Skip to Content

Featured Story

Based in Oslo

TERROR IN CAR

  • alt-text-here
    Christian Anti Balaka attack Muslim property in PK 13 on the outskirts of Bangui after the Muslim Seleka government fell and the Muslims in the area have fled.
  • alt-text-here
  • alt-text-here
    The Christian population around PK13 on the outskirts of Bangui loot and burn the homes of Muslims who have fled after months of oppression by the Muslim Seleka Government and following the resignation of President Michel Djotodia.
  • alt-text-here
    Civilians in the street of Combatant quarter kill and mutilate two Muslims as people stand around watching and laughing. French soldiers arrived too late to assist. There are approximately 25 incidents like this in Bangui each day.
  • alt-text-here
    Children from the Christian population around PK13 on the outskirts of Bangui loot and burn the homes of local Muslims, taking out their anger and frustrations on a largely innocent population.
  • alt-text-here
    The body of Nana Abdul Karim, 34, father of eight children, is carried back to his home for burial. He was shot, by French soldiers, while buying breakfast for his children. They reported that he was demonstrating and firing a weapon at them, but most people in this district have only bows and arrows. The community is being attacked by Anti Balaka and penned in by french soldiers. Many are trying to flee to Chad but there are limited trucks and resources.
  • alt-text-here
    A Christian market transporter is attacked by Muslims who are angered at the killing of one of their community members and the injuring of another. They attempt to lynch the first non-Muslim they can find. He escaped.
  • alt-text-here
    A Christian market transporter is attacked by Muslims who are angered at the killing of one of their community members and the injuring of another. They attempt to lynch the first non-Muslim they can find. He escaped.
  • alt-text-here
    A member of the Christian population around PK13 on the outskirts of Bangui runs through looted and burning homes of the Muslims who have fled after the Seleka President Michel Djotodia resigned and left the country in disarray The country was ruled by a minority Muslim government after the coup in March 2013. After months of oppression by the Muslim Seleka Government the local population take out their anger and frustrations on the largely innocent Muslim population.
  • alt-text-here
    The Christian population around PK13 on the outskirts of Bangui loot and burn the homes of the Muslims who have fled after the Seleka President Michel Djotodia resigned, leaving the country in disarray.
  • alt-text-here
    A woman prays in her compound during the looting and burning of her community. They were trapped there after the anti Balaka and the Christian community surrounded her home and threatened to kill the 31 people left inside.
  • alt-text-here
    The body of Mohammed, 20, a Muslim who was attacked with a grenade by Anti Balaka in the PK12 region of Bangui. He went to the outskirts of the quarter to search for food. During his preparation for burial the mosque was attacked and everyone had to flee.
  • alt-text-here
    A Muslim family with a severely malnourished child discusses whether they want to take the child to hospital or not. They are worried about reprisal attacks in Bangui and worried that they will never be reunited with their family. But if they don’t go, the child will certainly die.
  • alt-text-here
    Anti Balaka fighters in their base near the airport they talk of all Muslims needing to leave the country and wanting to clean their country of those who don’t love their country.
  • alt-text-here
    A disabled man is beaten by Muslims in PK12 after they suspected him of being a Christian Anti Balaka. He was treated by Human Rights Watch and left to recover.
  • alt-text-here
    The funeral of Regina Yapoutou, a 24-year-old from Birlo, who became sick while living in the bush in order to hide from Seleka fighters for nine months. On returning home her illness became worse, but without adequate access to medical treatment, she passed away.
  • alt-text-here
    Civilians living close to the Seleka Camp Kasai celebrate as the Seleka fighters are moved out towards PK11. They have been living with the shadow of Seleka abuses for over nine months.
  • alt-text-here
    French soldiers patrol after civilians in the streets of Combatant quarter kill and mutilate two Muslims while bystanders watch and laugh.
  • alt-text-here
    The funeral for a young man, 24-years-old, who died from lack of adequate medical treatment. The shortage of medical resources is the real killer in these conflicts, where the health care structure falls apart and people cannot access urgently needed life saving treatment.
  • alt-text-here
    Rwandan Troops patrol the streets of Bangui during the curfew.
  • alt-text-here
    Rwandan Troops patrol the streets of Bangui during the curfew.
  • alt-text-here
    The family of Wambiti Leono, 18, mourn at his funeral. He was shot then burned by the Seleka as they took control of Sibut. He waited 9 days in the hospital, but the Seleka refused him access to medical treatment. He died on the same morning the Seleka abandoned the town.
  • alt-text-here
    The mother of Eliam Fedongare, 24, greets him and celebrates as he arrives home with his father Jean de Dieux. They were abducted from their farm by Seleka while attempting to flee Bangui and then forced to march through the bush for nine days. Four others who were taken along with them were shot and killed when they became too tired to continue. The father and his son escaped during an attack on a local village.
  • alt-text-here
    The family of Jean de Dieux and Eliam great them and celebrate as they arrive home after being abducted and forced to march through the bush for nine days.
  • alt-text-here
    Body parts are seen on the road after a lynching by FACA soldiers in Bangui following a presidential address about a return to peace for the country. The soldiers lynched a suspected Muslim Seleka fighter, killing him and then burning his body.
  • alt-text-here
    The family of Christophe Yaole mourn at his funeral after he was killed by Chadian troops when they came to pick up Muslims from CAR.
  • alt-text-here
    Muslims flee the town of Bangui together with Chadian special forces. Over 10,000 peole leave the city for Chad on a huge convoy as the Muslim population is forced out of the country by the population of CAR.
  • alt-text-here
    A man's body lies next to the road after he was beaten and had his throat slit. He fell from a truck trying to flee the city of Bangui and was lynched by Christian residents of the PK 10 area of Bangui.
  • alt-text-here
    Anti Balaka on the road to Boda. They are on their way to attack the Muslim residents who remain there. Previously, the Muslims were protected by the Seleka but they fled leaving the civilians to their fate. More than 40 Muslims and 50 Christians have been killed in the town in five days.
  • alt-text-here
    The cousin of Vanessa, who was killed by Muslims, lies dead after being shot by Rwandan soldiers after he killed and then tried to burn a Muslim in a revenge attack.
  • alt-text-here
    Wooden boards used in the madressa called Lawh burn outside the homes of Muslims in Yaloke. At one time there were 30,000 Muslims in the town; now only 300 remain. The rest have fled to Chad. Anti Balaka Christians gave the Muslims 24 hours to leave or be killed. They left.
  • alt-text-here
    A Muslim resident of Bangui lies dead on the street after a revenge attack by a Christian local youth after he discovered his cousin had been shot and killed.
  • alt-text-here
    The sister of Vanessa mourns after she was shot by Muslims close to her home in Kilo 5, Bangui. Five people were killed overnight and just after this photograph was taken, her cousin was killed by Rwandan soldiers while he was killing a Muslim in a revenge attack.
Terror in CAR

An escalating cycle of bloodshed has left tens of thousands dead and entire communities displaced in the Central African Republic. Peacekeeping forces have so far failed to stop the terror

The death records of the Bangui morgue in the Central African Republic read like a chapter out of Dante’s Inferno: page after page of people killed by machetes, torture, lynchings, shootings, explosions and burning. The overwhelming stench makes it impossible to stay there for long. On really bad days only the number of dead is recorded – not their names nor the causes of death – before the bodies are buried in mass graves.

The morgue is a terrible symbol of the toll of communal violence in the Central African Republic which has raged for months and claimed tens of thousands of lives, displacing even more. Recently, the Séléka, a predominantly Muslim group of fighters that seized Bangui, the capital, and toppled the CAR’s government in early 2013, have lost some ground – although they continue to terrorise wherever possible. In response Christian forces known as anti-balaka (balaka means ‘machete’ in Sango, the local language) have stepped up attacks against Muslim civilians in places where the Séléka no longer holds the sway it did a few months ago.

In hopes of quelling the situation, international peacekeeping forces are now in the country, and a new president, Catherine Samba-Panza – a former mayor of Bangui nicknamed Madame Courage –was installed in mid-January. She has promised that the country’s security forces will be reorganised to protect Muslims as well as Christians. But so far the violence has continued unabated. On January 29 two Muslim men were hacked to death and their bodies mutilated near Bangui’s international airport as onlookers cheered and filmed the scene.

The violence is escalating. Already many Muslim communities of Bangui and the north-western part of the CAR have been wiped off the map, their residents massacred and survivors forced to flee. For the Rwandan military deployed on the ground here as part of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force, it brings back dark memories. ‘We remember what happened to us in 1994 when we see such killings,’ one Rwandan commander told me. ‘We are determined not to let that happen ever again.’

In January hundreds of anti-balaka captured a small town named Boyali from the Séléka and began to slaughter its Muslim residents. A few days later a woman named Fatimatu Yamsa was fleeing in a truck that was stopped at a checkpoint by Christian militia members. Knowing she was about to die, she handed her seven-month-old baby to a Christian woman next to her. The baby was saved, but Fatimatu was killed, along with three other Muslim women and their three children, hacked to death with machetes on the steps of a mosque. When I visited the mosque dried pools of blood marked where they had died. Red Cross volunteers were burying bodies and filling in wells where corpses had been dumped, leaving the water undrinkable.

This massacre was the latest horrific chapter in a sequence of tit-for-tat violence in Boyali. In a camp for displaced Muslim residents on the outskirts of Bangui I found Dairu Soba, 25, a survivor of the Boyali massacre, with a festering gunshot wound to his knee. He told me that 200 anti-balaka fighters had attacked Boyali on the morning of January 8 and had shot him. His older brother, Dibrila, had saved him by dragging him into a house. As the wounded Dairu watched, Dibrila, along with his father and uncle, were hacked to death outside. Thirty-four Muslims were killed that day, including the village chief. The same day Séléka fighters returned to Boyali to retaliate and wreak havoc on the Christian population. Some victims were executed on the spot, others shot while fleeing. The Séléka captured the Protestant pastor of the village, Pasteur Gabriel Yambassa, and cut his throat. They burnt 961 homes in Boyali that day.

At one burnt house surviving residents said that Séléka fighters had found Claudine Serefei, 28, a pregnant, physically disabled woman unable to flee. They had tied her hands and feet and thrown her into a fire. Now she lay before us, her hands burnt to stumps, and she was shivering from pain.

The massacres in Boyali are indicative of the Séléka’s waning power. Muslims make up about 15 per cent of the CAR’s population, and tens of thousands have been forced into exile. The tide began to turn against them in September, as anti-balaka began attacking poorly protected Séléka positions in smaller trading towns in the north-east of the country, killing Muslim residents. The French intervened militarily in early December, as the violence increased, with up to 1,000 killed in Bangui in a few days. One month later the Séléka’s self-appointed president, Michel Djotodia, was forced into exile by regional and international powers, and once-strutting Séléka generals now fear for their lives; they want to escape unscathed, while also avoiding justice for their crimes. One Séléka official told me, ‘Now it is every officer for himself. We are all trying to find our own way out of here.’

The arrival of French military forces, known as the Sangaris, was initially met with optimism. The French peacekeepers often seem stunned by the violence around them, and don’t appear to be doing much to stop it. Their original mission was to disarm the Séléka fighters, and they now face the much more difficult task of dealing with the Christian anti-balaka militias that are everywhere. On several occasions French officers have told me, ‘We cannot be seen to choose sides.’ However, there is a strong feeling that they could intervene to prevent some of the barbarity.

Since December defenceless Muslim communities left to face the wrath of the anti-balaka and the Christian civilians have been mercilessly slaughtered. In Bangui entire Muslim neighbourhoods face destruction. On January 28 residents fled the Muslim neighbourhood of PK13 (Point Kilometre 13). Hundreds of anti-balaka fighters arrived soon after, chasing away remaining inhabitants. Homes were systematically looted and dismantled. The main mosque was destroyed by a crowd of machete-wielding fighters shouting, ‘We do not want any more Muslims in our country. We will finish them all off. This country belongs to the Christians.’

In another Muslim neighbourhood, PK12, those who have survived massacres are preparing for the long and hazardous journey to refuge; their destination is Chad. Tensions are at a boiling point. After a Muslim man was recently lynched, anti-balaka fighters opened fire on his funeral with automatic weapons. Enraged Muslims began protesting against the French troops. One was shot by the troops, and another wounded, and the anger then turned on us, with a menacing crowd shouting that it was time for us to leave. As we made our way out, a Christian worker chased by a Muslim lynch mob ran for his life past us.

I requested a meeting with Colonel Dieudonné Oranti, one of the founders of the anti-balaka movement. He claimed that his men don’t kill civilians, then launched into a tirade against Muslims, saying that they had betrayed their country and sold it to terrorists, and so no longer belonged within its borders.

The anti-Muslim violence unleashed by the anti-balaka – and the Séléka’s response – has proved difficult to contain. Simply put, the underequipped AU troops and the 1,600 French troops are insufficient. Only a UN peacekeeping mission with some 6,000 to 10,000 soldiers would have a chance of stabilising the country. Such a mission would also bring police to patrol the streets, human rights monitors to report from the ground, and a political component that could help to re-establish order.

Pastor Koudougeret, a Baptist priest in Bangui, is looking after the orphaned baby of the woman killed at the roadblock in Boyali. For 10 years his church has supported the education of some 2,000 Muslim children, and he vigorously shook his head when I asked him if there was a religious war unfolding in the country. ‘The ultimate cause of our instability is not religious but political, because whoever comes to power makes his entourage commit abuses to stay in power,’ he said. ‘They treat the country as their private money-making business. We need a real democracy with politicians who have a vision to look after the needs of everyone.’

Amid the horror, there are small signs of hope. In the Séléka’s wake some Christian villages that were abandoned last month are slowly returning to life. Destroyed homes are being rebuilt. Unexpected bonds are also being formed, with examples of courage amid the carnage. In the town of Boali Father Xavier-Arnauld Fagba personally brought more than 700 Muslims who were under attack in his town to safety at his Catholic church in mid-January. He held Sunday Mass surrounded by the belongings of Muslims, including Korans that he had brought inside for safekeeping. He led his followers outside to exchange handshakes of peace with their Muslim neighbours. ‘We cannot be silent and cower in the face of injustice but must have courage,’ he preached. ‘To be a Christian is not just about being baptised, and true Christians live a life of love and reconciliation, not bloodshed.’

The world must act, and send more support to the CAR. And we must also hope that Father Xavier-Arnauld’s message is heard.

Peter Bouckaert is the emergencies director of Human Rights Watch (hrw.org)

privacy terms conditions - copyright © 2014 - VII photo agency, llc. all rights reserved the VII logo is a registered trademark, registered in the u.s. patent and trademark offices design by De.MO.org