Bangui besieged by violence and fear

Susanna Flood, Amnesty International’s Director of Media, blogs from the Central African Republic as our current research mission continues

On the surface, everything is quiet in Bangui, the tiny capital city of the Central African Republic. Strangely quiet. But behind this silence, stories of devastation are emerging. The city is calm but people are afraid.

There are virtually no cars on the road and an eerie silence is hanging over the city.  And then you hear a short burst of gunfire coming from one of the various quartiers which have been beset by fighting since early yesterday or French fighter jets do a sudden and unexpected fly-pass, making their presence in the city known.

There is no clear toll of those killed or wounded in the attacks between so-called anti-Balaka, said to be loyal to ousted President Bozizé, and the former Seleka forces of new President Djotodia. But those in the know say at least 200 have been killed, making it the largest death toll in one day since this crisis erupted.

Bodies are being picked up from around the city and brought to the central morgue and the Hôpital Communautaire. They are arriving from Christian and Muslim neighbourhoods alike, some wounded by bullets and shrapnel, others clearly the victims of machete and knife attacks.

It is women to whom the task of collecting the bodies has fallen. Only they can venture out. They are collecting corpses in wheelbarrows and, when brave enough, delivering them to hospitals or morgues. In some instances they are burying them in their back yards, not daring to venture further afield.

Insecurity also makes it hard for those in need of treatment to reach the hospitals. Likewise, the doctors who could be providing the emergency treatment are unable to leave their homes to help the wounded. The city has shut down.

The sense of insecurity is all-pervading. One human rights defender spoke to Amnesty International from what should have been the security of his own home. But even there he was afraid to be heard, whispering as he shared the latest news from his community.

Reports are also emerging of former Seleka patrolling some neighbourhoods, opening fire indiscriminately, kicking down doors, pillaging and even killing. People are taking refuge in churches, ill-equipped to handle the security situation, let alone providing the necessary sanitation or food. Bangui airport is also said to be over-run by thousands of people seeking protection from the French forces protecting this strategic location.

But it is not just the Muslim former Seleka armed groups who pose a threat to security. As fighting broke out in Bangui, more than 50 bodies were brought to a mosque in PK5, one of the city’s Muslim neighbourhoods.

This violence mirrors what has been happening the length and breadth of the country for many months. The silent crisis has finally reached Bangui, just as the UN Security Council, driven by France, is waking up to the looming catastrophe facing the besieged people of the Central African Republic.

While the world mourns the tragic death of Nelson Mandela, in this other corner of Africa people are suffering and in need of urgent action. This is not a time to forget these people. If anything, the legacy of Madiba should remind us of our duty to fight to protect those who are suffering.

Learn more about the Central African Republic:

Amnesty’s October 2013 report: Human Rights Crisis Spiralling Out Of Control
News release (8 Nov 2013): New satellite images reveal shocking aftermath of abuses in Central African Republic