19 February 2010Addressing impunity for human rights violations is one of the top challenges facing the Central African Republic (CAR), as it enters the final stretch before elections, a senior United Nations official said today. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who is on a one-day visit to the nation, told reporters in the capital, Bangui, that the election scheduled for 18 April “presents a tremendous opportunity for the Central African Republic, both to show the world and the people of the Central African Republic that it can hold successful, free and fair elections, and to take a great leap forward towards securing a peaceful democratic future.”The key to the “future well-being of this great country,” she pointed out, lies in bolstering the rule of law, strengthening the justice system and putting an end to violence and exploitation.It is especially vital, the official told reporters, to root out continuing impunity for human rights violations, especially among law enforcement agents and the armed forces.She said that she had urged the Government to step up its actions to provide redress to victims and bring perpetrators to justice.“Summary executions, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention are all issues that have surfaced in connection with state security and defense institutions, and strenuous efforts need to be made to put an end to these extremely serious abuses of power.”Ms. Pillay, who met with Prime Minister Faustin Archange Touadera and other officials during her visit, praised the Government for demonstrating its willingness to work with the UN human rights system, as well as for the National Assembly’s recent revision of penal and criminal procedure codes, which she said will help bolster the independence of the judiciary and serve as an ally in the fight against impunity.CAR is one of the world’s poorest and most neglected countries, ranking 179 out of 182 countries in the 2009 Human Development Report compiled by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).The High Commissioner noted that the nation is beset by problems on both the domestic and international fronts, including banditry and the activity of armed groups in the northern Vakaga region, as well as the presence of the “particularly vicious” Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which operates in eastern CAR.She voiced deep concern over the widespread sexual violence women face in the country, with crimes being committed by both State and non-State actors, including the LRA. She also said she was worried about the targeting of women accused of being witches, “a gender-based calumny that has no place in any society in the 21st century.”All governments, she underscored, must take firm steps to halt such crimes, and “those responsible should be prosecuted and, if found guilty, should receive appropriate punishment, irrespective of who they are.”Other problems that require urgent action include female genital mutilation, which is banned by law in the CAR, and the recruitment of child soldiers.Ms. Pillay’s visit to CAR was the first-ever by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and while in the country, she also met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups.