Rights movements oppose amnesty for armed groups in C Africa
Leading human rights movements have united to oppose any amnesty for atrocities by fighters in armed groups in Central African Republic as a trade-off for peace, they stated on Thursday.
"It is unthinkable that individuals implicated in the most serious crimes should be able to secure themselves amnesty at the negotiating table, and this idea should be forcefully rejected outright by the government," said Mathias Morouba, chairman of the Central African Human Rights Observatory (OCDH).
The joint statement - co-signed by the Central African Human Rights League (LCDH), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) - comes ahead of further efforts by the African Union to end violence in a country battered by years of brutality.
The latest conflict erupted in 2013 when a mainly Muslim rebel alliance ousted the regime of President Francois Bozize, a former general who seized power in a coup in 2003.
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Civilians became the main victims of rival armed gangs when militias emerged in communities of the Christian majority to avenge atrocities blamed on Muslim fighters. Both sides are accused of savage violence and destruction.
"The armed groups at the negotiating table are suspected of having committed numerous grave abuses against civilians, such as murder, rape, sexual slavery, torture, looting, persecution, and destruction of religious buildings," the joint statement said.
Last May, the UN refugee agency put the number of people who had fled the country and the internally displaced at a total of some 1.2 million, about a quarter of the population.
Before political dialogue resumes between armed groups and the African Union on Monday, belligerent forces presented a panel of AU experts a list of almost 100 demands. Apart from a general amnesty for their members, most of the groups sought a role in the government.
Envoys from the groups are due to meet the panel in the western town of Bouar to coordinate claims before presenting them to the government, but in a working paper, the AU and Central African authorities have noted "that impunity has never constituted a durable solution to the current crises."
"In 2015, the Bangui Forum (made up of) more than 800 representatives of civil society, community organisations, political parties, and armed groups from all over the territory, prioritised justice as one of its main recommendations, specifying that 'no amnesty' would be tolerated for those responsible for and acting as accomplices in international crimes," the rights movements said.
The Central African Republic has never known lasting stability since independence from France in 1960. Its history is chequered with coups and coup bids, army mutinies and rebellions, as well as strikes.
Despite rich reserves of diamonds, gold and uranium, most of the population lives in deep poverty. While armed groups battle over land and resources, the government has control of only a small part of national territory.
Seven peace deals have been signed for the Central African Republic since 2012, but no mediation bid has yet resolved the interwoven crises.