This is the fifth report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Central African Republic and covers the period from July 2019 to June 2021. The report was submitted to the UN Security Council.
According to the report, the protection and well-being of children in the Central African Republic (CAR) has gravely deteriorated since the end of 2020 with a spike for most of the six grave violations, highlights the latest report on children and armed conflict of the UN Secretary General. The vulnerability of Central African children, to grave violations, was largely exacerbated by a surge in hostilities across the country, including attacks by armed groups and counter-offensive military operations by government and pro-governmental forces during the electoral processes in 2020 which are continuing to this day.
“The security situation in the Central African Republic has rapidly worsened in recent months and children are paying a high price for these renewed hostilities,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.
There was a significant increase and scale of grave violations against children committed by all perpetrators to the conflict. There is serious concern about the military use of schools of hospitals by the armed forces and bilaterally deployed and other security personnel. In the reporting period, a new Child Protection Code was promulgated that is welcoming. 653 children were released from armed groups yet remain a lot of concern about ongoing recruitment and use of children by armed groups. Sexual violence against children remains a serious issue. A former ex-Séléka leader was surrendered to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The hearings in the trial of two anti-balaka l3aders, Albert Yekatom and Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, commenced before the International Criminal Court.
The report addresses the effect of the cycles of violence on children in the country, highlighting trends and patterns of the six grave violations committed against children and contains information on the perpetrators, the political context and progress is also outlined.
What are the major findings of the UN Secretary General report on Children and Armed Conflict in the Central African Republic?
The violations outlined in the report were verified by the country task force on monitoring and reporting, co-chaired by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Grave violations against children were committed mostly by armed groups. The monitoring and reporting of violations were hampered by security and logistical difficulties. The information presented in the report does not represent the full extent of grave violations committed against children in the country.
Overview of the political situation: Despite the signing of the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic on 6 February 2019, signatories, including national security forces and armed groups, continued to commit grave violations against children. The Political Agreement monitoring mechanism at the local level effectively supported dialogue and local conflict prevention and resolution. However, at the national level, the mechanism experienced challenges that prevented the holding of regular sessions. The fragile security situation was compounded by the weak presence of State authority in the prefectures due to lack of financial resources.
On 27 December 2020, Present Touadéra was re-elected who expressed his willingness to enter into dialogue and engage with all stakeholders to the peace process, albeit excluding armed groups associated with CPC (Coalition des patriotes pour le changement). He reiterated his commitment to the Political Agreement.
Insecurity and political tensions continued in 2021 in the country. On 13 January 2021, the CPC launched coordinated attacks resulted in high number of deaths including children. The onset of the COVID pandemic in March 2021 exacerbated the precarious protection environment for children. Schools were closed to prevent the spread of the virus, raising concerns about a potential increase in children’s vulnerability to violations, notable recruitment and use, and sexual violence.
Grave violations against children: Between July 2019 and June 2021, the country task force verified 1663 grave violations against 1280 children, (728 goys and 553 girls) namely recruitment and use, (845) killing and maiming, (155) rape and other forms of sexual violence, (249) abduction, attacks against schools and hospitals (72) and denial of humanitarian access (226). Compared with the previous report, which covered a three-and-a-half-year period from January 2016 to June 2019, there has been an overall increase in the number of verified grave violation.
The recruitment and use of children were the most prominent violation and the one that increased the most. Sexual violence and denial of humanitarian access increased slightly, while abductions, killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals decreased overall. The vast majority of grave violations were committed by armed groups, 82 per cent, and 5 per cent by the Armed Forces and bilaterally deployed and other security personnel. The remaining 13 per cent could not be attributed to any specific party to the conflict.
(1) Recruitment and use: 845 children were recruited between 2012 and 2020 and were used during the reporting period. Of total, 35 girls were used for sexual purposes, 232 children were used as combatants and the remaining 578 children were used in support roles such as bodyguards etc. There was a considerable increase in the number of verified cases of recruitment. The increase was due to the high number of children separated from armed groups as a result of the country task force’s advocacy with parties to the conflict. Recruitment and use remained the most prominent grave violation in 2020, representing 65 per cent of the total number of violations. Most children reported that they had joined the armed groups to protect their communities from attacks by rival armed groups or for revenge. Poverty was also a driving force.
(2) Killing and maiming: The country task force verified the killing (83) and maiming (72) of 155 children, some as young as three months old, from the second half of 2019 to the first half of 2021. The number of child casualties decreased compared with the previous reporting period (324) but remained high. Most child casualties (74) were attributed to unidentified perpetrators as they occurred during crossfire and in incidents involving explosive remnants of war. Most children were killed or maimed by shootings and stray bullets during crossfire, explosive remnants of war and arson.
(3) Rape and other forms of sexual violence: The country task force verified rape and other forms of sexual violence against 249 children, all girls, aged between 4 and 17 years. Cases of sexual violence steadily increased throughout the reporting period. Sexual violence continued to be underreported owing to fear of reprisals from parties to the conflict who live within communities, the climate of insecurity that prevailed in most of the country, a lack of access to medical assistance, stigmatisation and the onset of COVID pandemic and the related movement restrictions, which impeded verification work. Seventy-nine per cent of the violations were perpetrated by armed groups. Although most rapes were committed in communities with an increased presence of armed groups in towns and villages, 24 girls were raped in the context of abduction and recruitment and use. Sexual exploitation and abuse of children by peacekeepers continued to be a concern in the Central African Republic.
(4) Attacks against schools and hospitals: The country task force verified 72 incidents of attacks against schools (41) and hospitals (31) during the period of review, which represents a decrease compared to the previous reporting period (138). Forty-one attacks against schools, including protected persons in relation to schools were verified. The sharp increase of violations towards the end of 2020 and 2021 was due to targeted attacks against schools used as voting centres perpetrated by CPC to disrupt the elections of 27 November 2020. The attacks resulted in the destruction of school materials in 18 schools as well as looting.
- (a) Military use of schools: At least 16,200 children were deprived of their right to education as a result. The Armed Forces and bilaterally deployed and other security personnel used schools mostly during military operations as their base, thereby depriving children enrolled at those schools from attending classes.
- (b) Attacks on hospitals and protected persons in relation to hospitals: A total of 31 attacks against hospitals, including against protected persons in relations to hospitals were verified. Attacks against hospitals gradually increased during the reporting period. This is the result of the post-electoral crisis and counter-offensive by the Armed Forces and bilaterally deployed and other security personnel.
- (c) Military use of hospitals: Two cases of military use of hospitals were verified by the country task force.
(5) Abduction: 116 children were abducted. These are verified cases. Children were abducted for recruitment and use (57), sexual purposes (29), ransom (7) and for unknown reasons (23). Overall, the LRA-Achaye was responsible for 48 per cent of the abductions, affecting 56 children. An increasing number of children, 47, escaped from LRA-Achaye forces. The increase in the number of abductions in 2020 can be explained by armed groups appearing to strengthen their ranks ahead of the elections.
(6) Denial of humanitarian access: A total of 226 incidents of denial of humanitarian access were verified in the reporting period. Incidents occurred such as violence against humanitarian facilities and assets, carjacking, assault on humanitarian personnel, kidnapping, interference in the implementation of humanitarian activities preventing humanitarians from reaching beneficiaries and delivering aid.
What about the release of children in the Central African Republic?
Direct engagement by the country task force with armed groups led to the separation of 653 children in 2020, no children were released from armed groups in 2021 largely owing to insecurity. Reintegration programmes were rolled out throughout much of the country, consisting of medical screening, family tracing and reunification, psychosocial assistance, education and vocational training. All released children entered reintegration programmes.
What about progress and challenges addressing grave violations against children in the Central African Republic?
The President promulgated the Child Protection Code on 15 June 2020, following its adaption by the National Assembly. It was finalised with the support of UNICEF and other members of the country task force. The Code criminalizes all six grave violations against children and considers children associated with armed forces and groups as victims.
In 2021, the country task force initiated dialogue with the Government to address the military use of schools by armed groups.
The Government continued to address accountability for grave violations against children but was impeded by the absence of judicial authorities in many areas of the country owing to insecurity.
On 16 February 2021, the hearings in the trial of two anti-balaka l3eaders, Albert Yekatom and Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, commenced before the International Criminal Court. They were arrested in 2018 for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including enlistment and use of children under the age of 15 years to participate actively in the hostilities. In addition, former ex-Séléka leader Mahamat Saïd Abdel Kani, who was suspected of having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, was surrendered to the International Criminal Court in January 2021.
On 4 May 2021, the Minister of Justice published a decree to establish a special commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of serious crimes and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by national armed forces and bilaterally deployed and other security personnel.
Over the reporting period, MINUSCA screened 4,422 potential recruits for violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, including grave violations against children, to ensure that perpetrators are not admitted.
Advocacy and mainstreaming of child protection
Training programmes and awareness-raising were heavily impeded by the pandemic and related restrictions. Despite those challenges, MINUSC trained 2,566 peacekeepers on child protection and delivered training of trainers for MINUSCA military and police components. Training and awareness-raising were delivered to 29,559 community members and leaders, civil society organisations, local authorities and religious leaders, and members of armed groups as part of the “Act to Protect Children Affected by Armed Conflict”.
The strengthening of the national legal framework through the promulgation of the Child Protection Code in June 2020 is benefitting children, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General welcomed the provisions criminalizing all six grave violations against children.
Advocacy with armed groups by the United Nations on the ground led to the separation from armed groups of 653 children, all benefitting from reintegration support. Such a positive outcome has continued beyond the end of the reporting period and more than 130 children have been separated since June 2021. The Special Representative emphasizes the importance of comprehensive reintegration support for all released children including medical screening, family tracing and reunification, psychosocial assistance, and educational or vocational training. As such, she reminded the international community of the importance of continuing to support reintegration efforts both politically and financially, including the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers.
Despite some progress in accountability for perpetrators of crimes against children, impunity remains high.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba further called on the CAR Government and parties to the conflict to develop a national strategy to prevent grave violations against children and added that the United Nations stands ready to support all efforts to better protect Central African children.