Central African Republic: Russia-linked forces “tortured” and “executed” civilians in the Central African Republic since 2019, HRW reports

The report, based on interviews with 40 people, including 10 victims of violence and 15 witnesses, details abuses allegedly perpetrated by “white-skinned, Russian-speaking” men who wore “beige khakis” and used military equipment. weapon.

Citing testimony from “several Western governments, UN experts and special rapporteurs,” HRW attributed the crimes to “Russian-affiliated forces operating in the Central African Republic,” including “a significant number of members of the Wagner Group,” which is a private military security guard with ties to the Russian government.

The Wagner Group first came to prominence in 2014, when Russian-backed separatists in Donbas went to war with the Ukrainian government. Since then, independent research and CNN investigations have revealed that the private military contractor has been operating in Syria and several countries in Africa. US officials and human rights activists have accused them of persistent human rights violations. In late March, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that about 1,000 people associated with the Wagner group were in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas. That same month, a senior Ukrainian adviser told CNN that Wagner was involved in an alleged plot to assassinate Ukraine’s 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 Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “chef”.

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

“There is compelling evidence that Russian-identified forces supporting the government of the Central African Republic have committed serious violations of civilian rights with complete impunity,” Ida Sawyer, HRW director of crisis and conflict, said in a report released Tuesday.

“The failure of the Government of the Central African Republic and its partners to strongly condemn these violations, and to identify and prosecute the perpetrators, is likely to only fuel more crimes in Africa and beyond,” Sawyer added.

CNN turned to the CAR government for a response to the HRW report.

Since 2013, the Central African Republic has been haunted by inter-ethnic and confessional clashes. The role of Russian-linked forces in the ongoing conflict and the reasons for their presence in the country remain unclear.

One of the atrocities mentioned in the report involves the killing of at least 13 unarmed men near the city 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 checkpoint, “stopped the men, beat and shot them, and then threw at least eight bodies into a shallow hole next to the road,” HRW reports. CNN was unable to independently verify this claim.

In August 2021, the CAR government presented public report to the UN Security Council, in which he promised to “set up a special commission of inquiry” to investigate who was responsible for the killings and “take appropriate action”. According to HRW, the commission has yet to release its findings.

HRW also spoke to six men who claimed to have been illegally detained for several weeks by the CAR national army and Russian-speaking forces, who the men said held them in “inhumane conditions in an open pit at a national army base” in Alindao, Bas- Cotto. provinces in the south of the CAR.

According to the victims, several detainees were beaten and two were executed. According to her report, HRW was unable to independently verify these claims.

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

In 2017, the UN Security Council lifted the arms embargo on the CAR, agreeing to send 175 Russian instructors to the local armed forces. Then in 2018, a formal agreement was signed between the CAR and the Kremlin to allow Russian “former officers” to train CAR forces, according to a 2021 United Nations report on “the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights.”

United States, European Union, France and several UN panels have reported that the Wagner group is present and active in the CAR.

In an interview with an Italian broadcaster last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s longstanding position that the Wagner group has “nothing to do” with the Kremlin.

The US Department of the Treasury defines the Wagner Group as “a proxy force for the Russian Defense Ministry.” managed and financed Russian oligarch close to Putin. In 2020, the finance ministry imposed sanctions on eight “entities and individuals” that it said were working to “increase Russia’s influence in the Central African Republic.”

According to HRW, Russian-linked forces operating inside the country “do not wear special uniforms with official insignia or other distinguishing features,” which can make it difficult for civilians to identify them.

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