A Decade of Violence
In 2003, General François Bozizé seized control of the government and ruled the Central African Republic (CAR) as president until 2013. During his ten years in power, security and standards of living improved little for civilians as his regime faced armed opposition from multiple factions with varying political and economic grievances and was frequently accused by human rights groups of unlawful killing and torture.
Peace Deals with the Bozizé Government
The government signed successive peace agreements with the various opposition factions in 2007, 2008, and 2011. The terms of the agreements included granting amnesty to rebel fighters, transforming rebel militias into political parties, and integrating some militia members into the national army.
Return to Conflict
The tension between the government and rebels erupted into violence again with accusations that the Bozizé regime failed to meet its promises under the peace agreements. In addition, rebels cited the failure to improve living conditions and Bozizé’s victory in deeply flawed elections in 2011 as reasons for returning to war. The rebels benefited from the government’s limited control outside the capital, which allowed weapons and fighters to flow across CAR’s porous borders.
The Séléka Coalition Forms and Marches on the Capital
In December 2012, rebel groups based in the northeast of the country banded together in a loose coalition known as the Séléka (which means coalition or alliance) with the objective of overthrowing the Bozizé regime. Their advance toward the capital, Bangui, brought violence and instability to the countryside as rebels reportedly looted and committed various acts of violence against civilians, including the forced recruitment of child soldiers. Government armed forces were unable to halt the rebels’ rapid progress. Only by calling on military support from Chad and diplomatic intervention from the regional organization—the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)—was the Bozizé regime able to negotiate a ceasefire with the Séléka.
A Failed Peace Deal
In January 2013, the Bozizé government and Séléka rebels finalized a peace deal, known as the Libreville Agreement, which laid out terms for a ceasefire and a three-year power-sharing agreement for a government of national unity. The deal was negotiated under the auspices of the ECCAS with additional support from the African Union (AU) and the United Nations. However, the deal collapsed due to a lack of progress toward the transitional agreement’s objectives, limited international monitoring of the agreement, and the determination of the Séléka rebels to capitalize on their battlefield advantages.
The Séléka Takes Power in the Capital
In March 2013, the Séléka coalition resumed hostilities, quickly capturing Bangui and deposing the regime. With the fall of the government and President Bozizé’s flight from the country, the state’s already weak institutions, including the security forces, collapsed.
Following the Séléka takeover, former rebel commander Michel Djotodia declared himself president and suspended the constitution and parliament, but he was unable to restore stability. Violence and widespread looting of public and private property continued in both the capital and the countryside. Under pressure from regional and international leaders, the new regime agreed to a new transitional governing body and elections scheduled for 2015.
Despite the blueprint for a transitional political system, insecurity remained prevalent throughout CAR. Reports of Séléka rebel factions burning and looting villages and committing acts of violence against civilians indicated a sustained risk of atrocities in many areas of the country.
In an attempt to stem the ongoing violence, interim-President Djotodia formally disbanded the Séléka in September 2013. By this time, however, the coalition’s ranks had swelled from an estimated 5,000 to as many as 20,000, including a significant number of soldiers-for-hire from Chad and Sudan. In the absence of central authority with reach outside the capital, the violence continued to escalate, with the former Séléka forces reportedly torturing, sexually assaulting, and killing civilians in addition to plundering and destroying their property.
Self-Defense Forces Emerge
In response to the former Séléka fighters’ attacks and the lack of protection by the state, local groups formed self-defense forces known as the Anti-Balaka. These militias have increased the level of violence as they not only battle ex-Séléka forces but also target civilians perceived to be Séléka supporters. While CAR does not have a history of religious factionalism driving violence, the largely Muslim ex-Séléka and the predominantly Christian Anti-Balaka have introduced a new dynamic to this crisis. The divisions are metastasizing and the violence is increasingly group-based and organized. On January 22, 2014, Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, told the UN Security Council that the widespread, unchecked nature of attacks against civilians on the basis of religion or ethnicity “constitutes crimes against humanity.” If these attacks are not halted, he said, “There is a risk of genocide.”
New Interim Government Formed
Former Séléka leader and interim-President Djotodia resigned in January 2014 under international pressure as the country continued to experience violence against civilians on a wide scale. Following his resignation, Catherine Samba-Panza was selected to serve as interim president. Previously, she led reconciliation efforts following conflicts in the country. Despite the change in leadership, the government of the landlocked nation continues to face limitations of capacity and resources in the face of mounting humanitarian need and sustained insecurity throughout the country.
Violence against Civilians Continues
As targeted attacks against civilians continue, Muslim populations have been driven to find safety in the north of the country or beyond its borders, in some cases under armed protection of French and African Union international stabilization (MISCA) forces. Former Séléka fighters and other militia also continue to be a threat to civilians. Flows of internally displaced persons and refugees have created a de facto division of the country into Muslim and Christian segments, and this sectarian divide raises the possibility of a more permanent division of the territory and even partition.
While the level of violence against civilians has dropped from its peak, the risk of group-targeted violence remains high due to continued instability and limited security. Small enclaves of each religious community are under threat from Séléka and Anti-Balaka forces. Recent incidents in Bangui have ignited wider cycles of violence and led to the killing of more civilians, demonstrating how volatile the situation remains.