NAIROBI — Aid workers have unearthed the remains of 12 people who they say were murdered by international peacekeepers in the Central African Republic in 2014.
The troops, from the Republic of Congo, were part of a peacekeeping mission — first under the auspices of the African Union, then the United Nations — aimed at ending a civil war that left thousands dead beginning in late 2012. Human Rights Watch had previously reported on the role Congolese peacekeepers played in “enforced disappearances,” but the Congolese government “has taken no action toward credible investigations or justice for these crimes,” according to a new report by the group released Tuesday.
Now, new evidence has emerged in what appears to be one of the most egregious cases of peacekeeper abuse in the history of the mission in the Central African Republic. The African Union peacekeeping mission was absorbed by the United Nations not long after the incident occurred.
The new Human Rights Watch report says that a local aid group exhumed the remains of a dozen people in February of this year and that “clothing and other distinctive items identified the victims as members of a group of at least 12 people the Congolese peacekeepers arrested on March 24, 2014.”
Peacekeepers had previously claimed that those people had escaped from detention after the arrests — and denied any role in their deaths.
“The discovery of 12 bodies is damning evidence of an appalling crime by Congolese peacekeepers, who had been sent to protect people, not prey on them,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, including those from the Republic of Congo, have more recently been accused of sexually abusing dozens of girls and women across the country. A total of 120 soldiers from the Republic of Congo have been sent home in connection with the sexual abuse scandal.
The disappearance of the people in 2014 in Boali, a town in the country’s southwest, was yet another stain on the peacekeeping mission. Human Rights Watch had previously reported the “presumed location of the grave” – about 500 yards from where a U.N. peacekeeping base stands.
“Yet [African Union] peacekeepers, U.N. peacekeepers, and national authorities made no effort to protect the site, or to conduct a forensic exhumation to preserve evidence for future judicial proceedings,” Tuesday’s report said.
The group was arrested after a clash between a local commander from the “anti-Balaka” Christian militia and peacekeepers left one peacekeeper dead.
“Angered by the death of their colleague, the Congolese peacekeepers surrounded the anti-
Balaka leader’s house, arrested him and at least 12 others, including five women, one of whom was six months pregnant, and two children, one about 10 years old and the other 7 months old,” the report said.
“Later that night, witnesses heard screams and a volley of gunshots from an area near the villa on the other side of the road, followed about an hour later by another round of gunfire from the same location.”
Although the United Nations acknowledged in a 2015 statement that peacekeepers were involved in “enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings,” the Congolese government has taken “little or no action,” according to Human Rights Watch.