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UK arms export to the Central African Republic 2012-2022

Country overview

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a nation in Central Africa, with an estimated population of 4.5 million. The CAR’s political framework is that of a semi-presidential republic, whereby the president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. CAR has a history of violence and instability. This is acknowledged by the UN, as they have warned about the risk of the CAR becoming a ‘failed state’, haunted by regional and sectarian divisions. 

In 2010 Francois Bozize was re-elected as president. However, as his regime was marked by corruption and human rights abuses, a coalition of mostly muslim rebel groups overthrew his government and installed Michel Djotodia as president in 2013. Djotodia’s presidency was short-lived too, as it was marked by sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians, which led to his forced resignation in 2014 and being replaced by Catherine Samba-Panza. After years of instability, her transitional government was intended to restore stability, but it failed to contain the violence in the country and in 2016, Faustin-Archange Touadéra became elected as the new president. However, just like his predecessors, Touadéra too failed to establish stability in the country as violence between armed groups continued to flare up. Therefore the UN deployed a peacekeeping force a year later, in 2017 known as MINUSCA. Whilst it managed to reduce the levels of violence, the country remains fragile. 

In 2020 the country held elections which were marked by corruption and violence against opposition groups. Unsurprisingly, Touadera was re-elected. The security in the country has continued to deteriorate since. The situation remains unstable with ongoing violence and political tensions, including attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers by armed groups.

Outside the capital of Bangui, the government enjoys minimal control over the country as armed groups continue to fight for territorial control, at the loss of lives of many civilians. 

CAR agreed to the Arms Trade Treaty in October 2015 and has the UN Convention Against Torture in 2016.

How many licences for the sale of arms to CAR did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2022?

From 2012 to 2022, despite the high levels of violence witnessed in the country, a total of 37 licences for military exports were granted to CAR by the UK. The number of export licenses remained relatively stable but peaked in 2014 and 2017. The former coincided with a major crisis fueled by sectarian tensions and leading to widespread violence and displacement of people. As the crisis continued the number of licenses peaked again in 2017, when half of the country’s population was in need of humanitarian assistance and violence continued to spread so drastically that the UN imposed an arms embargo on the country in an effort to curb the flow of weapons to armed groups.  

What is the total value of those exports in GBP? 

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

Between 2012 and 2022, some £2.1m of military arms export licences were sold to the CAR. As illustrated in the graph below, the value of the licences granted to CAR from the UK has been comparatively small, starting from 0 in 2012 and peaking at £0.65m, in 2014. The following year, a similarly high value of arms export licences was recorded with almost £0.5m approved. In 2017 and 2018, military arms export licenses increased again, totaling almost £0.3m worth of licences for both years. The value reached a low in 2020 at £0.2m but has increased steadily ever since.

What are the top 10 types of arms export licences Britain is selling to the CAR?

The data above refers to the approved (including revoked) of direct and for corporation UK-CAR military (single-use) export (permanent and temporary) licences. Most military items, exported to CAR from the UK during 2012-2022, are designed to support a conventional war. This includes body armour and components, military helmets, small arms ammunition, and assault rifles and components. 

The top 10 military weapons, in accordance with such parameters, are listed below.

The top 10 export licenses sold by the UK to CAR from 2012 to 2022Total number of licenses
Military Helmets18
Body Armour14
Components for body armour14
Military Support Vehicles6
Military Trailers4
All-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection3
Bomb Suits3
Anti-riot/ballistic shields2
Small arms ammunition 2
Components for military support vehicles2

The most frequent weaponry sold to CAR from the UK was that of security equipment, helmets, and armour. A variety of regular military equipment and specific anti-riot equipment has also been sold, reflecting the country’s state of civil war against regime forces and armed rebels.

Top three licenses exported to CAR from the UK between 2012-2022 by ratingValue of limited licensesNumber of limited licensesNumber of unlimited licenses
ML6 – Armoured vehicles, tanks£1.2m102
ML13 – Armoured plate, body armour, helmets£0.434m211
ML22 – Technology£0.43210
Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?

The widespread human rights abuses that proliferate in CAR have led to a complex humanitarian situation, with major political actors implicated in the most serious type of abuses over recent years. There is a fundamental lack of control across the country by the state authority, with an almost complete absence of the rule of law in many places, the administration of justice is seriously dysfunctional as well as many state security services. For several reasons, it is concerning that the UK continues to approve the provision of arms to CAR regime with arms. While armed rebel groups remain responsible for much of the harm imposed on the civilians, the regime is also behind serious human rights violations.  Indeed, it is accused of violating the laws of war in its operations against the armed groups as well as being involved in arbitrary arrest and detention. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, described the situation in CAR as “the worst crisis most people have never heard of“. The UN reports that the government security forces have failed to protect civilians because arbitrary killings are committed without distinction at the expense of both civilians and rebels. Furthermore, arms sale to CAR poses an additional matter of concern, as repeated evidence points to a widespread and uncontrolled grey arms market.  This raises the number of military equipment flowing from the hands of ‘official’ entities to non-state actors. The trafficking of arms and especially the presence of explosive devices severely limit humanitarian access to vulnerable people in a context already marked by access restrictions due to armed conflict and physical constraints. Humanitarian surveillance data (2021) indicate a direct link between the conflict in CAR and a sharp increase in food insecurity. Humanitarian access to areas in the north-west (Ouham and Ouham-Pendé prefectures) and south-east (Basse-Kotto, Haut-Mbomou and Mbomou prefectures) is hampered by active conflict, shifting front lines and the presence of explosive devices. These same factors limit access to fields, the mobility of migrant herders and the supply of markets. The risk of crisis and conflict in CAR continuing in the future is highly likely, and if the regime does not comply fully with international humanitarian law nor enjoys full control of the arms it is receiving, the UK’s delivery of arms risks fuelling directly or indirectly, the conflict further.

What has the British government said about these concerns?

In 2018, the UK government said: “the UK is concerned at the fragile security and human rights situation in CAR, with indiscriminate attacks on civilians by armed groups, including killings, torture, sexual assaults, abductions, extortion and looting.” Human rights abuses by the government itself were not mentioned.

Jonathan Allen, UK Ambassador to the UN has, however, called upon “political, religious and community leaders to stop incitement to violence on religious and ethnic grounds” and said that ”those in positions of leadership have responsibility for their words”. Most recently, together with the US and France, the UK has put a hold on CAR’s request to the UN Security Council to approve a Chinese weapon delivery.  The three permanent security council members have raised concerns over the lethality of some of the requested equipment.

The UK delivered this statement condemning the high levels of violence and the violations and abuses of human rights, including acts of sexual violence, forced displacement of civilians, and attacks against humanitarian personnel and UN peacekeepers.

In March 2022 the UK government condemned the “indiscriminate killings of civilians and continued violations and abuses of human rights in the Central African Republic, including acts of sexual violence, forced displacement of civilians, and attacks against humanitarian personnel and UN peacekeepers committed by both, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and Non-State Armed Groups, who perpetrated widespread violations of international humanitarian law“. This undermines the work of UN Peacekeepers and adds to the suffering that the people of CAR continue to experience as a result of this protracted and dire conflict”. Therefore, the UK called for accountability for the victims and an end to the violence.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the CAR government have committed since 2012?

Events in 2012

Human rights abuse increased significantly during the Central African Republic conflict, which started in December 201. This is an ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic between the rebel coalition and government forces.  Rebel forces known as Séléka (meaning “union” in the Sango language) comprise two major groups based in north-eastern CAR: the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), but also includes the Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country (CPSK). It captured many major towns in the central and eastern regions of the country at the end of 2012. 

Events in 2013

In March, Séléka fighters led by Michel Djotodia Captured the capital Bangui and deposed François Bozizé, declaring himself president becoming a de facto government. Indeed, On 18 April 2013, Michel Djotodia was recognized as the transitional head of government at a regional summit in N’Djamena. From this point on, human rights groups continuously reported how Séléka fighters were indiscriminately attacking civilians in several neighbourhoods, leading to many fatalities. The conflict became also a religious issue when The Christian militias, known as the anti-balaka, grew up among the majority Christian population in CAR and started to take up arms against the Muslim coalition, in response to atrocities committed by the Muslim-dominated Seleka Coalition. The security situation remained concerning over the summer of 2013 with reports of over 200,000 internally displaced persons. In August, since the ongoing conflict between Séléka and Bozizé supporters and anti-balaka militia, French President François Hollande decided to call on the UN Security Council and the African Union to increase their efforts to stabilise the country. 

Events in 2014

In January 2014, President Djotodia resigned and was replaced by Catherine Samba-Panza. Apparent links between the recently exiled Bozizé presidential guard and anti-Balaka militia begin to emerge as the militia groups acquired military equipment and weaponry.

Between January and March, executions, torture and forced displacement took place in the towns of Paoua, Bozoum, Yaloké, Mbaiki and Boda, across a region roughly 200km north of Bangui. Tens of thousands of people in the Islamic community have fled the country or relocated to internally displaced camps. In 2014, Amnesty International reported several massacres committed by the anti-balakas against Muslim civilians, forcing thousands of Muslims to flee the country. In a village in the northwest of the country, an official of Amnesty International (AI) reported that widespread targeting of Muslims had resulted in the burning of homes and the killing of civilians including children. Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty, described the scene at a village in the north-west of the country. “We saw bodies littering the streets,” she said. “Several of them had been partially burned. Others had been partly eaten by dogs and other animals”.  Medecins Sans Frontieres said 1,000 people – mostly Muslim – were in danger in the south-west town of Carnot. “Armed men have announced that they intend to track down and kill all the city’s Muslims” it said, adding that “anyone who hides Muslims is also at risk.” In the light of the situation in the CAR, the African peacekeeping force known as MISCA received from  AU member-states $300 million for the operations, plus, aid from the European Union (EU), which committed to sending 1,000 of its soldiers

Events in 2015

The OCHCR reported that the security and human rights situation continued to be a serious matter of concern, as the number of human rights violations increased by over 70 per cent in comparison with reporting conducted in 2014.  The outbreak of sectarian violence in Bangui led to a rise in violations of international law, carried out, to some extent, by government forces, who reportedly were responsible for serious human rights violations, including arbitrary killings, ill-treatment, arrests, and detention.

Events in 2016

Local groups continued fighting for territory, largely at the expense of civilians. The UN and Reuters reported that at least 100 people were killed and 10,000 displaced in Bria in the northeast following ethnic killings in November.. 

Events in 2017

Human Rights Watch reported that at least 249 civilians were killed by various armed groups between May and September, as violence continues in many parts of the country. However, the exact number of killed is estimated significantly higher. Generally, it was deemed that the regime continued to contribute to CAR’s deteriorating human rights record, and completely failed to protect its civilians. Much of the harm was attributed to armed rebel groups, but the regime has repeatedly taken inhumane and unlawful methods into use when fighting the insurgency, leading to a series of human rights violations. In May an increase in violence was registered, several UN peacekeepers are killed in several attacks, including on a base and a convoy, and as a consequence, some foreign forces withdrew. In 2017, as insecurity continued to plague the country, the UN extended the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic ( MINUSCA)’s mandate for another year and authorized an increase in the mission’s troop levels towards a total number of 13,000 troops and police. The UN refugee agency reported that continuing violence has caused the highest level of displacement since the start of the crisis in 2013. More than 1 million people have left their homes.

Events in 2018

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that the situation in CAR is getting worse, with half of the population in need of humanitarian aid. In 2017 and 2018, the UK government approved one of the highest number of arms export licences to CAR across the decade reviewed (2012-2021), with the value of licences at £284k and £286k respectively granted. 

Events in 2019

In February, Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation was signed between the government of CAR and 14 armed groups in Bangui. As part of the agreement, a new government was formed. Despite the signing of the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in 2019, CAR continues to face a serious protection crisis, with a steady increase in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Indeed, after the deal, armed groups still committed serious human rights abuses against civilians’ country-wide in 2019, with more than 70 percent of the country remaining under their control.  This is the reason why exporting arms trade to CAR government is very dangerous, since the final destination of weapons is suspicious and it is very likely they will fall into the hands of these groups. Fighting between predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels, anti-balaka militias, and other armed groups forced thousands to flee their homes as fighters killed civilians, looted and burned properties.  In January, fighting broke out between UN peacekeepers and fighters from the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC). The fighting resulted in a UN attack on a large UPC base at Bokolobo, provoking deaths and injuries. The most serious incident since the signing of the peace agreement occurred on May 21st when fighters from the armed group, 3R killed at least 46 civilians in three attacks in the villages of Bohong, Koundjili, and Lemouna, in the Ouham Pendé province. However, the operating environment remained challenging, and the Central African Republic continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarian actors. According to the United Nations, there were 244 incidents directly affecting humanitarian personnel or property from January to October, leading to at least 3 deaths. The total number of internally displaced persons in the country, based on UN figures, reached over 600,000, and the total number of refugees was 600,000. About 2.6 million people, out of a population of 4.6 million, needed humanitarian assistance. In September of that year, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution easing the UN arms embargo and extended a modified sanctions regime against CAR through January 2020. Indeed, as the graph above showed, from 2019 there was a slight decrease in the number of approved military arms export licences to the Central African Republic by the UK government. The resolution outlined details on the types of weapons and lethal equipment permitted following previous resolutions. In addition, it decided that the supplying member state is primarily responsible for notifying the Central African Republic Sanctions Committee responsible for overseeing sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council at least 20 days in advance of delivery of any supplies. 

Events in 2020

President Touadera wins re-election, although his main opponent Anicet-Georges Dologuélé disputes the result. In July 2020, the alleged use of anti-tank mines was reported for the first time in the country since the creation of the peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, in 2014. 

Events in 2021

Since 2021, 47 incidents involving explosive devices have been recorded, resulting in the death of 32 people including 25 civilians and 50 injuries including 31 civilians. In total, 78% of the victims and 62% of the injured were civilians.  Explosive devices that detonate due to the presence, proximity or contact of a person cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants, which raises important concerns regarding the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law. In September 2021, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) launched an awareness campaign on explosive devices among the population in Bouar, Berbérati, Paoua and Boali. At the end of 2021, more than 7,085 people were sensitised, including 4,310 children. 

Events in 2022

The numbers presented in the current year are very concerning, despite a significant drop of 19,796 internally displaced persons, or 3% compared to January 2022 when the number of IDPs was estimated at 652,036 people.  3.1 million Central Africans need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2022, i.e. 63% of the population, a level not reached in five years. Among them, 2.2 million people will have complex and severe needs, to the point that their physical and mental well-being is at risk. In 2022 there was reported an increase of 16%, (300,000) in people in CAR facing severe humanitarian needs as compared to 2021. As of February 28, 2022, the total number of IDPs in CAR was estimated to stand at 632,240 individuals, made up respectively of 160,353 people in the sites (25%) and 471,887 people in the host families (75%). 

Despite this catalogue of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of CAR.  Human rights abuses continue.