The Central African Republic (CAR) has suffered several periods of political instability and conflict since gaining independence in 1960, with the latest civil war erupting in 2012. The mainly Muslim Séléka armed groups alliance overthrew the President Bozizé in 2013. In response to the serious abuses against civilians at the hands of the Séléka, community-based Christian self-defence groups called Anti-Balaka (anti-bullet) were formed. The fighting between the two factions quickly spiralled into sectarian violence along religious and ethnic lines, with both groups targeting civilian communities as well. Over the years, both parties have fragmented into a multitude of factions and militias with competing and conflicting aims. Despite the signing of a Peace Agreement in 2019, conflicts still persist, with significant human rights violations and abuses against the civilian population.
The different militias have resorted to sexual violence atrocities as a tool to terrorise and punish populations considered to be part of the opposing side. Civilians have been targeted with extremely brutal sexual violence including sexual slavery, prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced sterilisation, forced marriage, sexual torture, genital mutilation, rape and sexual assault. Levels of sexual and gender-based violence are high and appear to have become normalised in communities and families. Victims suffer additional harms because of social stigma as well as the chronic weaknesses of the country’s health and judicial systems.
In 2022, 23,644 cases of GBV were recorded by the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System (GBVIMS), which represents a 104% increase compared to data collected in 2021. Among these reported cases, more than 1/3 were sexual violence and 95% of the survivors were women and girls. However, these numbers are far from the reality considering that GBVIMS is collecting data in only 52% of the country’s sub-prefectures.
Although these numbers are already horrific, sexual crimes have been systematically underreported, in particular because of the social stigma faced by survivors preventing them from speaking out about their experiences and accessing the care they need. Many are rejected by their families and communities, especially pregnant women. Nonetheless, survivors decided to break the silence and unite their voices in a movement to fight against sexual violence in their country and prevent new generations from facing the same atrocities.
On December 10, 2018, the anniversary of the signing of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, survivors of sexual violence in the Central African Republic publicly launched their survivor movement – MOSUCA, which stands for ‘Mouvement des Survivantes de Violences Sexuelles en Centrafrique’ (Movement of Central African Republic Survivors of Sexual Violence). The survivors presented MOSUCA and its aims to a National Parliament audience of nearly 500.
The network started with 25 members in 2018, survivors who represent six local organisations. Today, more than 350 members span across 14 provinces. The network focuses on raising awareness about the consequences of conflict-related sexual violence, to reducing stigmatisation, and fighting impunity.
The network supports and empowers victims of sexual violence in part through large-scale public events, including awareness-raising sessions in all eight districts of Bangui, a march for HIV-infected survivors, capacity-building training sessions for victims and a radio programme that disseminates information and advocacy on the national radio station, engaging women deputies, ministers, academics, and survivors of sexual violence.
Furthermore, MOSUCA has been empowering survivors of sexual violence by distributing and explaining the content of relevant documents, such as the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic of February 2019, and the UN Security Council Resolution 2467 (2019) which calls for strengthened justice and accountability measures, and a survivor-centred approach in the prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence.
More recently, members of MOSUCA participated to a collective memory project in Bangui and created some pieces of art (paintings, portraits, slam, theatre and other forms of expressions) to raise awareness on conflict-related sexual violence. With other victims and survivors of CRSV, they organized a collective memory public event in Bangui on 11th May 2023 – on the occasion of the 8th anniversary of the national commemoration day for the victims of crisis and conflicts in the Central African Republic.
Service provision for survivors of sexual violence has been limited and, until recently, no project in CAR was providing multi-sectoral support using a holistic, survivor-centred approach. Since 2020 the Mukwege Foundation has participated in a consortium project – Nengo (meaning ‘dignity’ in Sango) – which aims to turn the tide of SGBV by providing quality holistic services to survivors and by contributing to initiatives to prevent its occurrence. Multi-sectoral specialist services are offered via a one-stop-centre in Bangui, with multiple entry points for survivors of conflict-related and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. The project also conducts advocacy, sensitisation, and prevention activities with the aim of reducing the incidence of sexual and gender-based violence and the stigmatisation of survivors within their community.