The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement Wednesday condemning abuses attributable to Russian security contractors in the Central African Republic (CAR) and expressing concern over the proximity of human rights abuses to UN peacekeepers.
The UN experts, including members of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries and various Special Rapporteurs, expressed concern over the actions of security contractors that are working in tandem with CAR forces. According to the experts, there have been reports of “grave human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, attributable to the private military personnel operating jointly with CAR’s armed forces (FACA) and in some instances UN peacekeepers.” Russian security contractors have supported CAR forces since 2018 and include contractors from the Wagner Group, which was known to have supported Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine.
The OHCHR expressed concern in particular over the increase in “mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions, torture during interrogations, forced disappearances, forced displacement of the civilian population, indiscriminate targeting of civilian facilities, violations of the right to health, and increasing attacks on humanitarian actors.” Human rights abuses, like the ones listed in the OHCHR statement, have increased after the CAR government’s military response to the rebel advance in December and a rising presence of Russian security contractors supporting CAR military forces.
The experts noted that they were disturbed at the interactions between the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA and Russian contractors because of the confusion that this interoperability creates, saying, “This blurring of the lines between civil, military and peacekeeping operations during the hostilities creates confusion about the legitimate targets and increases the risks for widespread human rights and humanitarian law abuses.” Active in the CAR since 2014, MINUSCA aims to protect civilians and peacefully support transition processes. Their stated missions include “support for the transition process; facilitating humanitarian assistance; promotion and protection of human rights; support for justice and the rule of law; and disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes.”
Calling for an end to the human rights abuses, the UN experts requested that the CAR, Russia, and the companies supplying contractors to support the CAR comply with international humanitarian law and to hold accountable all those who have violated the law. The experts also called for greater clarity in order to achieve sustainable peace, saying, “[u]nacceptably, there seem to be no investigations and no accountability for these abuses . . . The close connections between the various actors, along with the lack of transparency, further jeopardises chances of any impartial investigation and ensuring accountability for those abuses and violations.”