A working group of independent UN experts said it was “deeply disturbed” by the connections between Russian mercenaries and a series of violent attacks that have taken place in the Central African Republic since elections in December. Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group, a private military contractor, have committed human rights abuses.
The elections were won by the incumbent president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who was sworn in on Tuesday, but led to intensified fighting earlier this year. Touadéra’s army – Forces armées centralafricaines (Faca) – has military support from Russia and Rwanda. The experts said they had received reports of “grave human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law” carried out by Russian private military personnel operating jointly with Faca. In some cases UN peacekeepers were involved, they added.
According to the UN experts group, the Wagner Group mercenaries work closely with the UN peacekeeping mission that has been based in CAR since 2014. There are regular meetings between UN staff and “Russian advisers”, visits by the Russians to MINUSCA bases and medical evacuations of wounded “Russian trainers” to MINUSCA facilities. UN sources told Agence France-Presse in January that the coordination on the ground between UN peacekeepers, the Russian “military instructors” and 300 Rwandan soldiers sent as reinforcements in December on a bilateral basis was “pretty good”. The experts group said it was disturbed.
“This blurring of the lines between civil, military and peacekeeping operations during the hostilities creates confusion about the legitimate targets and increases the risks for widespread human rights and humanitarian law abuses,” said Jelena Aparac, the chair-rapporteur of the UN working group on mercenaries.
The allegations include mass summary executions, arbitrary detention, torture during interrogation and the forced displacement of the civilian population, about 240,000 of whom have fled their homes because of fighting in recent weeks. There were increased attacks on humanitarian organisations, as well as forced disappearances, the UN expert group said. The UN high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) is investigating several incidents. In December Russian and Faca soldiers allegedly opened fire on a vehicle that failed to stop at a checkpoint in Ouaka prefecture, killing three and wounding 15. They were also implicated in an attack on a mosque in Bambari,
“Unacceptably, there seems to be no investigations and no accountability for these abuses,” said Aparac. “The close connections between the various actors further jeopardises chances to any impartial investigation and ensuring accountability. Greater clarity on the roles of ‘international partners’ is urgently needed.”
The Russians identified by the UN are linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who is an ally of Putin. Prigozhin finances the Wagner Group. The UN working group lists three “interconnected” Prigozhin entities active in CAR: Wagner, Lobaye Invest, a CAR-based mining firm specialising in gold and diamonds that has been sanctioned by the US; and Sewa Security Services, which guards the president and other top CAR officials. Prigozhin’s operations in Africa is acting as a proxy for Moscow’s apparent ambition is to turn the region into a strategic hub. Prigozhin’s Wagner activities are closely coordinated with senior officials inside Russia’s foreign and defence ministries.