African Union peacekeepers from the Republic of the Congo had a role in the March disappearance of 11 people, including four women, in the Central African Republic, Human Rights Watch reported Monday.
According to HRW, 20 soldiers from the African Union peacekeeping force in the CAR, known as MISCA, kidnapped at least 11 people from the home of a local militia leader in Boali, around 50 miles outside of the capital Bangui.
Witnesses told HRW the hostages were detained after the militia group anti-Balaka killed a Congolese peacekeeper on March 24 and wounded four others. The detained people have not been heard from or seen since the kidnapping.
“The African Union needs to say what happened to the group that was detained and taken by the Congolese peacekeepers,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW. “The peacekeepers are there to protect the civilian population, not to abuse them.”
HRW has called for an independent investigation into the matter, and has demanded the immediate suspension of peacekeeping duties for the troops implicated in the disappearance. According to HRW, many local residents — including local officials — are afraid to get involved in an investigation because the MISCA is known for violence and intimidation tactics.
During a HRW investigation of the March disappearances, which was conducted on May 25, MISCA soldiers severely beat a local police officer and broke a beer bottle over his head following a dispute at a checkpoint.
MISCA is conducting an internal investigation into the incident, which HRW will participate in.
According to HRW, the anti-Balaka are largely Christian fighters engaged in a battle against predominantly Muslim Seleka forces, which overthrew the previous government in a March 2013 military campaign.
Both groups, according to HRW, have committed human rights violations against the local population over the past year. African Union and French peacekeepers were deployed to help stabilize the volatile situation and protect civilians, but most of the French soldiers have been pulled out of the region.
The kidnappings, known as enforced disappearances, are considered a crime under international law and can be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“Enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings of civilians are serious human rights crimes and make a mockery of MISCA’s mandate,” Bouckaert said. “The African Union needs to investigate and address these crimes immediately. At stake is nothing less than the reputation and legitimacy of the peacekeeping force in a country that desperately needs protection.”