Are Russian Mercenaries Out of Control in the CAR?

Are Russian Mercenaries Out of Control in the CAR?

Wagner Group fighters are responsible for various incidents of “intimidation” and “violent harassment,” throughout the Central African Republic, according to a United Nations report.

Russian “instructors” work with army and police units, so they are immune from civil liability. Since they operate with no oversight, civilians face reprisals if they complain, the report noted. Russian mercenaries routinely detain people without proper cause and then torture them. Other atrocities include summary executions, lootings, and sexual assaults. 

“We call on the CAR government to end all relationships with private military and security personnel, particularly the Wagner Group,” the experts said. “We urge the authorities to comply with their obligations under international law to hold accountable all perpetrators of grave violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law committed on their territory. They must ensure unhindered access to justice and redress to all victims of violations, including abuses committed by Russian private military and security personnel,” the report concluded.

The CAR: A Closer Look

In George Orwell’s 1984, Africa was the fictional battleground for the struggle between Oceania and its opponent du jour. “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. . . .The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or Eastasia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.” Most of his dystopian predictions have thankfully not come true, but many of them are almost spot-on. His Africa-as-a-battlefield vision is quite accurate. Most African nations have significant natural resources and unstable governments. That combination invites conflict.

The Central African Republic is a good example. It has some of the largest deposits of uranium, oil, lumber, gold, diamonds, and various other natural resources in the world. It also has the lowest per capita GDP and Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) score in the world. Furthermore, as the country’s name implies, it is on the frontline of a religious war as well. It is squarely on the border between the mostly-Christian south and mostly-Muslim north.

Recent conflicts in the CAR have displaced about a quarter million people. No one is sure how many have died. The recent carnage began in 2004, with the outbreak of the so-called Central African Republic Bush War. Rebel groups in the north, with links to Islamic militants in neighboring Chad and Sudan, attempted to topple the shaky central government. Fighting raged for several years but tapered off around 2008 and formally ended in 2012, when the last rebel group signed onto a peace agreement.

Before the ink was dry on this peace agreement, Séléka, a loose coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels, declared that the central government had reneged on its promises. Mostly Christian anti-balaka militias tried to take advantage of the chaos and consolidate their power. By 2014, the country was effectively partitioned, with government forces controlling the west, Séléka in the north, and anti-bakala in the south.

In 2016, Faustin-Archange Touadéra declared victory in a controversial election marred by violence and allegations of fraud. As the situation deteriorated, Touadéra invited the Wagner Group into the CAR, ostensibly to protect the nation’s diamond mines. However, there is evidence that these mercenaries are largely instruments of the Kremlin.

What is the Difference Between Mercenaries and Contractors?

Previous posts have focused on some operational differences between these two groups. But given the Wagner Group’s poor human rights record in CAR, we should probably focus on some differences in oversight as well.

Russian military units have a long history of human rights abuses. In 1944, as the Red Army moved across Poland and into Nazi Germany, such abuses were out of control. At one point, the Red Army even had a system in place in this area. Enlisted men could send five kilograms of stolen goods home per month, and officers could send ten kilograms. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. In early 1945, Soviet strongman Josef Stalin issued an executive order in this area, and such activity declined significantly.

Today, the Wagner Group is not a military formation, so its fighters are not subject to military discipline. At the same time, civil authorities cannot touch the Wagner Group, at least for practical purposes.

American private military contractors are different. The DoD has direct control over contractors. If serious misconduct allegations arise, the DoD can pull the financial plug while it sorts out the details. Furthermore, private military contractors who serve overseas are subject to U.S. laws. The legal fallout of the Nisour Square “massacre” in Iraq is a good example.

Contractor Responsibilities in the CAR

No one is sure how many private military contractors, if any, are in the CAR. Largely for security and strategic reasons, the United States Africa Command usually does not release statistics regarding deployments in specific nations.

Generally, in high-conflict areas like the CAR, private military contractors focus on security and logistics.

Rebels often rely on terrorist tactics. Essentially, “terrorism” means making people afraid. Contractors counteract this fear by simply doing their jobs and being visible. A few armed contractors in a market or on a street corner make people feel much more secure. Many private military contractors are former law enforcement officers. These individuals know how to create an imposing presence without being overbearing.

Logistical support contributes as well. If the good guys have better weapons and equipment than the bad guys, the good guys could effectively deter the bad guys. Logistical support is especially important for sophisticated aircraft, like drones and high-tech helicopters. This hardware gives the forces which deploy it a significant edge. But that only happens if the equipment is fully functional and the operators know how to use it.

Injury Compensation Available

These activities are equally dangerous. High-profile security missions also involve high risk. Furthermore, the working conditions in places like the CAR are often not very safe. A trauma injury, like a fall, or an occupational disease, like hearing loss, could easily trigger medical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.

If contractors are injured overseas, and their injury is connected to their deployment, Defense Base Act benefits apply to reasonably necessary medical expenses, such as:

  • Transportation costs,
  • Emergency treatment,
  • Follow up care,
  • Prescription drugs,
  • Medical devices, and
  • Physical or occupational therapy.

Generally, the DBA Insurance company pays these costs directly. If the insurance company drags its feet, attorneys usually send letters of protection to medical and other providers. Because these letters guarantee payment when the case is resolved, the providers defer billing until that time.

For more information about other DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.