By Human Rights Watch (HRW)
(Nairobi) – At least 42 Muslim Peuhl herders, mostly women and girls, are being held captive by anti-balaka fighters in the Central African Republic and are at risk of sexual violence, Human Rights Watch said today. There are reports that many others may also be held. United Nations peacekeepers and the government should urgently act to free them.
Members of one family Human Rights Watch interviewed on April 13, 2015, described the horrors they endured during 14 months of captivity in Pondo, a village in the southwest. The anti-balaka killed two boys, ages about 6 and 7, and raped three young women and girls, one of whom became ill and died in captivity. Her year-old baby died of malnutrition. The surviving family members were rescued on April 4 and 5.
“Holding civilians captive, killing children, and sexually enslaving women and girls are shocking tactics by these anti-balaka and amount to war crimes,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “UN peacekeepers and government officials who have already taken bold steps to free one group of ethnic Peuhl should urgently intervene to free the others and arrest their captors.”
The anti-balaka are an armed group who have killed and targeted thousands of Muslims since 2013. Thirteen surviving members of the family were released on April 4 and 5 following the intervention of local authorities and the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MINUSCA. Human Rights Watch first reported that a group of Peuhl was held captive in Pondo on December 22, 2014, and urged action to free them.
Members of the recently released family, witnesses, and other sources said that dozens of other Peuhl are being held in the southwest, including towns and villages near Pondo. They said about 30 are being held in Lambi, 11 in Ngbaina, and 1 in Betefio. Human Rights Watch has also received information that dozens of Peuhl were being held in Gadzi and others in Gaga, though their circumstances remain unclear. The vast majority are women and girls, some held for over a year. The reports raise a strong possibility that other groups of Peuhl are also being held.
One young woman, about 18 years old, said she had been raped by multiple anti-balaka fighters during her captivity. “I was taken as a wife by the anti-balaka,” she said. “It was against my will, I did not want to accept it. It was not just one man, it was with many different men. They would just take me. They brutalized me and I am now pregnant.”
The victim’s sister, who is about 20, was raped repeatedly during her captivity by one anti-balaka fighter who had claimed her as his “wife.”
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