The death of one of the most brutal warlords in the Central African Republic was confirmed earlier this month. Sidiki Abbas, the president and founder of Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation, or 3R, leaves a legacy of ruthless violence and abuse in the northwestern Ouham Pendé province. Over the past six years, I interviewed scores of victims and survivors of 3R attacks who described being raped, seeing their loved ones shot down, or watching their homes destroyed.
The 3R group emerged in late 2015 asserting that they were needed to protect the minority Peuhl population from attacks by anti-balaka militia who were targeting Muslims. Despite his role in widespread atrocities, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, in March 2019 Abbas was named a special military adviser to the prime minister’s office as a concession under a peace accord signed a month earlier in Khartoum, Sudan.
Yet attacks by his fighters continued. In May 2019, 3R fighters killed at least 46 civilians in Ouham-Pendé province. On May 20, the day before one of these attacks on Bohong town, Abbas warned local authorities, “You can’t bring me war. I will bring it to you, and I will show you how to shoot. I will show you who I am.” The next day his fighters killed at least 10 civilians and Abbas was later seen coordinating looted goods onto trucks.
Abbas later gave up his advisor post, and in late 2020, 3R joined a new rebel coalition that tried to advance on the capital, Bangui. According to the group’s new president, Abbas was injured in fighting near Bossembele, Ombella M’Poko province, in November 2020, and succumbed to his wounds on March 25.
There were two constants with Abbas: disregard for civilians and disdain for accountability. When I met Abbas in February 2019, he told me that calls for justice were irrelevant and he warned of “problems” if national and international courts continued to investigate crimes committed during the conflict.
While Abbas himself will never be held to account, his death highlights the need for the many victims of 3R crimes to finally see justice delivered, including through investigations and prosecutions of other senior 3R commanders.