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After more than one year of worsening religious and ethnic-strife in the Central African Republic, recent months have seen wider international attention to the conflict and authorization of a United Nations peacekeeping operation. In this month’s guest post, Dominique Fraser analyzes the latest developments in CAR, including application of the R2P norm to this troubled landlocked state. Ms. Fraser received her Bachelor of Arts with a major in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Queensland in 2013. She was president of the R2P Student Coalition at her university in 2012 and upon graduating undertook an internship at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, where she worked in the areas of research, advocacy and country monitoring.
The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has now entered its second year and while it is becoming more sectarian in nature, the international community is finally starting to take not only notice, but action as well. A coup in March 2013 saw a group of mainly Muslim ‘Séléka’ rebels take control of the country and commit atrocities against communities; in turn some Christian communities formed so-called self-defence groups, the “anti-balaka” (anti-machete). Since September 2013, the anti-balaka have been engaged in a program of ethnic cleansing, which many fear may develop into a full-fledged genocide. African Union troops, as well as France and now the EU, have been in the country for months trying to establish stable conditions, but due to a lack of troops and resources, many have called for the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation (PKO) which was only recently approved.
Over its more than two-year course, the conflict in CAR has displaced over one million people (almost a quarter of its population) and has killed over 2,000. In February this year, reputable human rights organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have stated that the atrocities committed against the Muslim population in the west of the country amount to ethnic cleansing. Several UN officials have adopted this language, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon calling the conflict “ethno-religious cleansing” and has warned against the dangers of a de-facto partition of the country, which is increasingly being discussed by CAR residents. Virtually all Muslims have been driven from the capital Bangui, as well as the western city of Bossangoa, and others from all over the country are seeking shelter in the northern parts of CAR or trying to cross the border into Chad and Cameroon. Along the way, refugees have been attacked with machetes and firearms. Additionally, over half the country’s 4.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, but the international community is slow in providing much-needed financial aid.
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has been developed to respond to exactly the kind of crisis now occurring in CAR. In 2005, world leaders agreed that states must protect its people from war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing. If a state fails or is unwilling to do so, then that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the international community. At the end of 2013, Philippe Bolopion from HRW said that “the handling of the CAR crisis will certainly become a test case for R2P.” And he was right. That the violence in CAR has not led to heated discussions around RtoP—as it has with Syria—demonstrates the norm’s power in relation to the current situation: RtoP has been mainstreamed into the international response, without needing to be discussed and defended by its advocates.
UNSC resolution 2127 from 5 December 2013 authorized the deployment of MISCA (the African Union’s International Support Mission in the Central African Republic) and French peacekeepers, giving them the mandate to use “all necessary measures” to protect the population. The resolution also spoke of “the primary responsibility of the Transitional Authorities to protect the population.” This so-called “first pillar responsibility” was also reiterated by UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng on 22 January 2014. However, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has little hope of establishing peaceful conditions in her country, with both rebel groups receiving financing for weapons through the illicit trade in diamonds and ivory. Adama Dieng, therefore, highlighted second and third pillar responsibilities in saying that “the transitional authorities have neither the capacity to protect the civilian population nor to exercise control over the armed elements …, [so] the international community must take concrete measures to assist the State to stop the abuses and protect the civilian population.”
What the international community has done so far simply has not been enough. In mid-2013, the African Union set up MISCA, asking the UNSC for one year to prove its ability to undertake an extensive peacekeeping mission with Chad promoting “an African solution to an African problem.” However, despite the assistance of almost 2,000 French peacekeepers under Operation Sangaris and now with EU peacekeepers who have taken over security of the airport in Bangui, MISCA has been unable to keep the peace due to limited resources and so the situation continues to spiral out of control.
On 10th April, the UNSC finally authorized a UN PKO—the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)—with a troop size of up to 12,000 under Resolution 2149, which again reiterated the primary responsibility of the CAR authorities to protect the people. The resolution authorized the mission to protect civilians, support a democratic transition and deliver humanitarian aid. The international mass atrocity prevention community sighed in relief, hoping the UN PKO would be able to avert an even bigger humanitarian disaster. However, the mission won’t be deployed until 15th September this year and if it encounters similar funding issues as the humanitarian aid effort, it might turn into a dog that cannot bark. In the meantime, violence is spiraling out of control. The UN now needs to find a way to bridge the time until UN peacekeepers can be deployed in September.
Are We Finally Getting it Right in the Central African Republic?
BY: ANTHONY DiROSA
On August 25th, 2013, I wrote about the slowly disintegrating situation in the Central African Republic in an attempt to join a growing chorus of voices seeking to sound the alarms that apparently weren’t being heard by the international community. Since then, as the crisis has grown more desperate, the world has started to take notice.
In November, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that “this cycle, if not addressed now, threatens to degenerate into a country-wide religious and ethnic divide, with the potential to spiral into an uncontrollable situation, including atrocity crimes, with serious national and regional implications.” Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, added:
“We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion. My feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other which means that if we don’t act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.”
The concern so many had about the simmering risk of large-scale mass atrocities has unfortunately been realized in the last month. A new and dangerous dynamic of inter-religious hatred and violence has taken off in CAR that has catalyzed a brutal cycle of atrocities and targeting of civilian populations. Around half of the country’s population is Christian while about 15% is Muslim. The Christian majority and the Muslim minority have historically co-existed peacefully. In recent months, Muslim Seleka rebels, who ousted former CAR President Francois Bozize in March 2013, have reportedly attacked Christian communities all over the country. “The danger is that this polarization has taken place along religious lines, which has never really happened in the past and that people are self-arming themselves and carrying out back and forth attacks against each other,” said Kyle Matthews, the Senior Deputy Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.
In response, Christian militias have formed in an effort to fight back against Seleka militias. Due to newly formed fissures in CAR’s society, anti-Seleka Christians are targeting local Muslims whom they suspect are naturally aiding Seleka rebels. Furthermore, the conflict has attracted foreign jihadists from Chad and Sudan, set off targeted retribution by Christian militias on Muslim villages, caused the collapse of civilian authority and resulted in massive dislocation and food shortages.
Human Rights Watch reports that both sides are responsible for wonton acts of murder, rape, and looting. United Nations officials and the international community are deeply troubled by the sectarian tenor of the conflict, which is reminiscent of the early stages of past genocides in the region. In a briefing to the Security Council, the deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, called it “a vicious cycle that could very easily turn into mass atrocities.”
Reports out of CAR in the last several weeks have been so worrisome that international action became unavoidable. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2127 last week, authorizing a joint French/AU operation in the Central African Republic. This will help strengthen an intervention force of up to 6,000 African troops, to be aided by 1,600 recently deployed French soldiers with support from the African Union. In the medium term, a UN Security Council-approved peacekeeping mission with up to 9,000 troops operating under “robust rules of engagement” could be necessary, according to Ban Ki Moon. “Member States of the United Nations now have the opportunity, and I firmly believe the responsibility, to prevent what has the high potential to result in widespread atrocities,” said Ban.
This sudden disbursement of support to CAR comes amidst an apex of violence in Bangui since the crisis unfolded earlier this year. Fighting in Bangui since last Thursday claimed at least 400 lives, according to Amnesty International. But the accuracy of these estimates is unverifiable; as many as 1,000 people may have been killed with many bodies being buried and taken away before they could be counted. Furthermore, on December 10th, two French soldiers were killed after a gun-battle ensued following attempts to disarm several Seleka rebels. Most of the foreign press and journalists are reporting from the capital region, Bangui, where over 30,000 civilians are holed up in the city’s airport, too afraid to leave its grounds. Tens of thousands may have already died in the more remote parts of the CAR, a country the size of France, according to independent journalist Gwynne Dyer.
Western countries have begun to step up their efforts. The US recently pledged $40 million for Central African peacekeepers and its armed forces will deploy military planes to help transport international peacekeepers from Burundi to Bangui in order “to prevent the further spread of sectarian violence,” said a Pentagon spokesman. The UK also pledged support by lending supply planes to the French and earmarking $25 million to CAR for humanitarian aid. The European Union has also contributed $50 million.
Despite these crucial immediate measures, it’s doubtful that 1,600 French soldiers will be able to restore long-term stability in the Central African Republic. These measures are at best a stopgap measure that represents a minimum commitment to restoring security in the short-term. The French mission, will at the very least, help reinforce the poorly equipped AU’s International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) as it struggles to bring order back to the streets of Bangui. The latest reports claim that the French forces had indeed restored some stability in the capital in recent days. The French, who have already intervened in a similar fashion in Mali this year, also hope that the UN will send additional peacekeepers as quickly as possible. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recommended 6,000 to 9,000 men to be added as soon as possible.
Many groups and organizations, such as the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International, have laid out potential next steps in CAR that will help ensure short-term and long-term stability (as well as critiques of recent UN efforts). The general consensus is that more needs to be done both in the short-term and long-term to secure CAR’s future. According to Human Rights Watch’s United Nations Director Phillippe Bolopion, “If the post Rwanda and Bosnia ‘never again’ means anything, the U.N. Security Council needs to go all in to halt the spiraling killing in the Central African Republic.” Hinting at the need for further UN forces in CAR, Netsanet Belay, Africa Director at Amnesty International, said that “Before it’s too late to make a difference, the UN Secretary General must speed up his assessment of the peacekeepers’ impact on the ground — within weeks, not months — he must immediately start preparations for the deployment of a robust UN peacekeeping force to step in if and when needed.”
Others in the international community are also pessimistic about both the ability of the AU-French mission to alleviate the risk of mass atrocities and the willingness of the world’s powers to commit the necessary resources. Ty McCormick at Foreign Policy believes that “Even if a more robust international presence can bring the fighting under control—a prospect that is far from certain in a country roughly the size of Texas, much of which is densely forested — rebuilding a semblance of state authority will likely take years, if not decades.” The challenge ahead for the international community in CAR is undoubtedly daunting. Former US Ambassador to CAR, Lawrence D. Wohlers, believes that the “difficulty will be what happens next; the CAR government structures have been largely destroyed, so a robust peacekeeping force will probably be necessary for years. This will be costly.”
With the United Nations already carrying out 15 peacekeeping missions worldwide and Western militaries more focused on counterterrorism missions in the region, it’s hard to imagine that the necessary financial and political commitments will be made quickly enough to get CAR the support it needs. And as we learn at the Auschwitz Institute’s Lemkin Seminar, time is of the essence in situations where there are ongoing mass atrocities. “In societies with histories of ethnic violence, the cycle of killing will eventually spiral downward into the vortex of genocide,” warns Gregory Stanton in his article, “The Eight Stages of Genocide.” UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow said six years ago that she felt CAR’s citizens were “the most abandoned people on earth.” If the proper short-term and long-term measures to bring CAR back from the brink aren’t made quickly and robustly, the observations Farrow made then will continue to ring true.
By: ANTHONY DiROSA
Central Africa is not known to be the most politically stable region in the world, but the events seen in recent years from Bangui to Nairobi have been extremely worrisome, especially for those in the mass atrocity prevention community. As militia-based violence in the DRC shows no signs of abating, the South Sudanese security apparatus is deteriorating, and ethnic tensions in Kenya remain virulent, the Central African Republic is following this trend of divisive internal conflict. In March 2013, its government was sacked by a rebel group, prompting a condemnation from the UN Security Council, fueling a growing belief that the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) might pose a “serious threat” to regional stability. Since then, the situation in CAR has deteriorated massively: over 100,000 children now face sexual abuse and recruitment into armed groups in the country, the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) has further entrenched themselves into unpatrolled CAR territory, and over 200,000 people have fled their homes, with many now living in the bush. Politically, the country is being run by Michel Djotodia, who seized power from President Francois Bozize when fighters from the Seleka rebel coalition marched into the capital, Bangui, in March 2013. Although Djotodia pledged to hand over power after elections, currently scheduled for 2016, the absence of legitimate leadership in Bangui is a major obstacle that is impeding external efforts to reduce the threat to civilian populations. The lack of a rank-and-file system of accountability within the militia-imposed government has led to a situation where order has been replaced by chaos and the rule of law is virtually non-existent. It’s an understatement to say the situation in CAR is spiraling out of control.
Furthermore, the political crisis in Bangui has worsened the already dire absence of an effective state-security apparatus. As a result, the country has experienced widespread looting, sexual violence and ransacking of hospitals and pharmacies, which has compounded the humanitarian situation immensely. Currently, about a third of the country’s 4.6 million people need assistance with food, shelter, health care or water, according to UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who has recently returned from a visit to the country. The rapid deterioration of stability in the Central African Republic is occurring despite the presence of the recently deployed 3,600-strong African Union peacekeeping mission. The Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States also has 350 soldiers based in Bangui, with a limited role and capacity to act. While the Central African Republic’s instability has been an issue since its independence in 1960, the current peacekeeping forces and international humanitarian efforts haven’t been sufficient to effectively restore order to towns and villages across the CAR. Opining on possible modifications to these efforts, Ivan Šimonović, the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, warned the AU force alone would not be enough given the current situation in CAR. Šimonović believes that “a much larger and nationally diversified force is needed to provide security and protect the population; such a force would also prevent foreign rebel groups, such as the Lord’s Resistance Army or Islamist extremist groups, from finding a safe haven in the country.” Whether Šimonović’s warning of the potential for CAR to be an extremist haven was an attempt to draw more attention from an otherwise indifferent international community remains to be seen.
Regardless of whether there were multiple motives behind his statement, it’s important to note that Central Africa’s long-standing troubles haven’t been afforded the attention and action-based responses they should be given the current level of insecurity and lawlessness. Just imagine the potential response to a militia-based coup in the heart of Europe or oil-rich lands in the Middle East–the headlines would be hard to ignore. Getting involved in CAR is a simply a hard sell. The country is one of the poorest in the world and is largely off the geopolitical radar of many of the world’s capitals, in spite of the staggering figures and estimates illuminating the humanitarian situation since serious fighting erupted last December. It’s important to note that human rights abuses and crimes against humanity had been occurring for years under former President François Bozizé; this latest iteration is nothing unfamiliar to CAR’s citizens. Aside from lacking international attention, funding remains a problem for UN humanitarian agencies and their partners working in the Central African Republic. Currently, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ $195 million humanitarian appeal for the Central African Republic is only 32 per cent funded, having received $62 million so far (of which 23 per cent was carry-over from last year). In addition to CAR’s low international profile, several foreign donors have withdrawn aid to the country out of fear that their money would end up in the wrong hands. Most of these losses have been concentrated in development aid, an area often seen as less pressing than humanitarian aid. Furthermore, 30 project proposals submitted this year by NGOs to improve vulnerable people’s access to safe water and proper sanitation did not receive any funding from UN member states. These funding problems have limited the capacity of local activists and institutions to act. Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African League for the Defence of Human Rights (LCDH) recently stated that, “at the moment we’ve reached a very high intensity in terms of human rights violations, [but] we have no means to support ourselves.”
While the Central African Republic’s troubles have long been on the periphery of news cycles and international intrigue, due to the events of recent months some are finally starting to notice. On August 5 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to impunity for serious human rights abuses in CAR, including the consideration of sanctions. Meanwhile, in August, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court issued her second warning that the crimes being committed may fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction while hinting at a looming prosecution. Much of the noise being generated has come from the United Nations, who has experienced firsthand the effects of the escalating conflict. According to Amy Martin, head of office for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN offices “have been looted and pillaged to a point where we have to start from zero, and [it] takes us a long time to mobilize the resources to do that.” Aid organizations are also seeing the effects of CAR’s insecurity firsthand, as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and the Red Cross have largely retreated to the capital Bangui due to increasing security risks. Civil society groups and international organizations have been at the forefront of humanitarian efforts on the ground, but without further international backing it’s hard to imagine the situation turning around. CAR’s problems remain a low priority for an international community still tangling with the crisis in Syria, Islamist extremism in Mali and other more politically dynamic conflicts. “Without a strong response from the international community there is no future”, warned the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Central African Republic, Margaret Vogt. As the situation grows more dire by the day, there are actionable steps that the international community can start to put in place.
The first and foremost concern is restoring security and the rule of law as well as ensuring that more humanitarian assistance is brought in to deal with the massive internal displacement and basic concerns like food, shelter and access to medicine. In the longer-term, the international community should work to create a stable government in Bangui, working alongside neighboring countries and the wider region in order to avoid a spillover effect that could further jeopardize security in the region. Besides the humanitarian crisis, regional security concerns that stem from the LRA’s active presence, as well as the potential for safe-havens for extremist militia groups, are real and legitimate. If the international community’s response to CAR’s current crisis remains slow and ineffective, perhaps the mass atrocity/genocide prevention community should play the best card in their hand: the LRA. The threat of the LRA has proven to be an extremely powerful rallying call for action-based responses in the region. Even those outside the field would remember the cloud of hype and cynicism surrounding the Kony 2012 campaign. While Invisible Children were successful through emotive storytelling and viral social media campaigning, the issues that lay at the heart of their campaign sold well. The looming threat of the LRA led to policy responses in both the US and EU, millions of dollars in pledges from governments, and military and humanitarian support to those on the ground in Uganda and the DRC, among others. What occurred was simply the illumination of a storyline that had been underreported on, unattended to and underfunded for far too long. What didn’t occur, to the extent that it produced effective policy-specific results, was a clear and deliberate effort to link the region’s atmosphere of insecurity with the harrowing humanitarian situation that preceded it.
With the LRA currently terrorizing local towns and villages in CAR according to Human Rights Watch and the LRA Crisis Tracker, there is a new sense of urgency to shed light on this in order to attract more international attention. On the ground, armed forces have adopted few measures to protect civilians who live in the areas where the LRA operate. In fact, only around 100 CAR soldiers are deployed to the vast eastern region where Kony is believed to be roaming in. US military advisors sent to CAR for counter-LRA operations have had their work there suspended recently and the impact has been devastating on civilians who rely on external security assistance. Given the level of desperation in CAR, coupled with the lack of international attention, the international community should be leveraging the LRA issue in order to attract more substantial interest from major international players. Collective messaging should not only be continuously channeled towards Western powers, but also regional/sub-regional actors and organizations who have a major stake in forging a stable Central African Republic. Given the relative silence in the last several decades concerning CAR’s instability, if the mass atrocity prevention community can package the importance of a rapidly worsening humanitarian/political situation (and its effects on civilian populations) with the more magnetic LRA issue (and the security concerns of Central Africa as a whole), it might represent the best strategy to get necessary assistance to those on the ground who need it now.
* Four former Guatemalan military officers are being tried for crimes against humanity they allegedly committed in 1982. They are accused of taking part in the Dos Erres Massacre, in which government forces murdered over 200 villagers suspected of being rebel sympathizers.
* Today a United Nations–organized seminar aimed at preventing genocide in South Sudan, hosted in the country’s capital of Juba, concludes. Special Adviser Francis Deng said the UN hopes to “prevent the new State from getting into. . . errors”—such as “discrimination, dehumanization, inclusivity, marginalization, and suppression”—that led to the breakup of Sudan.
* The Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, chose Jean-Pierre Bemba, currently on trial at the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as their presidential candidate. Bemba is accused of leading militias that killed hundreds of civilians in the Central African Republic.
* President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed the controversial British documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” claiming the footage, which purportedly shows the Sri Lankan army committing war crimes during the final weeks of the country’s civil war, was a “film” staged by the rebel Tamil Tigers.
* United Nations officials issued a statement saying Syrian authorities may have committed crimes against humanity in their suppression of the democratic uprisings sweeping the country. Citing reports of the murder and arrest of civilians, Francis Deng and Edward Luck called for an investigation and requested that the Assad regime abide by international regulations when responding to protests.
Photos (from top): thebellforum.com, realsociology.edublogs.org, Associated Press