BANGUI — Ex-rebel fighters loyal to the new leader of Central African Republic (CAR) went on a rampage after toppling the former president, executing opponents, raping women and looting homes — acts that could constitute war crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
Thousands of fighters from the Seleka rebel coalition led by Michel Djotodia marched into the capital Bangui on March 24, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee to neighbouring Cameroon.
Djotodia, a former civil servant turned rebel leader, was later named interim president by the parliament and charged with leading the mineral-rich but chronically unstable nation to elections within 18 months.
While organisations including the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have voiced concern at Djotodia’s failure to end abuses, the HRW investigation is the first to document the full extent of the violence.
“If the Seleka coalition, as it claims, wants to undo the wrongs of the previous government, it should immediately end its horrific abuses,” the rights campaigner’s Africa director Daniel Bekele said in a statement released on Friday.
Central African Republic’s communications minister said anyone responsible for abuses would be prosecuted, but added that many crimes being blamed on Seleka fighters had been committed by others.
“Many people have been arrested and are waiting to be charged,” Christophe Gazam-Betty said. “But many are ex-members of the former presidential guard dressed as Seleka.”
HRW researchers found evidence of scores of killings by Seleka fighters after the fall of Bangui, and received reports of other civilian deaths at the hands of the rebels elsewhere in the country both before and after they seized power.