Muslims face ‘ethnic cleansing’ in CAR

Amnesty International reports Muslims in Central African Republic face ‘ethnic cleansing’ at hands of anti-Balaka insurgency

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

A Muslim man sits inside the St. Pierre church where he and hundreds of other Muslims seek refuge in Boali, some 80kms north-west of Bangui, as clashes erupted between Anti-Balaka Christians and Seleka militias.

Updated Aug 3, 2015

Anti-Balaka militants in the Central African Republic (CAR) have sought to ethnically cleanse the country of Muslim communities amidst a political vacuum created by the country’s ongoing sectarian civil war, human rights group Amnesty International has said in a report.

Friday’s report by Amnesty International, titled “Erased identity: Muslims in ethnically cleansed areas of the Central African Republic," is based on a series of interviews with residents across the country and states that the anti-Balaka militants have "unleashed a violent wave of ethnic cleansing aimed at forcing Muslims to leave the country."

More than 30,000 Muslims moved to seven enclaves across the country guarded by UN troops, but for those who have not sought refuge in one of them are living under constant fear of being targeted for their religion, the report stated.

"They are not allowed to express themselves as Muslims; if they are outside the enclaves, they cannot pray or even dress in any way that identifies them as Muslim," Joanne Mariner, a senior crisis response adviser at the UK-based organisation, told Al Jazeera.

"Their survival depends on a daily routine of negotiation with anti-Balaka fighters."

Mariner added that many had been forced to either convert to Christianity or face persecution by the community.

In addition, "the continued insecurity and threat from the anti-Balaka comes from an absence of a state," Mariner said.

The report also stated that none of the mosques outside the CAR’s capital, Bangui, and the town of Carnot have been repaired or rebuilt after a US envoy in April said that almost all of the 436 mosques in the country have been destroyed in the religious violence.

One of the "clearest signs of the intensity of sectarian animus was the destruction of the country's mosques," the organisation said.

More than 6,000 people have been killed and more than one million people displaced since Muslim-led Seleka rebels took control of the capital in March 2013.

Anti-Balaka (meaning “anti-sword” in local language) militias made up entirely of animist and Christian rebels and emerged to fight off the new leadership of the country. They have targeted Muslim communities, which are seen as harboring Seleka sympathisers.

"The key challenge is a lack of security. The government understands they have a long way to go [but] they need to be able to assert control over these far flung areas," Mariner said.

More than 1,000 people in the CAR are still looking for their loved ones, a year after after being separated from them during the unrest, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said earlier this week.

"In this part of the country, very few families have been spared the pain and uncertainty of being separated from loved ones," said Scott Doucet, head of the ICRC sub-delegation for the west of the country.

Currently 2.7 million people - more than half the CAR’s population - are reported to still be in dire need of aid, while 1.5 million people are suffering from food deprivation, according to reports by the UN.

Humanitarian needs in the country continue to exceed available resources, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Following the collapse of state authority and a weak and fragile transitional government taking over power, parts of the CAR have been left at the mercy of different militia groups.

Amnesty's report comes just days after the International Rescue Committee said CAR "needs a new start, or it will become the case study of a failed state.

TRTWorld and agencies