Mercenaries from the Russian private military company the Wagner Group summarily beat and executed civilians between February 2019 and November 2021 in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In the report released on Tuesday, HRW refers to statements by “Western governments, as well as United Nations experts and special rapporteurs” citing “evidence that Russian-linked forces operating in the CAR include significant numbers of members of the Wagner Group”.
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The human rights defenders’ report features testimonies from 21 people in person and 19 others by phone, including 10 victims and 15 witnesses who accuse white-skinned Russian-speaking men of committing abuses.
“Witnesses said the men were wearing military-style weapons and khaki beige clothing, scarves to cover their faces, military boots, gloves and sunglasses,” the organisation said in its report.
Among other abuses according to witnesses and facts recognised by the UN, on July 21, 2021, “apparently Russian-speaking forces killed at least twelve unarmed men near the town of Bossangoa”.
The prefect of Bossangoa, a local administrative official, who is quoted in the report told HRW that the people had been killed by rebel forces according to witnesses.
“However, two witnesses told Human Rights Watch that shortly after the attack, they went to the prefect’s office in Bossangoa and informed him that the Russians had carried out the attack,” says the report, which also cites other witnesses presenting a similar version.
Ida Sawyer, director of HRW’s crisis and conflict division, finds this evidence of abuses “compelling” because it shows that “forces identified as Russian supporting the Central African government have committed serious abuses against civilians with total impunity”.
The CAR government and its partners’ inaction “to denounce these abuses, to identify and to prosecute those responsible are likely to cause new crimes in Africa and beyond”, she warned.
Central African authorities have recognised military agreements with Russia and the presence of Russian instructors who help the national army in training, but not with a Russian private security company.
Henri-Marie Dondra, the former Central African prime minister, had declared to the French press that the presence of Wagner is a rumour because there is no contract between his country and a Russian private security company.