DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Suspected war criminals in Central African Republic are carrying out atrocities and terrorizing people, and the United Nations and CAR government must try harder to bring them to justice, rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday.
Amnesty said none of the 20 suspected war criminals it had identified in a report in July had been brought before a court of law and some were still committing crimes and interfering with the justice system.
The failure to hold them accountable means they continue to terrorize the population without fear of repercussions, said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s deputy regional director.
"Impunity is one of the driving factors of the crisis. Individuals implicated in war crimes in the past are free to commit new crimes. Unless you stop that cycle, violence will continue. We can't wait until the conflict is over to bring them to justice," Cockburn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Central African Republic was plunged into chaos when northern, mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the majority Christian country in March 2013, prompting a backlash by the largely Christian 'anti-balaka' militia.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in CAR since December 2013. The U.N. estimates 2.5 million of the 4.5 million population need emergency assistance, including shelter, food and water, basic healthcare and education for children.
An interim government led by former Bangui mayor Catherine Samba Panza and supported by international peacekeepers has failed to stamp out the violence and restore order, Amnesty said.
Amnesty documented massacres committed in October 2014 by both Seleka and anti-balaka militias in and around the towns of Dekoa and Bambari in the country's central region.
The report "Central African Republic: Impunity is fuelling violence", also said leaders of both the rebels and the militias had attacked the police, freed prisoners from jail and negotiated with the government on prisoner swaps.
"Unless there is an end to impunity in CAR, serious human rights violations will continue unabated," said Cockburn. Some progress has been made toward setting up special courts, but they lacked funds to operate, he added.
Territorial Administration Minister Modibo Bachir Walidu, asked to comment on the Amnesty report, said it surprised him, and added that Samba Panza had asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute CAR war criminals.
"Proceedings at the ICC take a lot of time. Perhaps Amnesty thinks we are doing nothing, or not enough to prosecute criminals, but I assure you that the government is determined to combat impunity," Walidu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The U.N. mission and the government said earlier that U.N. peacekeepers had arrested Chadian warlord Abdel Kader Baba-Ladde in northern CAR close to the Chad border.
Mission spokeswoman Myriam Dessables said Ladde was wanted for crimes committed in CAR between 2008 and 2012. CAR officials have accused his followers of killing civilians, cattle rustling, highway robbery and an attack on a uranium mine.
Aid groups have said fighting between Ladde's followers and Chadian and CAR troops had displaced tens of thousands of CAR civilians, and Cockburn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation his arrest was a positive sign.
Reporting by Misha Hussain in Dakar and Crispin Dembassa-Kette in Central African Republic; Editing by Tim Pearce