Central African Republic: Russian-linked forces ‘tortured’ and ‘executed’ civilians in the Central African Republic since 2019, says HRW

The report – which is based on interviews with 40 people, including 10 victims of violence and 15 witnesses – describes assaults allegedly committed by men “with white skin who speak Russian” who wore “beige khaki clothes” and used military-grade weapons .

Referring to evidence from “several Western governments, UN experts and Special Rapporteurs”, HRW attributed the crimes to “forces attached to Russia operating in the Central African Republic”, including “a significant number of members of the Wagner Group”, which is a private military security contractor with ties to the Russian government.

The Wagner group first emerged in 2014, when Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas began their war with the Ukrainian government. Since then, independent research and CNN investigations have found that the private military contractor has operated in Syria and several countries in Africa. They have been accused by US officials and human rights watchdogs of persistent human rights violations. In late March, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said about 1,000 people affiliated with the Wagner group were in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. That same month, a senior Ukrainian adviser told CNN that Wagner was involved in an alleged murder plot against the Ukrainian president and prime minister.

The group is believed to be linked to – and funded by – Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch so close to the Kremlin that he is known as the “chef” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any connection to the group. Prigozhin also denies any connection to Wagner.

“There is compelling evidence that Russian-identified forces supporting the Central African Republic’s government have committed serious abuses against civilians with complete impunity,” said IW Sawyer, HRW’s crisis and conflict director, in the report released on Tuesday.

“The failure of the Central African Republic and its partners to strongly condemn these abuses and to identify and prosecute those responsible will most likely only fuel further crimes in Africa and beyond,” Sawyer added.

CNN has contacted the government in CAR to get a response to the HRW report.

Fighting along ethnic and sectarian lines has plagued CAR since 2013. The role of Russian-linked forces in the ongoing conflict – and their reasons for being in the country – remains unclear.

One of the atrocities alleged in the report involved the killing of at least 13 unarmed men near the town of Bossangoa in the western CAR.

The alleged incident took place on the morning of July 21, 2021, when Russian-speaking forces set up a roadblock, “stopped the men, beat and shot them and killed them, and then placed at least eight of the bodies in a low hole next to the road,” according to HRW. CNN has not been able to independently confirm the claim.

In August 2021, the CAR government submitted a public report to the UN Security Council, which promised to “set up a special commission of inquiry” to investigate who was responsible for the killings and “take appropriate action”. The Commission has not yet published its findings, according to HRW.

HRW also spoke to six men who claimed to have been illegally detained for weeks by CAR’s national army and Russian-speaking forces, which the men said kept them under “inhuman conditions in an open hole at a national army base” in Alindao, Basse Kotto province in the southern CAR.

According to the victims, several of the detainees were beaten and two were executed. According to its report, HRW could not independently verify the allegations.

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Former CAR Prime Minister Henri-Marie Dondra – who stepped down in February this year – claims there is no contract between his country and any Russian private security companies, according to local media reports quoted by HRW.

In 2017, the UN Security Council waived an arms embargo against CAR and agreed to the deployment of 175 Russian trainers to the local military. A formal agreement was then signed between the CAR and the Kremlin in 2018 to allow Russian “former military officers” to train CAR forces, according to a 2021 UN report on “the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights.”

That United States, European Union, France and several UN expert panels have all reported that the Wagner Group is present and operating in CAR.

In an interview with an Italian television station last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s long-standing position that the Wagner group “has nothing to do” with the Kremlin.

The U.S. Treasury Department defines the Wagner group as a “Russian Defense Ministry proxy force” believed to be administered and funded by a Russian oligarch close to Putin. In 2020, the Treasury introduced sanctions targeting eight “entities and individuals” it said worked to “promote Russia’s influence in the Central African Republic.”

According to HRW, Russian-affiliated forces operating inside the country “do not wear a designated uniform with official insignia or other insignia,” which can make it difficult for civilians to identify them.

Central African Republic: Russian-linked forces ‘tortured’ and ‘executed’ civilians in the Central African Republic since 2019, says HRW

Source link Central African Republic: Russian-linked forces ‘tortured’ and ‘executed’ civilians in the Central African Republic since 2019, says HRW

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