msh (AFP, dpa)