Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday accused Christian militias of perpetrating a number of recent “atrocities” against Muslim communities in the northern Central African Republic (CAR).
“They began to cut my husband with their machetes on his side and his back,” one Muslim woman told HRW, describing a dawn attack by anti-balaka militants on their home. “Then they cut his throat.”
“After they killed him, they set our house on fire,” she added. “They threw his body on the fire, together with that of my son.”
“They ordered my 13-year-old son to come outside and lie down,” the Muslim woman recounted. “Then they cut him two times with a machete and killed him.”
HRW’s 34-page report, based on weeks of field research in CAR’s northern Ouham province, cites a surge in violence since September by Christian anti-balaka militias.
“The anti-balaka have killed several hundred Muslims, burned their homes and stolen their cattle,” concluded the report, entitled: “‘They Came To Kill’: Escalating Atrocities in the Central African Republic.”
The rights watchdog reported that a Muslim cattle herder had been forced to watch as anti-balaka fighters cut the throats of her three-year-old son, two boys aged 10 and 14, and an adult relative.
Another man told HRW how he had escaped from anti-balaka attackers only to watch in horror from a hiding place as they proceeded to cut the throats of his two wives, ten children and one grandchild.
HRW accused the Christian militias of carrying out “coordinated attacks against Muslim communities” in Bossangoa, the capital of Ouham.
It noted that on December 5 anti-balaka forces had “shot or slit the throats of at least 11 Muslim civilians” in Boro, a district of Bossangoa.
In recent days, Anadolu Agency has published testimonies of several victims of attacks by anti-balaka militiamen.
CAR, a landlocked, mineral-rich country, descended into anarchy in March, when Seleka rebels – said to be largely Muslims- ousted Christian president François Bozize, who had come to power in a 2003 coup.
HRW described the anti-balaka militias as “local vigilantes and soldiers loyal to the previous government.”
It refuted claims that the militias were local “self-defense” forces, asserting that “their actions and rhetoric are often violently anti-Muslim.”
According to HRW, attacks by Christian militias against Muslim communities “were largely in response to rampant abuses by Muslim armed groups.”
After the anti-balaka attacks, the report noted, ex-Seleka forces had taken revenge on a number of Christian residents of Bossangoa, killing many and torching their homes.
“The ex-Seleka revenge killings appear to have had the backing of senior commanders in Bossangoa,” HRW asserted.
It accused Bossangoa deputy commander, Colonel Saleh Zabadi, of ordering the drowning of seven farmers on November 18 on suspicions that they belonged to an anti-balaka militia.
“The farmers were bound and thrown into the Ouham River; just three survived,” said the report.
The report went on to say that 40,000 Christians had been displaced in Bossangoa and were currently seeking refuge in Catholic churches, while 4,000 Muslims remained on the other side of the town.
“The brutal killings in CAR are creating a cycle of murder and reprisal that threatens to spin out of control,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW emergencies director and the report’s author.
“The potential for further mass violence is shockingly high,” he warned.
According to UN estimates, more than 400,000 people – nearly ten percent of the country’s 4.6 million-strong population – have abandoned their homes as a result of the violence.
Citing continued abuses in the north and in Bangui, the HRW called for additional African Union troops and stepped-up support for French peacekeeping efforts.
“Urgent support for peacekeeping in CAR is crucial to bring stability to a tense situation, protect the population from abuses, and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those at grave risk,” Bouckaert asserted.
HRW has called on the UN Security Council to immediately authorize a peacekeeping mission to CAR under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
“The UN Security Council needs to act quickly to bring this evolving catastrophe to a halt,” said Bouckaert.
France, under a UN mandate, currently has 1,600 troops deployed in its former colony.
The African Union, meanwhile, has 2,500 troops stationed in the country.