central african republic goran tomasevic
A Seleka fighter takes a break during a patrol as he searches for anti-Balaka Christian militia members near the town of Lioto on 6 June, 2014 Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Human rights groups have welcomed United States sanctions on two top Central African Republic (CAR) militia commanders who have been conspiring and stoking deadly sectarian violence to defend their own political and economic interests.

Impunity in the CAR remains one of the main challenges in addressing past and ongoing atrocities, as the vast majority of suspected war criminals, who date as far back to December 2012, have never been held accountable.

On 12 April, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed financial sanctions on two warlords and high-profile leaders, Abdoulaye Hissène, a key leader of the former mainly Muslim rebel group Seleka, and Maxime Mokom, a top commander of the Anti-Balaka militia made up largely of animists and Christians.

Enough Project: 'an act of hope in the fight against impunity in the CAR'

"The decision by the United States to impose unilateral targeted sanctions against two key military commanders of armed groups (...) represents an act of hope in the fight against impunity in the CAR," said Nathalia Dukhan, a researcher at non-profit organisation Enough Project, which aims to end genocide and crimes against humanity. "This action should demonstrate to perpetrators of atrocities and their networks that their misdeeds will not stay unpunished."

While she welcomed the move, Dukhan warned that the sanctions could only help prevent further deadly violence and disrupt the financing of conflict if the measures are strongly enforced by financial institutions and the gold trade worldwide.

Enough Project urged the United Nations and European Union to reinforce the sanctions by taking similar measures.

Ruben de Koning, a senior investigative analyst at The Sentry, an investigative organisation founded by the US actor George Clooney and the rights activist John Prendergast, echoed Dukhan's call for sanctions from the world body and the EU. "Hissene is known to travel and conduct business, including in the gold trade, in Europe and the Middle East, making action by the EU particularly important," de Koning said.