DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Russian mercenaries have allegedly executed, tortured and beaten civilians in the Central African Republic since 2019, according to a report released this week by Human Rights Watch.
Russian-speaking men carrying military-grade weapons and wearing military clothing without official insignia set up a roadblock near the town of Bossangoa in July 2021, detained men for beatings and shot at least eight to death, according to witnesses. they spoke with Human Rights Watch.
The organization interviewed at least 40 people in person or by phone over a period of more than two years to document abuses likely committed by Russia-linked Wagner group mercenaries. Another incident described by witnesses involved Russian-linked forces detaining and torturing people in Bambari in 2019.
The international rights group’s accusations come after United Nations experts in October called on the government of the Central African Republic to end all relationships with “private military and security personnel, in particular the Wagner Group,” whose members said they have violently harassed and intimidated civilians, peacekeepers. , journalists, humanitarian workers and minorities and have committed rape and sexual violence against women, men and girls.
France and the United States also accused Wagner of being “mercenaries” for massacres and executions of civilians in January.
The Wagner Group, which bills itself as a private military contractor, sends mercenary forces, many former Russian soldiers, to various African countries and elsewhere, including Ukraine and the Middle East. Although the Kremlin officially denies any connection to Wagner, the group is used strategically to further President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to increase Russia’s influence and undermine democracy, analysts say.
Human Rights Watch urged the government of the Central African Republic, the country’s Special Criminal Court, or the International Criminal Court to investigate the incidents in its report and other allegations of abuse by Russia-linked forces there.
“The Central African government has every right to request international security assistance, but it cannot allow foreign forces to kill or abuse civilians with impunity,” said Ida Sawyer, crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch.
“To demonstrate its respect for the rule of law and end these abuses, the government must immediately investigate and prosecute all forces, including Russia-linked forces, responsible for killings, unlawful detention and torture.”
The human rights group says it has requested information from the government about investigations into violence and any deals with Russia, but has received no response.
The government of the Central African Republic in 2021 did recognize the serious violation of human rights by the Russians, which forced Vladimir Titorenko to leave his position as Russian ambassador to the country. He also said that he would set up a special commission of inquiry to establish responsibility, but no findings have been published.
Russian security has helped protect President Faustin-Archange Touadera for years, with former member of Russia’s internal security services Valery Zakharov serving as adviser in Bangui, the capital, on military, political and economic matters. While the government denies hiring Wagner mercenaries, Zakharov is a “key figure” in Wagner’s command structure, according to European Union documents.
Experts estimate that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 troops in the Central African Republic.
The country’s ties to the Russian group have also begun to affect its financial contributions.
Central African Republic Budget Minister Herve Ndoba said Tuesday after a visit to Washington that the country should not expect contributions from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
“The future looks uncertain for our finances and the national economy,” he said.
The two institutions want guarantees that their money will not be used to finance the Russian paramilitary group. Last year, France cut off its aid to the country because of an anti-French agenda that it said was being guided by the Russians there.