/ 6 May 2022

Human Rights Watch: Russian mercenaries killing civilians in Central African Republic

Abuses: After Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra (centre) asked for help in fighting militias, private Russian paramilitary contractors were sent to the CAR. Photo: Barbara Debout/AFP

Human Rights Watch this week said there was “compelling evidence” that Russian paramilitary troops were committing serious rights abuses and killing civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR).

A civil war in the CAR, which began in 2013, pitting numerous militias against a state on the verge of collapse, had eased considerably in recent years.

But about a year ago, fighting resumed abruptly when rebels launched an offensive to overthrow President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

After the president called on Moscow for help, hundreds of Russian paramilitary forces helped push back the rebels, who still hold sway over swathes of the country.

The private military contractors are described as belonging to the Wagner Group, a Russian entity with no known legal status.

“Forces in the Central African Republic, who witnesses identified as Russian, appear to have summarily executed, tortured, and beaten civilians since 2019,” Human Rights Watch said. “Several Western governments and United Nations experts and special rapporteurs have found evidence that the forces linked to Russia operating in the Central African Republic include a significant number of members of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military security contractor with apparent links to the Russian government.”

The United Nations, NGOs and the CAR’s former colonial ruler, France, accuse both the army and rebels of committing crimes against civilians.

“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 with impunity,” said Ida Sawyer, of Human Rights Watch. “To demonstrate its respect for the rule of law, and to put an end to these abuses, the government should investigate and prosecute all forces, including Russia-linked forces, responsible for murder, unlawful detention, and torture.”

Human Rights Watch said Russian-speaking men shot dead 12 unarmed men arrested at a checkpoint near Bossangoa on 21 July last year. It also spoke of arbitrary detentions, tortures and summary killings of men randomly arrested in the street in the central town of Alindao in June last year.

Human Rights Watch said it also “documented cases of detention and torture by Russia-linked forces in Bambari in 2019”. 

It said it had written to the CAR and Russian governments but received no reply.Last month, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, denounced “serious human rights violations” in the Central African Republic, including killings and sexual violence against civilians, committed by rebel groups but also by the military and their Russian allies. — AFP