The UN Security Council has launched an investigation into human rights abuses in the Central African Republic, officials at the world body’s offices in Geneva have said.
The allegations include hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities.
The chair of the investigation, Bernard Acho Muna, a lawyer from Cameroon who was deputy chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said he and former Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jorge Castaneda and Mauritanian human rights lawyer Fatimata M’Baye will fly to the capital Bangui later on Monday.
They will begin the investigation on Tuesday, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Muna told reporters on Monday in Geneva that the mandate of the year-long investigation of rights abuses since the start of 2013 is “to stop any advances toward genocide”.
The move comes only weeks after the International Criminal Court said it was opening a preliminary examination into violence in CAR to determine whether atrocities committed there constitute possible war crimes.
Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, said her office had reviewed many reports of “extreme brutality” and that allegations of crimes committed “possibly fall within the ambit of the jurisdiction of the ICC”.
“The allegations include hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities,” Bensouda said in a statement.
The Central African Republic has been engulfed in violence since Muslim Seleka (alliance) rebels seized power in March 2013, driving then president Francois Bozize out of power and launching a campaign of terror against civilians.
The atrocities have transformed the conflict into one with religious undertones, pitting Seleka against the mainly Christian groups known as anti-balaka (machete), the weapon of choice for the Seleka rebels.
Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told a meeting of the UN Security Council last week that thousands of Muslims had fled the country, as violence between Christians and Muslims continued to take its toll.
His comments came as the country’s foreign minister and the head of the UN both urged the Security Council to send additional international forces to the crisis-torn country.
French and African Union troops have been deployed to the CAR but are still struggling to contain the violence which has killed hundreds and left thousands injured.