Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report which catalogued the use of rape against women in the Central African Republic (CAR). Nearly 300 survivors of rape in the war-torn country said both the Seleka Muslim Militia and the Anti Balaka Christians and animists “used sexual violence as a form of retribution.”
The report narrated how the militias “attacked women and girls as they carried out essential tasks such as going to markets, cultivating or harvesting crops, and going to and from school or work.”
It showed that “the predominantly Muslim Seleka fighters targeting women and girls from Christian communities,” and in reprisals, “the anti-Balaka targeting Muslim women and girls.”
The report indicted the leaders of the militia group who “tolerated sexual violence by their forces; in some cases, they appear to have ordered and committed it.”
The Central African Republic, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, called the rape capital of the world, is notorious for using rape as a weapon of war. Survivors said they were “held captive for up to 18 months, repeatedly raped – some taken as fighters’ “wives” – and forced to cook, clean, and collect food or water.”
Muslim Seleka fighters targeted women because of their religion. Denise, 20, said, “Seleka fighters seized her in December 2014 while she was going to buy vegetables in Bangui’s Boeing neighborhood. The Seleka said, “You are a woman of a balaka, (meaning Matchete who is also a Muslim but now looks like a Christian)” and insulted her for being Muslim.”
HRW said the Seleka Muslim militia, from Peuhl ethnic tribe, attacked Liwa, a predominantly Christian village 10 kilometers south of Bambari. Witnesses said the “fighters shot and hacked people to death as they tried to escape. The entire village of 169 homes was destroyed.”
As a result of the killings in Liwa, a chain of reprisals in neighbouring communities started. The report says. The Seleka yet again attacked “Christian neighborhoods in Bambari in late June that left at least 32 dead. On July 7, Seleka fighters attacked Bambari’s Saint Joseph’s Parish, where thousands of displaced had taken shelter, killing at least 27 people,” HRW said.
Ali Darassa, leader of the Seleka Militia, in a meeting with HRW in September 2014, denied all allegations and participation in any fighting around Bambari in June and July 2014. “Our fighters are known by everyone. We have never received any complaints (of rape), so one can say that the fighters respect the law.”
However, multiple witnesses to the attack on St. Joseph’s church said his men were among the attackers.
The Christian and animists Anti-Balaka (referring to the local tribal groups fighting Seleka rebels under the anti-balaka groups and who may not necessarily be Christians) described women and girls in captivity as “wives.” The report said Caroline was 17 when 15 anti-balaka militia abducted her in late 2013, to Boboua village, near Boda on the road to Mbaïki, where they had a base. “They said we killed their relatives so they’ll take us for marriage and we’ll become their own wives,” Caroline recalled her ordeal with about 14 other girls who were continuously raped.
Aisha, 37, from Bangui, said, “We are innocents – we have nothing to do with the conflict. It’s the government’s responsibility to deal with its problems, but we are abandoned by our government. No one is giving us help.”
The HRW report recommended to both the Selela and anti-balaka militia to cease “all attacks on civilians and issue clear, public orders to your respective forces to stop all sexual violence—including harassment and intimidation—in areas under your control.” HRW called on the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) to “Prioritize prevention, monitoring, and timely investigation and reporting of sexual violence in the conflict.”
Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga, Catholic Archbishop of Bangui said, “Church denounces these crimes and the violence in the name of the victims. We call on all parties involved to put down their arms and return to dialogue. As you know, the church has no weapons. Our weapon is the word, which we direct to people’s minds and the hearts to convince them.”
Hassan John is West Africa editor, GCN and priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos.