HRW: Captive Muslims in CAR must be freed

African Union forces from Cameroon help carry an injured man after a nearby mosque was ransacked last May [AP]

African Union forces from Cameroon help carry an injured man after a nearby mosque was ransacked last May [AP]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is demanding that anti-Muslim militia – known as anti-Balaka – in the Central African Republic (CAR) release dozens of Muslim, mostly female, captives.

On Wednesday, HRW released a report detailing kidnap, rape and murder of ethnic Peuhl Muslims, who work as cattle herders.

The report said that the anti-Balaka Christian militia were still holding about 42 Peuhl Muslims, mostly women and children.

“Holding civilians captive, killing children, and sexually enslaving women and girls are shocking tactics by these anti-balaka and amount to war crimes,” said the report.

HRW called on UN peacekeepers to rescue the Muslim captives.

On Sunday, the UN announced that its peacekeepers had rescued 21 Muslims from the ethnic Fulani tribe who had been captured by the anti-Balaka in 2014.

According to Reuters, a UN spokeswoman said that the 21 included 13 children, two men and six women. The women were in a state of shock, the UN said, after having been repeatedly raped.

Systematic destruction

The HRW report comes a month after a UN and US report outlining the systematic destruction of 417 of the country’s 436 mosques as CAR plunged into civil war and sectarian fighting.

The current crisis in CAR – a mineral rich nation of 4.6 million people – began when Seleka – a rebel amalgamation of several different factions – started moving toward the capital Bangui in March 2012, hoping to remove Francois Bozize, a military officer who seized power in 2003 and had been elected president twice since then.

The largely Muslim rebel group Seleka seized control of the Christian-majority country in the aftermath, and in some instances attacked and killed Christian civilians.

Early in January 2014, the country’s National Assembly selected Catherine Samba-Panza to be the next president replacing Michel Djotodia – a Muslim, and former Seleka comander – who fled the capital Bangui to Benin in early 2014, a move that suggested violence might be quieting down in the capital.

However, Christian militias and citizens have upped their attacks against Muslim citizens in recent months, claiming to be avenging crimes committed by the Muslim rebel militias last year.

In October 2014, the UN said that the capital Bangui had been almost entirely purged of its Muslim population.

The fighting has caused some 450,000 people to be internally displaced – at least 100,000 of these are believed to be from the Muslim minority – with an additional 420,000 refugees who fled the country.

In September, some 8,000 of a 12,000-troop UN peacekeeping force began to deploy in CAR as part of Security Council mandate to stabilize the country.

The BRICS POST with inputs from Agencies

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