Non-international armed conflicts in the Central African Republic
Central African Republic (CAR) is involved in a number of non-international armed conflicts against a wide array of non-state actors, in particular ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka groups. The government is supported by United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Mission (MINUSCA), Rwanda, Wagner group, and previously by France in its efforts to bring peace and stability throughout the country. There are also parallel non-international armed conflicts between different armed groups.
There are multiple and overlapping non-international armed conflicts taking place in Central African Republic.
- The Government of Central African Republic, which took over from the transitional government set up pursuant to the coup d’état by the leader of the Séléka armed group in 2013. It is involved in non-international armed conflicts against a wide array of rebel groups, including the anti-Balaka armed group and the ex-Séléka armed groups, namely groups that splintered from the Séléka armed group coalition. There are also parallel non-international armed conflicts due to the infighting between various armed groups.
- The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA), rehatted from African-led International Support Mission in September 2014, supports the government in stabilizing the country, expanding governmental control outside the capital, and securing main humanitarian and trade routes. Recently, the degree of violence between MINUSCA and a number of armed groups reached the threshold required for a non-international armed conflict.
- France, which deployed the Operation Sangaris in the aftermath of the 2013 coup, undertook military operations against the armed groups. Since end of 2016, it has ended its military mission and scaled down its support to only provision of trainings and technical assistance though EU Military Training Mission in Central African Republic.
- Rwanda and Wagner group have also intervened in favour of the government.
Central African Republic has yet to spend a peaceful decade since its independence in 1960, as a result of repetitive coup d’états and armed strife among various armed groups. The most recent wave of conflicts was initiated by a coalition of armed factions, known as Séléka, in December 2012. In spite of the adoption of the Libreville Agreements on 11 January 2013, the armed violence continued, leading to a coup by the Séléka in March 2013. By May 2013, the armed group reached political and military control over the entire country. See ‘Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic’, S/2013/261, 3 May 2013. Nevertheless, this circumstance did not led to the end of armed violence. Specifically, Central African Republic has been affected by non-international armed conflicts among various armed groups and against the government and its supporter MINUSCA. France was also involved in the armed conflict in support of the government until end of 2016, when it wound down Operation Sangaris. See ‘Central African Republic profile – Timeline’, BBC, 1 August 2018; D. Smith, ‘Christian militias take bloody revenge on Muslims in Central African Republic’, The Guardian, 10 March 2014.
Two criteria need to be assessed in order to answer the question whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a non-international armed conflict.
- First, the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions.
- Second, in every non-international armed conflict, at least one side to the conflict must be a non-state armed group which must exhibit a certain level of organization in order to qualify as a party to the non-international armed conflict. Government forces are presumed to satisfy the criteria of organization. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict’ in our classification section.
Intensity of violence
Various indicative factors are used to assess whether a given situation has met the required intensity threshold, such as the number, duration, and intensity of individual confrontations; the types of weapons and military equipment used; the number of persons and types of forces participating in the fighting; the number of casualties; the extent of material destruction; the number of civilians fleeing; and the involvement of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict – intensity of violence’ in our classification section.
The non-international armed conflict in Central African Republic commenced in December 2012, as the Séléka armed group started fighting against the government. See ‘ICRC Annual Report 2012’, p. 111. The armed violence led to the overthrown of the latter in less than four months. Following the coup, the leader of the Séléka armed group, Michel Djotodia, assumed power and was sworn in as a legitimate president of the transitional government on 18 August 2013. Soon thereafter, in September 2013, President Djotodia disbanded the Séléka armed group. However, former members of the group continued to engage in acts of violence. As a reaction to the continuous attacks against the Christian community by the ex-Séléka group, the anti-Balaka group emerged as a self-defence militia, with the aim of defending the non-Muslim communities. As the escalation of violence continued, the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) and French Operation Sangaris were deployed to stabilize the situation. As these forces took control of the capital, Bangui, the armed conflict between the ex-Séléka and the anti-Balaka armed groups moved to other parts of the country, causing countless civilians deaths and more than a million displaced. Following the appointment of President Catherine Samba-Panza to head the transitional government in September 2014, the conflict relatively deescalated. See ‘Central African Republic profile – Timeline’, BBC, 1 August 2018; D. Smith, ‘Christian militias take bloody revenge on Muslims in Central African Republic’, The Guardian, 10 March 2014; ‘Central African Republic crisis: War crimes committed – UN’, BBC, 6 June 2014.
Since September 2016, confrontations and attacks by armed groups have become once again more intensified, with the government, supported by MINUSCA, struggling to re-strengthen the Central African Republic Army/Forces Armées Centrafricaines (FACA) and extend its control beyond the capital. The disintegrated ex-Séléka armed groups, anti-Balaka armed groups and other newly established groups continue armed violence in provincial parts of the country as they fight to maintain or expand their territorial control. The independent expert on Human Rights reported that in some cases ethnic and religious communities are also attacked because of their perceived affiliation with certain armed groups. See ‘Amnesty International’s country report 2017/2018’; Human Rights Council, ‘Report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic’, A/HRC/36/64, 28 July 2017.
The International Crisis Group has reported that since late 2016 two ex-Séléka factions, the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) and Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic (FPRC), have been fighting to extend their territorial control over parts of Haute-Kotto, Ouaka, and Mbomou resulting in displacement of more than 53,000 people. This was due to failure of agreements signed between the two groups to delineate and share out territories, such as the Mbrès accord and the November 2016 deal to end the crisis in Haute-Kotto. The report also indicates that, when this fighting got close to Bambari, the second biggest city in Central African Republic, MINUSCA successfully negotiated the departure of UPC from the city. See Human Rights Council, ‘Report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic’, A/HRC/36/64, 28 July 2017; International Crisis Group, ‘Avoiding the worst in Central African Republic’, Report no. 253/Africa, 28 September 2017; B. Sixdenier, ‘The who’s who in Central African Republic’, Medium, 15 June 2017; Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Violence in the Central African Republic’. The United Nations (UN) Secretary General reported to the UN Security Council that the Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (3R) group repeatedly clashed with anti-Balaka armed group in Bocaranga, Koui, and Ndim in Ouham-Pendé prefecture. Accordingly, MINUSCA strengthened its presence in these area during late September 2016. The Mouvement Patriotique Centrafricain (MPC), aligned with the Révolution et justice group, clashed with groups affiliated to anti-Balaka between 11 and 13 November of the same year, in the areas of Bozoum, Gouzé and Paoua, forcing inhabitants of 25 villages to flee. See ‘Report of the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic’, S/2018/125, 15 February 2018.
In 2017, FPRC created a coalition with the Rassemblement Patriotique pour le Renouveau de la Centrafrique (RPRC) and the anti-Balaka wing led by Maxime Mokom (associated with François Bozizé) and continued fighting with UPC in prefectures of Basse-Kotto, Mbomou, and Haut-Mbomou killing more than 23 civilians. The coalition also attacked UPC’s stronghold in Bangassou, Alindao and Bria. These attacks left more than 100 dead and 15,000 displaced. On 15 April 2017, UPC reportedly attacked the locality of Zémio, in Haut-Mbomou prefecture, as well as the MINUSCA base in the vicinity. For further information, see Human Rights Council, ‘Report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic’, A/HRC/36/64, 28 July 2017; International Crisis Group, ‘Avoiding the worst in Central African Republic’, Report no. 253/Africa, 28 September 2017; MINUSCA, ‘Report on the Human Rights Situationin the Central African Republic (CAR) from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017’; ‘“Around 100 killed” in CAR's Bria despite truce deal’, Al Jazeera, 21 June 2017.
Amnesty international reported that, in June 2017, FPRC elements attacked anti-Balaka positions in Nzako, leaving at least 18 civilians dead, and in Bria, where over 80 civilians were killed. In response, shortly thereafter anti-Balaka armed group attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in Zemio town, and killed more than 22 civilians. In July 2017, clashes between other splinter groups from ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka armed group occurred in Kaga-Bandoro, Nana-Gribizi province, Batangafo, and Gambo towns, resulting in more than 50 civilian fatalities and displacement of 24,000 people. See ‘Amnesty International’s country report 2017/2018’.
The Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (3R) armed group occupies Ouham Pende region near Cameroon border areas. In May 2017, 3R attacked Niem-Yelewa and occupied it for 12 days, until MINUSCA forces pushed the armed group out. This armed groups, which claims to protect Peuhl community, has displaced around 30, 000 from Ouhan Pende since 2016. See Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, ‘Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation’; ‘Dozens of civilians killed in CAR violence - HRW’, Al Jazeera, 2 May 2017.
Although in the first few months of 2018 the conflict seemed to deescalate, a number of armed confrontations occurred in April and May. Notably, MINUSCA forces have been suffering from recurrent attacks from members of anti-Balaka groups, as well as splinters from the ex-Séléka members in different parts of the country. In April and May 2017, MINUSCA was attacked by anti-Balaka forces in Bangassou and Yogofongo, where more than 10 peacekeepers were killed. See S. Lamzouwaq, ‘Who are Anti-Balaka, Militia killing Moroccan Peacekeepers in Central African Republic?’, Morocco World News, 28 July 2017.
In March 2018, anti-Balaka forces attacked MINUSCA checkpoint at the entrance of Bria’s largest IDP camp, home to almost 35,000 people, and killed one MINUSCA police officer, while three peacekeepers – two Mauritanians and one Zambian – were injured. See ‘Targeted attack results in the death of MINUSCA peacekeeper in Bria’, MINUSCA Press Release, 4 December 2017. On 3 April 2018, an unknown number of anti-Balaka forces, who were heavily armed with AK-47s and artisanal weapons, attacked the MINUSCA temporary base in Tagbara village, located 60 km northeast of Bambari, in Ouaka prefecture. MINUSCA military and police members and anti-Balaka forces engaged in intense exchanges of fire for about two hours, during which one blue helmet was killed, 11 other peacekeepers were wounded and more than 22 anti-Balaka members were killed. See ‘MINUSCA condemns loss of life in overnight attack in Tagbara’, MINUSCA Press Release, 3 April 2018. Clashes between armed groups, state forces, and UN peacekeepers continued during summer 2018. For instance, on 6-7 June armed confrontations took place between UCP and respectively anti-Balaka militia and MINUSCA peacekeepers. On 11 July, ex- Séléka and anti-balaka fighters clashed close to the internally displaced people (IDP) camp in Bria; fighting ceased only with MINUSCA’s intervention. The following month, anti-balaka forces temporarily took control of Lioto village in Ouaka province; however, ex-Séléka members pushed them back. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, June 2018; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, July 2018; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, August 2018.
On 28 August 2018, parallel talks between armed groups, brokered by African Union (AU) and Russia, led to the conclusion of a preliminary agreement that was signed by the major actors fighting in the country, namely ‘anti-balaka leader Maxime Mokom and ex-Seleka leaders Nourredine Adam and Abdoulaye Hissene of Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC), Mahamat al-Khatim of Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC) and Ali Darass of Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC).’ According to the agreement, the rebel forces committed to ‘create a common framework for dialogue and action for a real and lasting peace’ in CAR. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, August 2018; F. Kelly, ‘Central African Republic militias sign agreement brokered by Russia and Sudan’, The Defense Post, 29 August 2018.
On 6 February 2019, with the mediation of the AU, the government signed a Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic with 14 armed groups. Letter dated 14 February 2019 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council, Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic, S/2019/145, 15 February 2019. Among them, it is worth recalling the Popular Front for the Renewal of CAR (FPRC), the Patriotic Movement for CAR (MPC), the Union for Peace in CAR (UPC), the Return, Reclaim and Rehabilitation (3R) movement, and the Democratic Front of Central African People (FDPC). According to the agreement, the armed groups committed to disband, although it was not specified how this would play out in practice. On the other hand, the President agreed to form an inclusive government, increasing the number of members of the armed forces holding governmental positions. Furthermore, the idea of impunity was rejected, and legal sanctions were envisaged for those who engage in acts of violence. Lastly, the agreement established the Mixed Special Security Units, which include both members of the rebel groups and governmental forces, under the command of the latter. International Crisis Group, ‘Making the Central African Republic’s Latest Peace Agreement Stick’, Africa Report N°277, 18 June 2019, pp. 7-9.
While the agreement was welcomed by the international community, its implementation proved challenging since the beginning. On 25 February 2019, President Touadéra named Firmin Ngrebada, as Prime Minister. On 3 March, the latter created a new government, but offered only minor position to members of the armed forces, while all top ministers were assigned to members of the previous government. Accordingly, ex- Séléka groups did not recognize the new government. As civil society and opposition parties expressed concerns regarding the composition of the new government, the parties to the Political Agreement met in Addis Ababa on 18 March in order to find a solution. Following 3 days of debates, ‘[a]rmed groups gained twelve ministerial positions in a new cabinet of 39 ministers, twelve further ministerial-level or other senior posts in the president’s and the prime minister’s offices, including one charged with overseeing the mixed security units, as well as two prefect and five sub-prefect posts, all going to armed groups active in the areas concerned.’ International Crisis Group, ‘Making the Central African Republic’s Latest Peace Agreement Stick’, Africa Report No. 277, 18 June 2019, pp. 10-11.
According to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a non-international armed conflict ‘continues until a peaceful settlement is achieved.’ ICTY, Prosecutor v Haradinaj et al., Judgment, IT-04-84, 3 April 2008. Nevertheless, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has pointed out that a peace agreement is not sufficient per se to conclude that a NIAC is over because ‘armed confrontations sometimes continue well beyond the conclusion or unilateral pronouncement of a formal act such as a … peace agreement.’ ICRC, ‘Article 3’, Commentary to the Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, Geneva, 12 August 1949, 2016, §§485-492. As a matter of fact, clashes did not cease in the following months and still continue at the time of writing.
In spite of the agreement, violence continued in the following months. A number of confrontations confirm this conclusion. On 20 June 2019, anti-Balaka fighters clashed with UPC militants, causing the death of 6 individuals. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, June 2019. In July, fighting continued between the armed groups and governmental forces and between such groups, while progresses in dismantling the armed non-state actors were made in west CAR. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, July 2019. On 3 October, anti-balaka militants and UPC fighters engaged in armed confrontations in Tagbara, Ouaka prefecture, leaving 6 fighters dead. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, October 2019. In mid-October, UPC invaded Bambouti (Haut-Mbomou prefecture, close to the border with South Sudan). On 6 November, MINUSCA asked rebel forces to withdraw, while the government menaced to deploy its troops. In the meantime, armed forces and UPC clashed in Ouaka and Basse-Kotto prefectures, while anti-Balaka and ex-Séléka fighters engaged in armed confrontations near Bria, Haute-Kotto prefecture, causing three casualties among anti-Balaka members. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, November 2019.
At the beginning of 2020, the intensity of violence escalated between rebel groups operating in Birao (north east CAR) and in Bria (east CAR), causing a number of casualties. Moreover, on 23 January anti-Balaka and MPC fighters clashed in Batangafo, causing the death of 8 individuals. Fighting continued in the far north east between FPRC and MLCJ, as the former advanced on Birao, capital of Vakaga prefecture, held by MLCJ. It has been reported that, between 19 and 21 January, at least 20 people died during clashes between the two rebel groups. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2020. Moreover, on 14 February armed confrontations between FPRC and MLCJ left at least ten dead. Two days later, MINUSCA intervened to stop the fighting, which resulted in the death of more than ten FPRC fighters and six members of MLCJ. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2020. In April 2020, violence intensified as seven armed groups suspended the participation to both the government and the implementation of the Political Agreement adopted in 2019. In the following months, the situation further deteriorated, thus confirming that the Political Agreement did not bring the hoped results. See, e.g., International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, April 2020 and following months.
During the COVID-19 crisis, MLCJ, FDPC, and 3R have declared their intention to cooperate with governmental authorities in order to ‘promote pandemic prevention measures, fully cooperate with health authorities, as well as guarantee the safety of humanitarian organisations.’ ‘The Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ) in Turn Declares Its Solidarity in the Fight against COVID-19’, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, 6 May 2020.
In December 2020, the situation in the CAR rapidly deteriorated. According to the 2019 political agreement, Presidential elections should have been held in December 2020. However, since several armed groups withdew from the political agreement in the course of 2019, the situation of insecurity increased throughout the country, fuelling new waves of violence. A key cause of the increase of violence between the government and various armed groups, as well as between these armed groups themselves, was the fact that Former President Bozizé, announced on 25 July 2020 that he would be running for President. As his regime was overthrown by a Séléka coup in 2013 and lived in exile ever since, his candidacy gave rise to even more tensions in CAR. ‘Letter dated 14 February 2019 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council’, UN Doc S/2019/145, 15 February 2019, p 9 and 10; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, July 2020 – December 2020; ‘Saving the Central African Republic’s elections and averting another cycle of violence’, Crisis Group, 22 December 2020.
On 3 December 2020, the Constitutional Court’s ruled that Bozizé was not eligible. On 15 December 2020, the emergence of a new coalition called Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) was announced. This coalition consisted of six major armed groups, involving both anti-balaka and ex-Séléka members, who put aside their differences and decided to work together. They launched an offensive against the government and on 18 and 19 December captured large parts of the prefectures of Lobaye, Ouham, Ouham Pende, Nana Gribizi, Ombella M'Poko and Ouaka, blocking the main supply routes to CAR’s capital, Bangui. The CPC ended up controlling two-thirds of the country. ‘Saving the Central African Republic’s elections and averting another cycle of violence’, Crisis Group, 22 December 2020; ‘Central African Republic: rebel groups declare ceasefire in run-up to elections’, France 24, 24 December 2020; ‘CAR rebels call off truce, resume march on Bangui as polls loom’, Al Jazeera, 25 December 2020; Paul-Simon Handy, ‘CAR elections expose the depth of the country’s crisis’, Institute for Security Studies, 13 January 2021; ‘Central African Republic’, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 1 March 2022; Enrica Picco, ‘Central African Republic: averting further fragmentation of the armed forces’, International Crisis Group, 10 May 2022.
In the CPC’s attempt to seize power in Bangui, they met with strong resistance from the Government’s armed forces, supported by the MINUSCA peacekeepers as well as Wagner private security forces. The armed forces, together with their allies, launched several counter-offensive to repel the CPC forces from their strongholds. These attacks have claimed victims among the warring parties as well as among the civilian population. For instance, an airstrike by the Wagner group caused multiple civilians casualties at a market in Danga. On the other hand, the Government reported the killing of 44 CPC forces in Boyali village. Confrontations between both sides in the first week of January 2021, resulted in over 60,000 people being displaced according to UNHCR. By the end of January, this figure had risen to 200,000. Timothy Lay, ‘Regional Overview: Africa 9-15 January’, ACLED Data, 20 January 2021; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2021.
Despite this escalation of violence, elections took place and on 4 January 2021. Touadéra was proclaimed by the electoral commission as re-elected president. This result was immediately rejected by the opposition, who asked for the annulment of the 2020 elections. These events led to further tensions between the different parties seeking power in the CAR. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2021.
Between January and March 2021, military operations by government armed forces and their allies have significantly reduced the territorial control of the CPC. They have reconquered Bossemptélé and Bozoum, among other places, and they were able to partially reopen the main supply route to Bangui. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2021 – March 2021. These operations costed many lives, both among civilians and fighters, as evidenced by the MINUSCO public report on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Central African Republic during the election period (July 2020 – June 2021). Rapport public sur les violations des droits de l’homme et du droit international humanitaire en RCA durant la période électorale (juillet 2020 – juin 2021), MUNISCO, 20 August 2021. The impact of this new episode of violence in the CAR became also apparent from the numbers of displaced people, released by the UN humanitarian office on 19 March. They estimated that over 240,000 people became displaced since the outbreak of the violence in December 2020. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, March 2021; Enrica Picco, ‘Central African Republic: averting further fragmentation of the armed forces’, International Crisis Group, 10 May 2022.
Confrontations between CPC and Government related troops continued throughout 2021, despite the unilateral ceasefire declared by the Government. On 26 July 2021, for example, CPC rebels killed at least four Russian security personnel and two members of the government army in Ndongué Douane. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, July 2021; Chief Bisong Etahoben, ‘3R rebels kill 2 Central African Republic soldiers, injure 2 in Ndongue attack’, Human Angle, 28 July 2021. On 14 November 2021, CPC rebels attacked the Government army in Ouham-Pendé prefecture, killing one soldier and at least 11 civilians, while on 28 November reports indicated confrontations between CPC and the army in Koui sub-prefecture near Bogoranga locality, resulting in over a dozen civilians and at least two soldiers dead. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, November 2021.
These kinds of confrontations also continued in 2022. On 29 April 2022, for instance, CPC members attacked a military camp in Bakouma, killing 6 soldiers and leaving 4 rebels dead. ‘Centrafrique: six militaires tués par des rebelles dans le Sud-Est’, Le Figaro, 29 April 2022; ‘Central African Republic: six soldiers killed in rebel attack’, Al Jazeera, 29 April 2022. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, Between the eruption of violence related to the December 2020 elections and the time of writing, 1,182 conflict-related events have taken place, resulting in 2,205 deaths. Ariane Dinalli Francisco, Ladd Serwat and Susanna Deetlefs, ‘Regional Overview: Africa’, ACLED, 28 April 2022. In addition, MINUSCA has reported more than 500 conflict-related civilian deaths since February 2021. ‘Central African Republic’, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 1 March 2022.
On account of the frequency of armed attacks and armed confrontations, the number of casualties, the number of people forced to flee ongoing hostilities, and the types of weapons and military equipment utilized, the required degree of intensity has been reached since December 2012. The fighting has continued unabated and hence there are several parallel and overlapping non-international conflicts between the armed groups and the Government. However, as of December 2020, many of these rebel groups joined together in a coalition, the Coalition of Patriots for Change. However, the Coalition has not replaced these various armed groups as parties to the conflict.
A series of indicative factors are used to assess whether armed groups exhibit the required degree of organization, such as the existence of a command structure and disciplinary rules and mechanisms, the ability to procure, transport, and distribute arms, the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations, the ability to negotiate and conclude agreements, e.g. cease fire or peace agreements. If the criterion of a minimum organization of the armed group is not fulfilled, there is no armed conflict. See 'non-international armed conflict - organization' in our classification section.
In 2012, a coalition of armed factions from the northern part of Central African Republic, known as Séléka, started fighting against the government. The continued attack by the Séléka and later ex-Séléka armed group on the non-Muslim community in the country resulted in the establishment of the self-defence armed group: the anti-Balaka. The latter continued fighting against the members of the ex-Séléka armed group. While the deployment of the international peacekeeping mission and the French intervention managed to free the capital, Bangui, they did not succeed in halting clashes among armed groups in other areas of the country. Currently, a multitude of armed groups operate in different areas, sometimes cooperating with each other, sometimes fighting each other. See B. Sixdenier, ‘The who’s who in Central African Republic’, Medium, 15 June 2017; Global Security, ‘Union for Peace in the Central African Republic’; UNSC Meeting Records, 8187th meeting, S/PV.8187, 22 February 2018.
Anti-Balaka armed group
In Spring 2013, a loosely affiliated armed self-defence militia formed the anti-Balaka armed group in order to defend its communities from Séléka’s violence and Djotodia’s rule. Its members are comprised of Christian and Animist believers, as well as by former members of central African Republic’s army. For further information, see ‘Who’s who in Central African Republic’. During the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, the anti-Balaka armed group became more organized with the intent to wipe out Muslims from Central African Republic. Nevertheless, currently it is a coalition of smaller armed groups (wings) operating in various parts of the country. Although there is no clear information about the internal structure of this group, there is no reported in-fighting amongst them. Some of the leaders include Colonel Goumou Passy, Alfred Yekatom, Habib Stoussou, Abdoulaye Hissene, Maxime Mokom and Jean Francis Diandi nicknamed “Ramazani” in Bria (he was arrested by MINUSCA on 22 March 2018). The anti-Balaka armed group fights against FPRC, UPC, the government, and MINUSCA from its strongholds in central and eastern CAR. For further information, see ‘The forgotten war in the Central African Republic’, DW, 30 April 2017; ‘Who are the anti-balaka of CAR?’, The New Humanitarian, 12 February 2014. Amongst the various wings of the anti-Balaka group, the Maxime Mokom wing is associated with former president Bozize and has joined FPRC to establish the “Alliance of the Nairobists” in 2015 with the aim to increase their negotiating power and leverage against the government and the international community. However, the alliance was frustrated when they were not allowed to participate in the 2015 elections. In 2016, the Mokom wing joined “the Coalition,” thus confirming its alliance with FPRC, RPRC, and MPC. N. Dukhan, ‘Splintered Warfare: Alliances, affiliations, and agendas of armed factions and politico-military groups in the Central African Republic’, Enough Project, 2017.
Generally, most of the armed groups in Central African Republic have signed various ceasefire and peace agreements, both amongst themselves and with the government. Nevertheless, they have yet to be respected and implemented. In June 2017, all armed groups, with the exception of 3R, met in Rome under the aegis of the Community of Sant’Egidio, and signed the Sant’Egidio Agreement, which provided for an immediate ceasefire. However, the day after the signing of the agreement, nearly 100 people were reportedly killed in Bria in clashes between FPRC and anti-Balaka fighters. Violence continues on the ground, potentially casting doubt on the credibility of this agreement. Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, A/HRC/36/64, 28 July 2017.
Central African Liberators for Justice Movement (MLCJ)
The Central African Liberators for Justice Movement (Mouvement des libérateurs centrafricains pour la justice, MLCJ) was created in 2008 by Abakar Sabone, and operates in the region of Birao. It is a splinter group of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR). ‘Armed groups in CAR’, The New Humanitarian, 17 September 2014. Since September 2019, MLCJ has been engaging in intense armed confrontations against FPRC. It has been reported that the fighting started following the killing of a member of the Kara ethnic group, by FPRC. Consequently, MLCJ retaliated against the armed group. The situation quickly escalated and turned into a NIAC. ACLED, ‘Regional Overview – September 2019’.
Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC)
The Central African Patriotic Movement (Mouvement Patriotique Centrafricain, MPC) is another breakaway group, created in 2015 after shifting from ex-Séléka. Under the leadership of Mahamat al-Khatim and Idriss Ahmed El-Bachar (who are Chadian Arabs), it has strongholds in the northern part of the country bordering Chad, notably in Moyen-Sido, Kabo, and Kaga-Bandoro. MPC has responded to Noureddine Adam’s invitation and has joined “the Coalition” since 2016. However, as other members of “the Coalition,” it maintains its identity and strong holds, while sharing common political goals with FPRC and other members of “the Coalition.” N. Dukhan, ‘Splintered Warfare: Alliances, affiliations, and agendas of armed factions and politico-military groups in the Central African Republic’, Enough Project, 2017. Confrontations between MPC and anti-Balaka armed group to gain control of Batangafo intensified towards the end of 2017, leading to the near destruction of Ouogo and Kambakota villages and displacement of 2000 civilians on 19 and 21 December, respectively. In coalition with FPRC and anti-Balaka – Mokom wing, MPC also fights with UPC and against extension of governmental presence in its strongholds. Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, A/HRC/36/64, 28 July 2017.
Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC)
The Popular Front for the Renaissance in Central African Republic (Front patriotique pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, FPRC) is a breakaway armed group from ex-Séléka. It is a coalition of rebels dominated by Muslims from the Gula and Runga communities and is led by Noureddine Adam, who was the second in command of Séléka armed group under Micheal Djotodia. On 14 December 2015, Noureddine Adam proclaimed the independence of the northern part of Central African Republic, which he called the Republic of Logone. The act was fiercely opposed by the transitional government and has never been recognised internationally. By August 2017, the FPRC had strong military hold in Birao, Ndélé, Bria, and Kaga-Bandoro, in central and north eastern Central African Republic. FPRC has created loose alliance with the Rassemblement Patriotique pour le Renouveau de la Centrafrique (RPRC, which is another ex-Séléka splinter group), the Mouvement Patriotique Centrafricain (MPC), and the anti-Balaka/Mokom wing on July 2016, known as “the Coalition.” ACLED, ‘Central African Republic – June 2017’.
The main political agenda or FPRC and the members of its coalition is to replace the central government and to regain political power. Alternatively, they aim at seceding and establishing their own state with Bambari as their capital. Their short-term goal is to obtain general amnesty of their leaders and members of their armed groups, including lifting of multilateral and bilateral targeted sanctions. This coalition is fighting against UPC, which refused to join “the Coalition,” and anti-Balaka forces. N. Dukhan, ‘Splintered Warfare: Alliances, affiliations, and agendas of armed factions and politico-military groups in the Central African Republic’, Enough Project, 2017.
Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (3R)
In 2015 a new armed group, Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (3R), was created. The group occupies Ouham Pende region near Cameroon border areas, under the command of a self-proclaimed General, Sidiki Abass. It aims to protect Peul community from attacks by anti-Balaka militia. ‘Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation’, TRAC; ‘Dozens of civilians killed in CAR violence - HRW’, Al-Jazeera, 2 May 2017; ACLED, ‘Central African Republic – June 2017’. In December 2017, 3R armed group signed a cessation of hostilities agreement with anti-Balaka armed group in Bouar, which was facilitated by national authorities supported by MINUSCA. MINUSCA, Report of the Secretary General on Central African Republic, 15 February 2018.
Séléka/ Ex-Séléka coalition group
Séléka armed group was established in 2012 by the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) in coalition with other armed groups operating in northern Central African Republic. Y. Weyns and others, ‘Mapping Conflict Motives: the Central African Republic’, IPIS, November 2014. In March 2013 it succeeded in overthrowing the president. In September 2013 Michael Djotodia, leader of Séléka, became the president of Central African Republic transitional government. Under international pressure, he decided to disband the armed group and declared that only the FACA (Forces Armées Centrafricaines) were the legitimate armed forces in the country. Although a number of former Séléka members were integrated into the FACA, others continued attacking the non-Muslim communities in Bangui and its surrounding areas until they were repulsed by international intervention. Consequently, ex-Séléka armed group started splitting into several factions, each controlling some parts of the country. ‘Union for Peace in the Central African Republic’, Global Security; N. Dukhan, ‘Splintered Warfare: Alliances, affiliations, and agendas of armed factions and politico-military groups in the Central African Republic’, Enough Project, 2017.
Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC)
The Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique, UPC), dominated by Muslims from the Fulani ethnic group, joined Séléka armed groups in 2014. However, the alliance had a short life: in the same year, the group separated from FPRC when Noureddine Adam, leader of FPRC, demanded independence for Central African Republic’s predominantly Muslim north. The UPC is led by its president and commander, Ali Darassa Mahamant, and has been confronting FPRC in Ouaka and Hautte-Kotto to extend its territorial control. Currently, its stronghold is in Alindao, after it left Bambari in February 2017 upon the request of MINUSCA. ‘Union for Peace in the Central African Republic’, Global Security; ACLED, ‘Central African Republic – June 2017’; Human Rights Watch, ‘Human Rights Watch World Report 2018 - Central African Republic: Events of 2017’.
The Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC)
In December 2020, 6 major armed groups (Mokom and Ndomaté Anti-Balaka wings, FPRC, UPC, 3R, MPC) decided to form a new coalition in response to the unfolding of the elections. They launched an offensive against the Government in order to seize power over the CAR. Little is known about the organizational structure of the coalition. It should be noted that the Coalition faced strong resistance from the government and its allies, as discussed under the intensity section. The heavy losses they suffered led the UPC to leave the Coalition, renewing their commitment to the 2019 Peace deal. This indicates that the individual armed groups still retain a broad autonomy within this coalition. Peter Kum, ‘Major groups quits Central African Republic rebel bloc’, AA, 6 April 2021; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, April 2021.
United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)
In 2012, following the escalation of violence in Central African Republic, the Economic Community for Central African Countries (ECCAS) increased the troop strength of the Mission de Consolidation de la Paix en Centrafriques (MICOPAX), which had been active in the country between 2008 and 2013. See ‘Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council: The situation in Central African Republic’, 18th Supplement, 2012-2013; M. Welz, ‘Briefing: Crisis in the Central African Republic and the international response’, 113 African Affairs 453 (2014) 601. On 19 July 2013, the AU Peace and Security Council then decided to deploy a peace enforcement mission to replace MICOPAX, which was struggling to deescalate the ongoing violence. This mission was authorized by the UNSC and, on December 2013, MICOPAX was rehatted to International Support Mission for CAR (MISCA). The latter included 3,500 uniformed personnel (2,475 for the military component and 1,025 for the police component) and 152 civilians. It was mandated to protect civilians, restore order, create space for humanitarian assistance, and support the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) processes. See Security Council Resolution 2127, S/RES/2127 (2013), 5 December 2013.
On September 2014, MISCA was officially transformed into a UN peacekeeping mission, United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA), with similar formation and mandate, but with 4000 more troop strength. Since its deployment, MINUSCA’s mandate has been renewed annually and currently it comprises of 12,789 uniformed personnel and 1390 civilian personnel. See MINUSCA, ‘Facts and figures’.
MINUSCA was established by Security Council Resolution 2149 (2014), mandated to support the implementation of the transition process, including efforts in favour of the extension of State authority and preservation of territorial integrity. Accordingly, some of the initial measures of MINUSCA encompassed the restoration of public authority, including retaking of public buildings that were occupied by armed groups and escorting humanitarian and commercial convoys along the main trade route from Cameroon. In 2016 MINUSCA supported the conduct of nationwide election, which was a major step to establish a permanent government after three years of transitional government in Central African Republic. See Security Council Resolution 2149, S/RES/2149 (2014), 10 April 2014.
Furthermore, MINUSCA forces have engaged in military operations against armed groups in order to extend the presence of the government throughout the country. Since the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) are not yet fully re-established, MINUSCA occasionally carries out joint operations. In September 2017 members of MINUSCA forces responded to attacks by Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation (3R) in Bocaranga (Ouham–Pende perfecture). Similarly, MINUSCA launched an operation in cooperation with FACA in January 2018 in Paoua, after clashes between Mouvement national pour la libération de la Centrafrique (MNLC, one of the smaller splinter armed groups from ex-Séléka) and Révolution et Justice (RJ) resulted in 4 civilian deaths and displaced around 1,200. Incidents have also occurred in Berberati, South West CAR, in April 2018. See UNSC Meeting Records, 8187th meeting, S/PV.8187, 22 February 2018; F. Kelly, ‘Four killed as UN peacekeepers and militia clash’, The Defense Post, 24 April 2018.
MINUSCA has been target of attacks from various armed groups. For instance, in April 2018 local defence militia operating in the PK5 area attacked peacekeeping troops with heavy weapons and rockets. See ‘MINUSCA condemns fresh attack against peacekeepers in Bangui’, MINUSCA Press Release, 10 April 2018; ‘UN peacekeepers attacked by Central Africa armed group’, ENCA, 1 April 2018. During the same month, MINUSCA suffered another attack in northeast of Bambari, in Ouaka prefecture, by members of the anti-Balaka armed group. See ‘MINUSCA condemns losses of life overnight attack in Tagbara’, MINUSCA Press Release, 3 April 2018. Furthermore, on 04 May 2018 MINUSCA forces neutralized FPRC stronghold between Ndomété and Dékoa. During the attack they were able to arrest some FPRC members and seize weapons. See ‘La MINUSCA neutralise une tentative d’infiltration de element du FPRC a Dekoa’, MINUSCA Press Release, 5 May 2018. On 10 May 2018, in an ambush on the road between Rafaï and Bangassou, anti-Balaka elements allegedly kidnapped and killed Cambodian and Moroccan peacekeepers in the deadliest attack against a MINUSCA convoy since the Mission’s establishment. Five United Nations peacekeepers were killed and 10 were injured. See MINUSCA, ‘Bangassou et Rafai : dans une situation aussi difficile, il faut éviter les manipulations, dit le commandant de la force’, 31 March 2018.
Overall, since its deployment MINUSCA has been attacked in various parts of the country by different armed groups, resulting in 73 fatalities. The attacks against the UN peacekeeping troops have met the condemnation of the UN. Notably, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the most recent attack allegedly perpetrated by the anti-Balaka group against a convoy of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, in which one peacekeeper from Egypt was killed and three others were injured. See ‘The UN Chief strongly Condemns the attack that kills peacekeepers in Central African Republic’, UN News, 27 November 2017; ‘Targeted attack results death of MINUSCA peacekeeper in Bria’, MINUSCA Press Release, 4 December 2017.
Rwandan troops have been deployed in CAR as part of the UN-sanctioned MINUSCA operation. In November 2020, Rwanda and CAR signed a bilateral agreement whereby Rwandan armed forces would be deployed to support MINUSCA, but they would have carte blanche in terms of rules of engagement, hence giving them the possibility to operate autonomously. Since then, Rwanda’s military presence has been directed not only to ensure supply lines from Cameroon to CAR, but also to provide assistance in the security and defence sectors. In 2021, President Touadera asked Rwanda to send more troops in order to fight against rebel forces operating in CAR. B. J. Cannon and F. Donnelli, ‘Rwanda’s Military Deployments in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Neoclassical Realist Account’ (2022) Italian Journal of International Affairs 1, at 5.
As explained below, Wagner group was deployed together with Rwandan forces. It has been reported that Rwandan and Wagner troops were initially cooperating. However, ‘in June 2021, Rwanda suspended military cooperation over recurrent reports of attacks on civilians committed by Wagner operatives.’ J. Moody, ‘How Rwanda Became Africa’s Policeman’, FP, 21 November 2022.
The Rwandan involvement in the conflict does not change its classification. Indeed, under the ‘support-based approach’ suggested by the ICRC, Rwanda is bound by IHL of NIACs even if the hostilities it conducts against the rebel groups do not reach the level of violence which would be necessary to make IHL of NIACs separately applicable.
Wagner group has been operating in CAR since 2018, following a bilateral agreement between CAR and Russia to provide weapons to the former country. At the time, Wagner did not engage directly in hostilities, however it was reported that it engaged in human rights abuses. ‘UN investigates 'Russian soldier torture' case in CAR’, AFP, 12 February 2019. Towards the end of 2020, the nature of Wagner activities in CAR changed. Indeed, following elections in December 2020, violence between CAR government and increased dramatically. Accordingly, Wagner started engaging in armed confrontations against the rebels, supporting state forces. ‘Wagner Group Operations in Africa’, ACLED, 30 August 2022. It has been reported that in February 2023 Wagner group sustained heavy casualties in CAR. Notably, clashes broke out in a town close to the border between Cameroon and Chad, opposing rebel groups on the one hand, and CAR and Wagner contingents on the other. New clashes erupted also near the Sudanese border. Between 7 and 17 Wagner fighters were allegedly killed in battle. Z. M. Salih and J. Burke, ‘Wagner mercenaries sustain losses in fight for Central African Republic gold’, The Guardian, 2 February 2023.
In 2013, Operation Sangaris was deployed to assist and strengthen the African Union mission (MISCA) in establishing public order and protecting civilians. Although President Bozize asked for France’s assistance before he was ousted, Operation Sangaris commenced its operation after the authorization of the Security Council under Resolution 2127. The first contingent of about 1,200 French marines, paratroopers, and engineering units were engaging at the front line during the height of the conflict between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka armed groups. In cooperation with MISCA, the French forces were able to repel these armed groups from Bangui and support the restoration of authority of the Central African transitional government. In addition, the French combat troops had secured the route from Bangui to Cameroon between February and September 2014, until it was handed over to MINUSCA. See Security Council Resolution 2127, S/RES/2127 (2013), 5 December 2013.
Between 5 December 2013 and 1 July 2016, around 15,000 French troops had been deployed, on rotational basis, in order to support MISCA and later on MINUSCA. During this period French troops have repelled attacks from various armed groups and took control over Bambari, Boda, Bossangoa and PK12 in Bangui, which were later on transferred to MINUSCA. On October 2016, France decided to close down its operation in Central African Republic and withdraw its troops. See ‘Dossier de presse Operation Sangaris’, France, Ministère de la Défense, 13 July 2016; ‘France ends Sangaris military operation in CAR’, BBC, 31 October 2016.
All parties to the conflict are bound by Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions that provides for the minimum standard to be respected and requires humane treatment without adverse distinction of all persons not or no longer taking active part in hostilities. It prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, hostage taking and unfair trials.
Furthermore, all parties are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflict. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law.
In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Central African Republic is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Under human rights law, the territorial state has an obligation to prevent and to investigate alleged violations, including by non-state actors. Non-state armed groups are increasingly considered to be bound by international human rights law if they exercise de facto control over some areas.
- Central African Republic
- France, from 2013 to 2016
- Anti-Balaka armed group
- Central African Liberators for Justice Movement (MLCJ)
- Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC)
- Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC)
- Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (3R)
- Séléka/ Ex-Séléka coalition group
- Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC)