A UN report says “ample evidence'” exists that both sides in the Central African Republic have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it says it is too early to speak of genocide or ethnic cleansing.
A commission of inquiry’s preliminary report, obtained by the AP news agency on Thursday, appears to conflict with an earlier UN human rights assessment that ethnic cleansing has occurred in the months of fighting between Christians and Muslims.
“The fact that there is an anti-Muslim propaganda from certain non-Muslim quarters does not mean that genocide is being planned or that there is any conspiracy to commit genocide or even a specific intent to commit genocide,” the report said.
“The displacement of Muslims affected by whatever party so far is a matter of protection and the preservation of human life, not a matter of ethnic cleansing.”
The report also said that neighbouring countries, notably Chad, “participated or helped the parties to the armed conflict,” and that perhaps the Central African Republic’s unprecedented sectarian violence will be proven to be an international conflict, not just an internal one.
At least one prominent human rights group, Amnesty International, quickly objected to the report’s finding.
“I would say that … the report is ignoring the fact that the massive displacement of the Muslim population in the Central African Republic is not simply a consequence of the violence there, but its goal,” senior crisis response adviser Joanne Mariner said.
“[Christian militia fighters] have made no secret of their intent to kill or forcibly expel all Muslims from the areas under their control.”
Thousands have been killed since the fighting began in December, and thousands of Muslims have fled the country.
The sectarian nature of the violence has shocked the international community, including the beheadings of children and the burning of entire villages.
In the chaos, one of the world’s poorest countries has been left with a largely powerless transitional government.
A UN peacekeeping force of thousands is expected in the Central African Republic in September, but the report warns that if the international community “does not react with speed and determination,” the situation on the ground could quickly deteriorate even further, leading to genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The report has been submitted to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.
In February, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said “ethnic-religious cleansing” threatened to tear apart the country, and Amnesty International used the term “ethnic cleansing” for the conflict for the first time.
The report also appears to condemn neighbouring Chad and Sudan for their role in the violence.
It singles out Chad, saying “there is enough evidence” to show that Seleka and its leaders received its military and financial support.