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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Central African Republic

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Central African Republic, 20 May 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/486cb0f2c.html [accessed 24 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 4.0 million (2.0 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 3,200
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ICC


The opposition Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD) and the Union of Democratic Forces (UFDR) used children in hostilities which broke out in early 2005. Both expressed willingness to demobilize their child soldiers, but only the UFDR had officially entered a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process by October 2007. Children were thought to be present in government armed forces, but were not believed to be actively involved in hostilities.

Context:

General François Bozizé won the May 2005 elections after seizing power in a coup against President Ange-Félix Patassé in March 2003. From May 2005 hostilities were ongoing in the north-western and north-eastern provinces between the government Central African Armed Forces (Forces armées Centrafricaines, FACA) and the Presidential Guard (Garde présidentielle, GP), and various armed opposition groups.1

In the north-west, ex-president Patassé's traditional stronghold, the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (Armée Populaire pour la Restauration de la République et la Démocratie, APRD) launched attacks on the government almost immediately following the May 2005 elections. The APRD was composed of former members of Patassé's Presidential Guard and local armed self-defence groups,2 established in response to the failure of government forces to protect the local population from bandits (known as zaraguinas), who commonly attacked civilians and kidnapped children repeatedly for ransom.3 In January 2007 the APRD launched a failed attack on the town of Paoua, resulting in further casualties and civilian displacement. Conflict between the APRD and the government continued in 2007.4

In the remote and marginalized north-east, the Union of Democratic Forces (UFDR) was mostly active in Vakaga province. It was composed of General Bozizé's own former supporters and members of the Gula ethnic group, who claimed long-standing ethnic discrimination by the government.5 In September and October 2006 the UFDR seized control of several towns, prompting French military assistance to government forces in December 2006. The French military intervened once again in an air strike, in which 15 children were reportedly killed, following a UFDR attack on Birao in March 2007.6 Birao's estimated 14,000 inhabitants fled and 70 per cent of houses were thought to have been burned down following the recapture of Birao.7 In April 2007 a peace agreement was signed between the government and the UFDR chief of staff, Damané Zakaria, only to be rejected by the jailed UFDR leader, Abakar Saboune.8

The majority of human rights abuses against civilians in the north-west were attributed to government forces, in particular the GP. Attacks on government forces by the APRD were typically followed by reprisals against the civilian population by the FACA and the GP. By September 2007 hundreds of summary executions, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and rapes of civilians had taken place. In addition the FACA and the GP burned tens of thousands of houses, leading to mass internal displacement.9 By August 2007, 180,000 people were internally displaced in the north-west.10 Human rights violations were also committed by the FACA and the GP in the north-east against the Gula ethnic group.11 As of August 2007, 30,000 people were internally displaced in the region.12 By September 2007 a total of approximately 212,000 people had fled their homes in the north-west and north-east to take refuge in the bush. Another 80,000 sought refuge in Chad, Cameroon and south Darfur, Sudan.13

The situation in the CAR was exacerbated by regional conflict and instability. Chadian government troops regularly conducted cross-border raids into the CAR, attacking CAR opposition groups, looting villages and raping women and girls. Chadian bandits were implicated in criminal groups, including zaraguinas, attacking people in the north of the country. The APRD and the UFDR recruited and used children in their forces, and engaged in widespread extortion, kidnappings and beatings of the civilian population. UFDR members killed captured civilians.14

Government:

National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1994 constitution provided for (male-only) conscription or voluntary recruitment into the government armed forces at 18. Conscription was not enforced and there was no legislation relating to child soldiers.15

Neither the constitution nor the criminal code criminalized child recruitment or use. The CAR was, however, a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the constitution stated that international law took precedence over national law and policy. There were moves to reform the criminal code to bring it in line with the Rome Statute and to introduce a military justice code, which would hold military personnel criminally liable for serious human rights violations.16

Child recruitment and use

Children were thought to be present in the FACA and the GP but not actively engaged in the current armed conflict, in contrast to the 2002-3 conflict when large numbers of children were reportedly actively involved.17 Documents providing proof of age of recruits enlisting in the armed forces were checked by recruiters when available. However, central government records had been destroyed or looted during the 2002-3 armed conflict, and no one whose records had been lost could obtain copies. The government stated that recruiters should use common sense and ask children questions that would reveal whether they were really 18. If a child joined the armed forces, he was treated as an adult. There were no reports available that any recruiters or others had been subject to disciplinary measures or other sanctions for recruiting children.18

Armed Groups:

The number of children in the APRD and the UFDR was unknown, but both groups recruited and used child soldiers. Until May 2007 both groups refused to recognize 15-18-year-olds as children, but they subsequently accepted that they had children in their ranks and said that they were willing to discuss the demobilization of children below the age of 15. Reports indicated that both the UFDR and the APDR recruited Chadian and Sudanese children. Children in the north-east of the CAR were also reportedly forcibly recruited by Chadian armed groups.19

Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD)

There were large numbers of child soldiers in the APRD ranks. APRD commanders confirmed the use of children as young as 12 in their forces, and stated that many were armed and participated in combat. They claimed that many children joined the APRD voluntarily, for protection from government forces.20

Union of Democratic Forces (UFDR)

The UFDR forcibly recruited children, and witnesses reported seeing child soldiers with the UFDR in the October – November 2006 offensive. An inter-agency UN mission reported seeing children in UFDR ranks in January 2007. The UFDR reportedly used civilians, including young girls, to cook or to transport looted goods.21 During UFDR attacks on the FACA in March 2007, former students at the Birao government secondary-school were identified among its troops. Many of the children, aged 12 to 17 and most of them boys, who had participated in the attacks, were killed.22

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

An adult DDR program, administered by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), was in place from February 2004 to end-February 2007,23 with the aim, among others, of integrating ex-combatants into the national armed forces. Of more than 7,500 combatants who went through the process, only 26 children, most of them boys, were included.24 UNICEF was not involved in the process.

In February 2007 the APRD told the non-governmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch that they would demobilize child soldiers immediately, as long as their security could be guaranteed.25 In March and June 2007 the APRD requested assistance from the UN country team in a children's DDR procedure. However, by late 2007 it was not clear that progress had been made, and formal negotiations were hampered by insecurity in the north-western region.26

UFDR

In April and May 2007 more than 450 children associated with the UFDR were demobilized, all of whom were subsequently reintegrated into their communities and families. Some 75 per cent of this group were boys aged between 13 and 17, and 75 per cent had participated in military operations and combat for sustained periods that averaged from nine months to a year. Some 10 per cent of the children were as young as ten, and were used mainly for logistical support during 2006 and early 2007.27 On 16 June 2007 a tripartite action plan between the UFDR, the government and UNICEF to allow children to be reintegrated was signed and another group of approximately 200 children was released.28 It was claimed that by September 2007 the last remaining 450-500 children were released into their communities; however, this was not verified by the joint UNICEF – UFDR monitoring structure established by the tripartite action plan.29

The UN Secretary-General's Representative on human rights of internally displaced persons visited the country during March 2007. He recommended that armed groups immediately cease the recruitment of children and enter the DDR process. He also recommended that the government and the armed groups comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.30

Developments:

The government referred the situation of 2002 and 2003 to the International Criminal Court in December 2004. In May 2007 the ICC agreed to begin an investigation into the most serious crimes committed after 1 July 2002. The Prosecutor stated that the investigation would focus in particular on allegations of rape, which, he said, appeared to have been "committed in numbers that cannot be ignored under international law". Reports received by the ICC indicated that the victims included elderly women, young girls and men, often with aggravated aspects of cruelty, such as rape committed by multiple perpetrators, in front of third persons, or where relatives were forced to participate. Many victims were subsequently shunned by their families and communities. The ICC Office of the Prosecutor also continued to monitor closely allegations of crimes committed since the end of 2005.31

On 25 September 2007 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1778 (2007) on the Central African Republic and Chad. It established MINURCAT, a "multidimensional presence" of UN and EU personnel, comprising police, military liaison officers and civilian personnel. It mandated the protection of civilians in danger, particularly refugees and internally displaced persons, and the facilitation of humanitarian aid and movement of humanitarian personnel in north-eastern CAR and eastern Chad.32 Up to 4,000 UN-mandated European Union troops were expected to be deployed to Chad by early 2008.33 In November 2006 the mandate of the UN Peace-Building Support Office in the Central African Republic (BONUCA), authorized in 2000 by the Security Council, was renewed until 31 December 2007.34

The UFDR and the APRD were among the parties listed as recruiting and using child soldiers in the 21 December 2007 report of the Secretary-General to the UN Security Council on children and armed conflict.35


1 International Crisis Group (ICG), "Central African Republic: anatomy of a phantom state", Africa Report No. 136, 13 December 2007.

2 Human Rights Watch (HRW), "State of anarchy: rebellion and abuses against civilians", Human Rights Watch, Vol. 19, No. 13(A) (September 2007).

3 "CAR: Villagers flee kidnappers demanding huge ransoms", 5 March 2007, "Central African Republic – Cameroon: CAR refugees in Cameroon fear returning home", 29 November 2007, IRIN.

4 "CAR: Civilians in northwest still afraid of going home", IRIN, 2 August 2007; Report of the Secretary-General on Chad and the Central African Republic, UN Doc. S/2007/97, 23 February 2007.

5 HRW, above note 2.

6 ICG, above note 1; "CAR: Rebel activity fuels insecurity in the northeast", IRIN, 8 February 2007.

7 Report of the Secretary-General on Chad and the Central African Republic, UN Doc. S/2007/488, 10 August 2007.

8 HRW, above note 2.

9 Ibid.; "Central African Republic", Amnesty International Report 2007; US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2006, Central African Republic, 6 March 2007, www.state.gov/; "Caught in CAR's deadly crossfire", BBC News, 30 July 2007.

10 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 7.

11 HRW, above note 2.

12 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 7.

13 UNHCR News Stories, "Central African Republic's quiet conflict uproots more than 290,000", 27 September 2007, www.unhcr.org/; "Thousands flee from CAR violence", BBC News, 25 March 2006.

14 HRW, above note 2.

15 Child Soldiers Coalition, discussion with minister for information, Bangui, March 2007.

16 "La Centrafrique va se doter d'un code de justice militaire", APA Bangui, 11 July 2007, www.apanews.net.

17 Confidential coalition interviews, Bangui, March 2007.

18 Confidential source, Bangui, March 2007.

19 Confidential source, November 2007.

20 "CAR: Conflict forces children into insurgency", IRIN, 23 February 2007; HRW, above note 2.

21 HRW, above note 2.

22 Report of the Secretary-General on children in armed conflict, UN Doc. A/62/609-S/2007/757, 21 December 2007.

23 Funded by the World Bank Multi-country MDRP and UNDP, www.mdrp.org. See also African Development Bank – World Bank strategy for the CAR 2007-2008, www.afdb.org.

24 Confidential source, Bangui, March 2007.

25 HRW, above note 2.

26 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 22.

27 Ibid.

28 UNICEF, "Central African Republic signed child soldiers reintegration agreement, 16 June 2007, www.unicef.org.

29 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 22.

30 Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights of internally displaced persons, Addendum: Mission to the Central African Republic, preliminary note, UN Doc. A/HRC/4/38/Add.5, 16 March 2007.

31 International Criminal Court (ICC), "Prosecutor opens investigation into the Central African Republic", press release, 22 May 2007; "Background: Situation in the Central African Republic", 22 May 2007; www.icc-cpi.int/

32 UN Security Council Resolution S/RES/1778 (2007) on the situation in Chad, the Central African Republic and the subregion.

33 Reuters Foundation, AlertNet, "Chad fighting raises stakes of EU peace deployment", 27 November 2007, www.alertnet.org.

34 UN Security Council, Statement by the President of the Security Council, UN Doc. S/PRST/2000/5, 10 February 2000; UN Security Council, Statement by the President of the Security Council, UN Doc. S/PRST/2006/47, 22 November 2006.

35 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 22.

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