DAKAR, Senegal -- Fighters on both sides of the conflict in Central African Republic are living freely despite committing war crimes and some who have been jailed already have escaped from prison, Amnesty International said Thursday.
The report from the international human rights group underscores the enormous security challenges now facing the country, which has been in near-anarchy for more than a year and where a nascent interim government still wields little control outside the capital.
Thousands have been killed since the country's political crisis deepened in December 2013 and ignited unprecedented violence between Christian and Muslim communities. Perpetrators have shown "no remorse or fear of sanction" despite the fact in many cases their actions amounted to crimes against humanity, Amnesty said.
Even killings that were witnessed by international peacekeepers and journalists have not been prosecuted, including the brutal slaying and dismemberment of a suspected Muslim rebel at a ceremony recognizing the country's military in February. His death took place only moments after the interim president gave a speech at the site calling for national reconciliation.
"Those responsible for leaving hundreds of thousands of innocent people with nowhere to hide from their murderous violence must be given nowhere to hide from justice," said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty International's Central African Republic researcher. "Only by ending impunity can the cycle of violence that has gripped CAR be stemmed."
Central African Republic's interim leader Catherine Samba-Panza was chosen in January after a Muslim rebel leader stepped down amid growing international condemnation. She is tasked with organizing national elections by February 2015, a goal many observers say is near impossible given the country's security challenges.
Transitional authorities have a palpable fear of pursuing cases against known attackers, because of but also the threat of retaliation from armed groups, according to the Amnesty report.
"Members of the police and gendarmes are unwilling to take the risk of even going to their offices to resume work," it said. "There is a noticeable climate of terror among magistrates, lawyers and other judicial personnel in the country."
At least three prison breaks have taken place since January at the country's only operational jail despite the presence of nearby regional peacekeepers. Those who escaped included Christian militia commanders held on suspicion of killing civilians, Amnesty said.
Given the severe limitations of Central African Republic's justice system, Amnesty and others have urged the creation of a hybrid court that could try cases under international law. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court also has opened a preliminary investigation into potential war crimes or crimes against humanity in Central African Republic, though it would not try all cases.
Documenting the ongoing violence is essential if there is ever to be justice, said Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African Human Rights League.
At his office in Bangui, the capital, victims' relatives bring the only pictures they have of their slain loved ones — often passport photos — where they are stapled to handwritten testimonies about how and when they were killed. Someday there may be a special court and if there is, he said he wants to have the evidence needed to try perpetrators.
The role of the international community, though, will be critical, he said.
"We are a country at war and our government is only months old," he said. "The state simply does not have the funds."