The United Nations has called on the United States to take action to protect civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR), where Russian paramilitaries have committed "serious abuses" against civilians, since 2019, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Tuesday.
The country has been on the scene of a civil war since 2013 but has considerably decreased in intensity since 2018.
President Faustin Archange Touadéra, however, called on Moscow in late 2020 to rescue a weak and destitute army to repel a rebel offensive that threatened Bangui and the regime.
Hundreds of Russian paramilitaries - "mercenaries" from the private security company Wagner, according to the UN and Western capitals - were sent to reinforce hundreds of others who had been supporting the regime since 2018.
Thanks to them, the armed groups, whether rebels or simple predators have been pushed back from a majority of the two-thirds of the territory they still occupied in 2020.
However, the UN, the European Union and countries such as France accuse Wagner's "mercenaries" of committing crimes and abuses against civilians.
"There is compelling evidence that forces identified as Russian supporting the Central African government have committed serious abuses against civilians with complete impunity," said Ida Sawyer, director of HRW's Crisis and Conflict Division, in concluding a 13-page report based on the testimonies of dozens of victims, relatives and witnesses.
"Forces identified by witnesses as Russian appear to have summarily executed, tortured and beaten civilians since 2019," says HRW.
"While the Central African government has the right to request international security assistance, it cannot allow foreign forces to kill and abuse civilians with impunity," Sawyer charges.
The report makes a clear link -- based on "evidence" put forward by Western governments and UN experts -- between these "Russian forces" and Wagner, who it says has "clear links to the Russian government".
In particular, HRW details the execution by "Russian-speaking men" of 12 "unarmed" men arrested at a roadblock, "beaten" and then "shot" in the head on 21 July 2021 near Bossangoa, 300km northwest of Bangui.
The report also refers to alleged "arbitrary detentions, torture and extra-judicial executions" in Alindao (centre) in June 2021, of "men arrested at random in the street".
Neither the Central African government nor the Russian Foreign Ministry has responded to HRW's request for information on the report's accusations, according to the NGO. Moscow consistently claims that the Russian paramilitaries are "unarmed military instructors" tasked with training Central African soldiers.