New evidence of the slaughter of women, children and the elderly gathered by Amnesty International underscores the extreme dangers faced by the Muslim minority in the Central African Republic, said the organisation today.
More than 50 Muslims were killed in two attacks last week investigated by Amnesty in villages north-west of the capital, Bangui. The victims include at least six children, five women, and three old men. Two girls - aged 18 months and seven - were the youngest victims; the oldest was 70.
Both attacks were carried out by Christian “anti-balaka” militias, which now effectively wield power in many of the towns and villages north-west of the capital. The two towns - Boyali and Bossembele - are, like several others in the region, now entirely empty of their Muslim populations, which have fled in fear of their lives. Amnesty delegates found that houses in Muslim neighbourhoods in both towns had been looted and burned. Some anti-balaka members in the area were wearing looted Muslim caps and clothing.
Over the past week, Amnesty has spoken to numerous survivors of the attacks, as well as to eyewitnesses, officials from the national Red Cross, local police, and members of the anti-balaka militia that carried out the first attack. Amnesty delegates interviewed more than 30 people with first-hand information about the incidents, and visited the sites of the killings.
With the African Union heads of states set to meet to consider the crisis in Central African Republic next week, Amnesty is calling on decision-makers to ensure that peacekeeping forces are responding far more effectively than at present.
Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International who is currently in Bangui, said:
“International peacekeeping forces are failing the Muslim community.
“Scores of people were left unprotected from vicious anti-balaka reprisals at a time when such attacks were entirely predictable.
“The Christian community has suffered enormously over the past year. The desire for revenge is palpable in CAR. Given how predictable such killings are, more robust peacekeeping steps should be taken to prevent them.”
The slaughter in Boyali and Bossembeli is part of a larger pattern. While visiting the region over the past week, Amnesty delegates witnessed massive and uncontrolled looting, the destruction of mosques, and the burning of civilian property. They were stopped at numerous checkpoints manned by unruly anti-balaka who demanded money. They also saw hundreds of anti-balaka militia members openly carrying machetes, hunting rifles, homemade firearms, and, in some cases, assault rifles.
Many Christians in Boyali and Bossembeli are extremely angry at the Muslim minority, believing that Muslims have been complicit in ex-Seleka abuses. In the weeks and months preceding these horrific attacks, tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities had dramatically increased.
The killing of some 1,000 Christians by ex-Seleka forces in Bangui in early December was the single worst killing spree carried out by the ex-Seleka, but smaller scale atrocities were committed with frightening regularity. Christian residents in many places, including in the region in question, took to hiding in the bush for weeks at a time out of fear for their lives. In Boyali, for example, ex-Seleka forces and Muslim civilians destroyed hundreds of homes belonging to Christian residents on 7 and 8 January. Amnesty delegates counted more than 200 structures that had been burned down in a single area, and heard many stories of ex-Seleka abuses. There were no peacekeeping forces in the communities.
Attacks of 14 January
The first attack took place on 14 January in the town of Boyali, about 80 miles north-west of Bangui. An anti-balaka militia that had mounted checkpoints in the town stopped a truck carrying a large group of people heading to neighbouring Cameroon. The Muslim passengers - eight to ten people in all - were forced to get off the truck, which was then allowed to leave. Using machetes and knives, the anti-balaka group hacked their captives to death in the street directly in front of a local mosque. The victims included three women and three small children, aged one-and-a-half, three, and five. Large bloodstains are still visible on the road in the vicinity.
The only survivors of the slaughter were a 12-year-old boy who managed to slip away during the killings, hiding overnight with sympathetic Christian villagers, and a seven-month-old girl who was left on the truck with a Christian woman. As the mother of the baby left the vehicle, she whispered her family name and the name of a town to the Christian woman, who pretended that the baby was hers and saved her life. The next day, the woman delivered the baby to family members who lived in the town.
Attack of 16 January
The second attack occurred on the afternoon of 16 January and continued until the following morning in the town of Bossembele, 18 miles north of Boyali. Muslim residents told Amnesty that because the Muslim community knew it was vulnerable to an anti-balaka attack and the entire Muslim population had tried to flee. However, there were too few vehicles to transport everyone. According to witnesses, some of the Muslims left behind engaged in a gun battle with anti-balaka forces that lasted many hours. Finally, anti-balaka militia stormed the central mosque, where numerous local civilians had taken refuge, and numerous civilians were killed. Approximately 25 bodies were found inside the mosque, and another 18 were found strewn around the building and in and nearby streets.
Not a single anti-balaka militant was killed in the incident, but among the 43 Muslims who were killed were women, old men, and a seven-month-year old baby. At least 12 others were injured. It is not known how many of the dead and injured were killed in the gun battle and how many were executed, but multiple sources described a deliberate, close-range killing spree. According to the national Red Cross, most of the victims were killed with machetes and knives.
Notes to editors
High-resolution images from Amnesty’s recent research trip the Central African Republic are available to download from: http://tinyurl.com/nwnx6ny