UNITED NATIONS — An official from a leading human rights group said Monday he showed enlarged photos of a Muslim man being stabbed and stomped to death by soldiers in the Central African Republic's capital to top government officials last month and asked what was being done to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations director for Human Rights Watch who recently returned from the conflict-torn country, told a group of journalists that the chief prosecutor told him he had the names of those responsible, "but nobody will arrest them, and in fact when we arrest people, they very easily escape."
Bolopion said the minister of public security added that he knows where the men are hiding but his police can't go into the neighborhoods, which are controlled by Christian anti-Balaka fighters, because they don't have weapons or cars, and if they go "they'll get slaughtered."
The horrific attack on Feb. 5 showed the degree of hatred and savagery to which the impoverished country has fallen, and demonstrated the difficulty faced by the international community, which has sent 2,000 French troops and more than 5,000 Africans to try to stabilize the situation. The attack took place minutes after the transitional president left a celebration of the army's return to the capital, Bangui, and told hundreds of soldiers she was proud of them and called on them to bring order to their anarchic country.
Central African Republic has been in chaos since a March 2013 coup, when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power and launched a brutal regime. Anti-Balaka militiamen attacked Seleka strongholds in Bangui on Dec. 5, 2013, and as the rebel government crumbled in January the anti-Balaka stepped up the violence, forcing thousands of Muslims to flee.
Bolopion said the attack on the Muslim man suspected of links to Seleka was just one example of the many crimes committed. But he said the fact that the perpetrators are still free in a case where all the evidence is available "is extremely detrimental to the image of the country" and demonstrates the impunity there.
Bolopion said he suggested to the minister of public security that he ask the French and African forces to help with the arrests.
He also visited the remaining neighborhoods in Bangui where thousands of Muslims have sought refuge and are still facing attacks from anti-Balaka forces.
Bolopion called on the French and African forces "to do whatever is in their power" to help Muslims who want to leave travel to a safe area where they can be protected.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to approve a resolution later this week authorizing a nearly 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission to take over from the African force on Sept. 15.
Bolopion said the U.N. mission should have extensive powers to build police and security forces and a judicial and prison system.