NEW YORK, United States of America, June 7,
Soldiers from the Republic of Congo killed at least 18 people, including women and children, between December 2013 and June 2015 while serving as peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, Human Rights Watch said today. Two years after Human Rights Watch first reported on enforced disappearances by peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo, their government has taken no action toward credible investigations or justice for these crimes.
A grave found near a peacekeeping base in Boali, and exhumed on February 16, 2016, uncovered the remains of 12 people identified as having been detained by the peacekeepers in March 2014. The exhumation of the bodies refutes the peacekeepers’ previous claim that the victims had escaped. Human Rights Watch also documented the death by torture of two anti-balaka leaders in Bossangoa in December 2013, the public execution of two suspected anti-balaka in Mambéré in February 2014, and the beating to death of two civilians in Mambéré in June 2015 by Congolese peacekeepers.
“The discovery of 12 bodies is damning evidence of an appalling crime by Congolese peacekeepers, who had been sent to protect people, not prey on them,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Republic of Congo authorities shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the mounting evidence that their soldiers committed murder in Boali and elsewhere.”
These crimes took place while the peacekeepers served in the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, known as MISCA, and in the United Nations peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSCA.
Following the exhumation of the grave, Human Rights Watch wrote to President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and to the AU urging credible investigations to bring those responsible to justice.
A local non-governmental organization exhumed the mass grave on the grounds of ENERCA, a hydro-electric company, whose compound in Boali has been used as a peacekeeping base since 2013. The bodies were badly decomposed, but their clothing and other distinctive items identified the victims as members of a group of at least 12 people the Congolese peacekeepers arrested on March 24, 2014. Those arrested had subsequently disappeared.
Human Rights Watch investigated the disappearances in Boali in May 2014, July 2014, March 2015, and April 2016. Following the March 2015 visit to Boali, Human Rights Watch informed both UN and government authorities of the presumed location of the grave, which was about 500 meters from a MINUSCA peacekeeping base, as can be seen in satellite imagery. Yet AU peacekeepers, UN peacekeepers, and national authorities made no effort to protect the site, or to conduct a forensic exhumation to preserve evidence for future judicial proceedings.
The victims were arrested following a violent incident between Congolese peacekeepers and a local anti-balaka leader, the self-styled “General” Maurice Konoumo, in which one peacekeeper died. Angered by the death of their colleague, the Congolese peacekeepers surrounded the anti-balaka leader’s house, arrested him and at least 12 others, including five women, one of whom was six months pregnant, and two children, one about 10 years old and the other 7 months old.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the detainees were taken to the peacekeeping base at about 7 p.m. and confined in villa number 6, used by a commander identified by witnesses as Captain Abena.
The peacekeepers ordered civilians who lived at or near the base to go inside their homes. One witness said: “They came and yelled at us, ‘Go into your homes and lock the doors! Do not come out!’ They were very angry. It was the first and only time they had made us lock ourselves into our homes like that, it was not normal.”
Later that night, witnesses heard screams and a volley of gunshots from an area near the villa on the other side of the road, followed about an hour later by another round of gunfire from the same location. One witness said he overheard a heated debate among the Congolese peacekeepers between the two rounds of shooting about whether to kill the women and children, followed by the second round of gunfire.
The following day, witnesses saw traces of blood at various locations at the base, including at the water pump where Congolese peacekeepers cleaned their vehicles. Peacekeepers declared an area known as Usine Boali 3, about 500 meters from the villa, off-limits, ordering residents not to cultivate there or cut the grass, under the pretense that the area had been mined. Residents said they believed this was where the peacekeepers had buried the victims.
On June 2, 2014, Human Rights Watch published information about the enforced disappearance of at least 11 victims in Boali and the torturing death of two people by Congolese peacekeepers in Bossangoa in December 2013, calling for action by AU authorities under whose auspices the peacekeeping mission was deployed. The following month, the MISCA force commander temporarily suspended the commanding officers from Boali and Bossangoa, Captain Abena and Captain Mokongo, and men under their command were redeployed to other parts of the country.
Under the status of mission agreement between the Central African government and the AU, troop-contributing countries are responsible for holding to account members of their forces for any crimes committed in the Central African Republic.
On July 4, 2014, Human Rights Watch wrote to the foreign minister of the Republic of Congo informing him of the findings and to El Ghassim Wane, then the AU Peace and Security Department director, urging investigations and accountability for the crimes. There was no response.
In September 2014, when the United Nations took over peacekeeping responsibility from the AU, UN officials insisted that all existing Congolese peacekeepers be rotated out of the Central African Republic and replaced with new soldiers to ensure that none of those responsible for the abuses became part of the UN mission.
In March 2015, UN human rights investigators investigated the crimes committed by peacekeepers in Boali and in Bossangoa. On June 5, 2015, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement confirming the Human Rights Watch findings and said that “MISCA’s Congolese contingent has committed acts of enforced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killings.” The UN sent a number of diplomatic communications to the Congolese government in Brazzaville urging judicial investigations into the serious allegations. Little or no action was taken either by the AU or the Congolese government.
MINUSCA’s mandate includes providing support to the national police and judicial institutions. While prosecutorial jurisdiction for crimes committed by the peacekeepers lies with the Republic of Congo, in the absence of any action by Congolese judicial authorities, national authorities in the Central African Republic with support from the United Nations should begin their own investigations to seek accountability for the crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
On February 4, 2016, Human Rights Watch also published a report on sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls by Republic of Congo peacekeepers, among others, in Bambari from mid-September to mid-December 2015.
The AU, the UN, and judicial authorities in both Congo and the Central African Republic should work together to ensure there is full accountability for these crimes and to prevent such crimes from happening again, Human Rights Watch said.
“Simply rotating troops out of the Central African Republic with no further consequences sends the message that peacekeepers can get away with murder,” Mudge said. “No peacekeeper should be above the law.”
SOURCE: Human Rights Watch (HRW)