Pope’s Visit Key Moment to Call for Tolerance, Justice
(Nairobi) –At least 100 people have died in brutal sectarian violence around the Muslim enclave of Kilomètre 5 in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, since September 25, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. Pope Francis is due to visit the city on November 29 and 30.
“The Muslim enclave of Kilomètre 5 has become the fault line of the bloody sectarian violence gripping Bangui,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Pope Francis’ visit to Bangui is a critical moment for a senior religious figure to condemn the violence by all sides, urge tolerance, and call for those responsible to be brought to justice.”
Pope Francis is to visit Bangui on his first trip to Africa. The pope is scheduled to visit the Koudoukou central mosque in Kilomètre 5 and an internal displacement camp. He also plans to hold a prayer vigil at the city’s cathedral and a mass at the main sports stadium.
In a letter to Pope Francis on November 16, Human Rights Watch urged the pontiff to stand with the victims of human rights abuses and call for justice and accountability for serious international crimes by all those responsible, no matter their ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, or position.
Impunity for serious crimes in the Central African Republic has led to repeated cycles of violence over more than two decades.
Kilomètre 5 is the last remaining Muslim enclave in Bangui, with a population of about 15,000. Some 122,000 Muslims lived in the capital before the conflict began in March 2013, when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the government of then-President Francois Bozizé. The Seleka’s rule was marked by widespread human rights abuses. In mid-2013, the mostly Christian militia called the anti-balaka organized to fight against the Seleka and carried out large scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians in Bangui and western parts of the country. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians fled the country or sought shelter in enclaves.
Marie Doloko, a 95-year-old blind woman in the Kina neighborhood, was alone in her home on October 29 when two men came in and asked for money. When she said she did not have any, they set fire to the house. “I started to feel the heat so I turned and pressed myself against a wall,” she later told Human Rights Watch. “It became difficult to breath and I thought I was going to die. Fortunately, my granddaughter came and rescued me.” Neighbors of Doloko, who were hiding, told Human Rights Watch that the two men who set fire to her house were young Muslims from Kilomètre 5.
In the days that followed, isolated killings continued around Kilomètre 5. On November 9 a Muslim, Aliou Sissoko, was abducted while on his way to the bank outside the enclave. His mutilated body was later found decapitated.
An official from the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, told Human Rights Watch that peacekeepers were conducting more patrols around Kilomètre 5 to enhance civilian protection and restore freedom of movement, among other measures. On September 30 MINUSCA officials established a joint task force, putting the military in charge of UN police in Bangui.
“People who live in and near Kilomètre 5 desperately need better protection from national gendarmes and international peacekeepers,” Mudge said. “Justice and accountability are urgently needed if the repetitive cycles of brutal killings are to end.”