The United Nations has asked authorities in the Central African Republic (CAR) to take action following alleged torture cases by Russian soldiers or mercenaries in the country. This comes after an investigation over allegations of torturing and abusing Mahamat Nour Mamadou for days.
According to a report that was seen by AFP, the victim, Mahamat Nour Mamadou, told UN investigators that he was held by a group of Russians in the central city of Bambari last month on suspicion of belonging to an armed militia. He said he was severely beaten and had a finger cut off. Vannina Maestracci, a spokeswoman for UN said based on statements and physical evidence, the UN can confirm that the victim has been ill-treated and tortured.
She added that “this mission has informed officially the relevant Central African authorities and shared all supporting documents requesting follow-up action,” The UN does not have authority to arrest individuals in a country where it has peacekeepers and has turned to Bangui to ensure the perpetrators of the serious crime are held responsible. UN says Mamadou was released through the intervention of Internal Security Forces (FSI).
Russia’s influence in CAR has been growing since the UN-backed government there called for help to fight militias rampaging through the country. Moscow has already supplied weapons, military officers, at least 170 military “trainers” and a security adviser to work with president Faustin-Archange Touader. According to reports in Russian and Western media, the military trainers are mercenaries with close ties to Russian mining companies and the numbers deployed could be significantly higher than officially reported.
Last month, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian criticized the presence of Russian mercenaries in CAR from the private military company Wagner. Three Russian journalists who were investigating the Wagner group were ambushed and murdered in CAR last year.
A peace agreement between the government of CAR and 14 armed groups was agreed earlier this month in a bid to bring peace to the unstable country. As of now, it is not clear whether the Russians were part of the private military outfit Wagner, with the UN describing the suspected torturers as “non-UN uniformed individuals of Russian Nationality”
CAR is not the only country that has attracted international attention over government-sanctioned torture. Last week the US reacted to credible allegations that the Cameroon government carried out human rights violation in the country. US is Cameroon’s most allied security partner, with about 300 US troops stationed there to train and assist the Cameroonian military in its fight against extremism in its far northern region. However, following reports on the ongoing crisis with the English-speaking separatists called Ambazonia, and the protesting opposition leader, Cameroon has been accused of using security and military equipment donated by the US to fight civilians. Following the allegations, the US announced that it would withdraw its military support to the country.
Besides the US, other countries that Cameroon counts on, including Israel, France, Germany, and China have also shown a strong reaction to the allegations in the country.
France also reacted to the allegations against the country, calling on the Cameroonian government to respect the rights of the people to freely express their opinions. As seen in a Q&A daily press briefing, the French Foreign Ministry said “We are concerned at this legal development and are continuing to follow the situation of Mr Kamto and that of approximately 200 of his supporters who are being held in detention. The Cameroonian opposition, of which Mr Kamto is a leading figure, must be able to freely express its opinions, in accordance with the law,”
Kamto was on Wednesday charged with ‘rebellion’ by a military tribunal. Twenty-two members of his Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) are also on trial for the same charges, lawyers said.
Government-sanctioned torture is common in countries with a record of violent opposition groups, activists, or rebellion from popular armed groups and terrorism. Cameroon, which has been criticised of having an authoritarian system, where Paul Biya, the president has been in power since 1982 is an example. CAR and Cameroon have recorded a high rate of violence in the past few years.
It usually takes an intervention from world powers and the UN, US and France to placate extreme approaches made by these governments to fight extremism; like some “fire for fire” approach. These accusations against Russia in the CAR renew concerns for its growing presence in Africa, especially because its presence in CAR was facilitated by the country’s government.
It remains to be seen if the CAR government would take action regarding the torture accusations, but one thing is certain: oppressive governments on the continent have no qualms about hurting their citizens, and usually stop when they are prevailed upon by western powers.