SHAFAQNA – A leading international human rights group has urged the UN and the Central African government to save dozens of Muslims who are being held captive by Christian fighters and are at risk of sexual abuse.
“Holding civilians captive, killing children and sexually enslaving women and girls are shocking tactics by these anti-balaka and amount to war crimes,” Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement releases to the press.
“UN peacekeepers and government officials who have already taken bold steps to free one group of ethnic Peuhl should urgently intervene to free the others and arrest their captors.”
According to HRW, at least 42 Muslim Peuhl herders, mostly women and girls, are still in captivity in the southwestern village of Pondo by anti-balaka fighters.
Although several Muslims were released by the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MINUSCA, dozens are believed to be still in captivity in other towns, such as Gadzi and Gaga.
A catalogue of abuse has been shared by a Muslim family that was released by MINUSCA earlier this month, after being held for months by the extremist fighters in Pondo.
Two boys, aged 6 and 7, were killed by their capturers, while three young women and girls were raped. One of them and her baby died of malnutrition.
CAR Muslims have been facing death at the hands of anti-balaka Christian militias since late 2013 and early 2014. According to UN reports, anti-balaka militias raided Muslim homes killing children and women, looting and vandalizing properties.
Along with killing, kidnapping, torture and arbitrary arrest and detention, in the war-torn CAR, a UN investigation found evidences of sexual violence.
Escaping death, many Muslims left to western Muslim enclaves of Yaloké, Carnot, and Boda, only to be trapped. Last December, HRW warned that hundreds of Muslim residents in western parts of the Central African Republic are trapped in enclaves in deplorable conditions.
Citing HRW bleak report of rights abuse, Mudge urged CAR government to bring perpetrators to justice.
“Those responsible for these brutal crimes need to be held to account as continued impunity is likely to only embolden the attackers,” Mudge said.
The researcher has also called for providing humanitarian aid for Muslim victims.
“UN and government officials should also urgently assess where else Peuhl and other civilians might be held captive, work to release them, and help the victims get counseling and medical treatment.”
Recalling her ordeal, one of the surviving Muslim girls said: “I was taken as a wife by the anti-balaka.
“It was against my will, I did not want to accept it. It was not just one man, it was with many different men. They would just take me. They brutalized me and I am now pregnant.”
Muslim families in captivity have been betrayed by the anti-balaka militia who claimed they would “protect” them.
“We will keep you. The whites must come and pay for the protection that we are giving you. If people never come to pay, then you will never leave,” the group’s commander François Wote told one Muslim family.
Family members said the anti-balaka would regularly threaten them saying, “We will kill you today,” or at other times, “You are Peuhl, why are we protecting you?” insinuating they should be killed.
CAR, a mineral-rich, landlocked country, descended into anarchy in March of 2013 when Seleka rebels ousted François Bozize, a Christian, who had come to power in 2003 through a military coup.
In January 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza, the mayor of Bangui, was sworn in as CAR’s first female president.
She replaced Michel Djotodia, the country’s first Muslim president since its independence from France in 1960, who stepped down earlier this month due to international and regional pressure.