A damning United Nations report on Tuesday alleged horrific crimes in the Central African Republic including rape, murder, torture, kidnapping and the use of child soldiers, which could amount to war crimes and even genocide.
The UN said “appalling” crimes over 12 years between 2003 and 2015 were committed by the army, armed groups and international forces.
Its report — which documents cases of gang rape, sexual slavery, the torching of entire villages and possibly genocide — was prepared for a new court that is being set up in the capital Bangui to judge the crimes.
In a separate report the UN said surging violence has killed hundreds and forced around 88,000 people to flee their homes since the beginning of the month, bringing the number of internally displaced people in CAR to over 500,000.
The country has been struggling to recover from a three-year civil war between Muslim and Christian militias that started in 2013.
The UN said it noted “serious violence against people on the basis of their religion, ethnicity or perceived support for armed groups” and said the court should consider investigating some of the incidents further as possible genocide.
“As long as impunity reigns, this terrible trajectory — with each armed group committing appalling acts of violence — may continue,” said the head of the UN’s MINUSCA forces in the country, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.
A special prosecutor and four judges have been appointed to the new “special criminal court” — two from Central Africa, one from Burkina Faso and one French national, the first time CAR’s justice system will prosecute crimes under international law.
“We know some people are getting anxious about this report,” said Andrew Gilmour, the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.
“We are talking of those who committed some of the most appalling violations, who are now aware that their actions were observed,” he added.
“Naturally they are nervous that justice will catch up with them.”
CAR descended into bloodshed in March 2013 following the overthrow of leader Francois Bozize by Seleka rebels, which triggered the country’s worst crisis since its independence from France in 1960.
Sectarian bloodletting has pitted factions of the Christian anti-Balaka militia against the mainly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels, with the violence largely targeting civilians.
Military intervention by France from 2013 to 2016 and the deployment of UN troops reduced the number of atrocities, but armed bands still run wild in parts of the deeply poor country.