Christian-Muslim violence escalating in Central African Republic

(Photo: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch)Machetes are confiscated by FOMAC troops as those displaced by the fighting between anti-balaka and Seleka forces enter the FOMAC compound for safety. December 6, 2013.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has today published a report highlighting how Christian militias in the Central African Republic have been massacring Muslims in the north of the country.

The report, titled "'They Came To Kill': Escalating Atrocities in the Central African Republic", describes how violence is escalating because of the retaliation by Christian communities who were attacked by Islamic rebels that supported the recent coup.

The 34-page report is based on research from the Ouham province, and documents a surge in Anti-Balaka (meaning "anti-machete") militia violence since September 2013.

These acts include the murder of hundreds of Muslims, arson attacks on their houses, and the theft of their cattle and other livestock.

In response to this, there has been large scale retaliation in turn, from Muslim groups.

Ex-Seleka forces - groups that had previously been part of a rebellious alliance that initiated the coup in March of this year - are now no longer under the control of the CAR's new political leaders and are causing chaos.

HRW reports that they have retaliated against Christians in large numbers with the apparent knowledge of their commanders.

On November 18, the Bossangoa deputy commander, Colonel Saleh Zabadi, in the presence of his superior and a dozen officers, ordered the drowning of seven farmers who were wrongfully accused of being Anti-Balaka militia. The farmers were bound and thrown into the Ouham River. Only three survived.

Although the Anti-Balaka forces describe themselves as acting in self-defence, there are reports of them attacking at random.

A Muslim woman told HRW that she was outside cooking at 5am when Anti-Balaka forces attacked her home

"They began to cut my husband with their machetes on his side and his back, and cut his throat. After they killed him, they set our house on fire, and threw his body on the fire, together with my son's. They ordered my 13-year-old boy to come outside and lie down, and then cut him two times with a machete and killed him," she said.

One man tearfully described escaping from Anti-Balaka attackers. He then said he had to endure the horror of watching from his hiding place as they proceeded to cut the throats of his two wives, his 10 children and a grandchild, as well as other Muslims they had captured.

A female Muslim nomadic cattle herder told HRW she was forced to watch as Anti-Balaka fighters cut the throats of her three-year-old son, two boys ages 10 and 14, and an adult relative. The victims were all the Muslim males in the cattle camp.

On December 5, Anti-Balaka forces shot or slit the throats of at least 11 Muslim civilians in the northern city of Bossangoa's Boro district during their brief control of the town.

An Anti-Balaka attack on the CAR's capital, Bangui, and the resulting aftermath of violence left 400 to 500 Muslims and Christians dead.

The recent violence in the north has created a humanitarian crisis, HRW reports.

Many villages across Ouham province have been burned down by ex-Seleka and Anti-Balaka forces alike. There are approximately 40,000 displaced Christians that have sought refuge at the Catholic church in Bossangoa, while 4,000 Muslims remain on the opposite side of town.

Aid workers have found assistance provision difficult, particularly medical support, as humanitarian staff have also been the targets of attacks.

HRW has called urgently on all concerned countries to support the African Union/French peacekeeping force, and lobbied for the urgent need for a UN peacekeeping mission.

"The Security Council should immediately authorise a UN peacekeeping mission under Chapter VII of the UN Charter," HRW said.

"It should have a robust mandate and the means to protect civilians, promote human rights, and create an environment conducive to the delivery of humanitarian aid."

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW and author of the report, said: "The brutal killings in the Central African Republic are creating a cycle of murder and reprisal that threatens to spin out of control.

"The UN Security Council needs to act quickly to bring this evolving catastrophe to a halt.

"Urgent support for peacekeeping in the Central African Republic is crucial to bring stability to a tense situation, protect the population from abuses, and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those at grave risk.

"The potential for further mass violence is shockingly high."

Amnesty International is planning to publish a longer report documenting atrocities in Bangui in 2014.