Government forces and their Russian allies in the Central African Republic have abused civilians, and Russian operatives have hampered UN peacekeeping operations there, a United Nations rights expert said on Monday.
'Government forces were responsible for arbitrary arrests and detentions, violations of the right to life, physical and mental integrity, and abuses at roadblocks,' Yao Agbetse, an expert working for the UN, said after a 10-day visit to the country.
In a statement, he also took aim at Russian forces which have been in the impoverished, deeply-troubled country since 2018.
They "continue to inflict cruel, inhuman, humiliating and degrading treatment on the civilian population," the statement said.
It also said Russian operatives had carried out "obstruction" of MINUSMA, the UN's peacekeeping mission in the CAR, which was "unacceptable and must stop'.
The former French colony spiralled into a civil war along sectarian lines following a coup in 2013.
France dispatched troops to stabilise the country, opening the way to presidential elections in 2016 that were won by former prime minister Faustin Archange Touadera.
But swathes of the country remained in the hands of rebel groups.
In 2018, Touadera brought into Russian military operatives, described as "instructors," to help buttress the CAR's beleaguered military.
These were followed in 2020 by hundreds of Russian paramilitaries to thwart rebels who were advancing on the capital as a presidential election campaign unfolded.
France withdrew its last troops from the country in late 2022 in the face of what it said was an expanding role by the Wagner mercenary group.
Wagner, which is also present in Mali as well as Ukraine and other countries, has been previously accused of abuses in the mineral-rich CAR and capturing the state.
Agbetse, a Togolese human rights lawyer, is mandated by the Security Council but does not speak on its behalf.
His statement placed the spotlight in particular on incidents in the western region of Mambere-Kadei.
Russian forces allegedly carried out abductions, kidnappings and summary executions of civilians there, he said.
"Those in positions of State authority, in particular prefects, sub-prefects, mayors, as well as members of the police, gendarmerie and FACA (CAR security) forces, are also subjected to acts of torture and ill-treatment by the Russian bilateral forces," he said.
Agbetse urged the government to verify these allegations and send impartial investigators to the area.
In the last quarter of 2022, MINUSCA's human rights division recorded 483 violations and abuses of human rights, affecting 1,300 civilians, the statement said.
CAR forces and the Russians were involved in 58 percent of the violations, involving 70 percent of the victims, and armed groups were to blame for the remainder.