In late 2012, a rebel group, called the Seleka, formed after years of disenfranchisement and neglect of the Muslim population in the Central African Republic. The Seleka launched attacks against civilians by burning and pillaging homes, which displaced thousands of people. In 2013, in response to the attacks the Seleka conducted, the anti-balaka formed. The anti-balaka is a Christian rebel group that began counterattacks against the Seleka and Muslim civilians because the group equated all Muslims as Seleka sympathizers. Since 2013, the conflict has been ongoing and disproportionately affects civilian populations. Both sides of the conflict have subjected women and girls to rape and sexual slavery and so far, no member of an armed group has been arrested or tried for either crime. This impunity is in clear violation of the laws of war, several international and regional human rights treaties, and Central African law.
Rape and sexual slavery have been used by both armed rebel groups as a tactic of war. Commanders have tolerated sexual violence by their forces and in some cases have ordered for it or used it as a weapon of the conflict. The sexual violence has occurred during attacks on towns and villages, during door-to-door searches for men and boys, and while women and girls are conducting everyday tasks, such as going to the market and harvesting for food. The sexual violence is conducted indiscriminately, even against pregnant women, with no regard for the woman’s safety.
This war tactic has been used to direct attacks against women and girls due to their presumed religious affiliation or as punishment for conducting trade across sectarian lines or the females’ husband’s or family’s purported allegiances. Human Rights Watch conducted a study on rape and sexual slavery in the Central African Republic and interviewed almost 300 victims. Two girls recounted selling cassava leaves at a market when they were kidnapped, repeatedly raped, and sexually enslaved for days because a rebel group accused them of supporting another group because the girls were selling their products to the other group. Anti-balaka fighters have also been known to inflict additional pain and humiliation by committing rape with objects, such as a grenade or a broken glass bottle, and often in front of family members.
Overall, victims lack access to medical facilities. When they are available, the cost of travel is often too high. Additionally, these facilities do not offer comprehensive and confidential post-rape care and fail to refer victims to necessary medical treatment and psychosocial support. Women and girls also face additional cultural barriers when disclosing or seeking help post-rape. Stigmatization is rampant from family members and the community, who often blame and taunt the victim for being sexually assaulted. The conflict has also decimated the country’s infrastructure, and the courts and authorities lack the capacity to investigate and adjudicate these crimes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been investigating crimes committed in the Central African Republic but the court only has the capability of prosecuting the gravest crimes that higher-level officials commit.
The rape and sexual slavery against women that the armed groups in the Central African Republic have committed for five years with complete impunity constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. These attacks violate Article 8(2)(e)(vi) of the Rome Statute which is applicable to non-international armed conflicts in which the armed groups commit rape and sexual slavery. These attacks also violate Article 7(1)(g) because both armed groups have knowingly committed rape and sexual slavery as a widespread and systematic attack against civilian populations. The violence also violates several protected core values in international human rights, specifically the rights to life, security of person, freedom from torture, and prohibitions on slavery and forced work. These rights are protected in several treaties to which the Central African Republic is party: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT),and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The Central African Republic’s failure to take appropriate steps to eliminate the pervasive sexual violence against females requires the assistance of the international community. The international community must contribute financially to the full implementation of the Special Criminal Court, which was established in 2015 but has not yet began operation because it lacks the necessary funding. The Central African Republic and international community should ensure victims are receiving proper medical case and psychosocial support following the attacks. While these overarching issues cannot be easily remedied by the Central African Republic or the international community, ending the impunity of perpetrators would restore females’ faith in the justice system and begin to alter the cultural barriers of victim blaming in the country.