Africa’s Forgotten Conflict?

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The United Nations, including Ban Ki-Moon, raised concerns over the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), which has suffered a “total breakdown of law and order”, according to Ban. Last March, Séléka, a coalition of rebel group led by Michel Djotodia, staged a coup, ousted President Francois Bozizé and set up a transitional government. But the situation is getting worse. Ban has urged Member states to consider targeted sanctions against CAR but he is not the first, nor the only one to raise the alarm. Last month Médecins Sans Frontières announced that the health system had collapsed as a result of looting and lack of funding. Last week, Caritas reported killings outside Bangui. Reporters Without Borders condemned increased violence against journalists. Finally, Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), voiced his concern about the worsening security situation.

The country has plunged into chaos.

 The Séléka coalition may “control” the state but there is real chaos in CAR. First, the rebels commit gross human rights violations and refuse to protect civilians. Second, the population does not have access to the most basic goods and services. And third, the government is struggling to establish control outside Bangui. Séléka fighters and other armed groups arbitrarily arrests and detain civilians, commit targeted killings, rape and sexual abuse women, conduct raids against villages, and recruit child soldiers, according to the findings of a recent mission carried out by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The UN Secretary General stated 1.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. MSF and other humanitarian agencies said that malnutrition and diseases such as malaria are rife, and drugs are in short supply. Moreover, organizations have been the victim of looting and attacks in the past couple of months. The World Food Programme has increased up its efforts to bring aid to the 200,000 people who have fled their home as a result of the crisis.  The situation is even worse outside the capital of Bangui where “there is no police, no justice system and no social services.” Furthermore, the conflict is not concentrated in CAR. Neighboring countries such as Chad and Sudan have been accused of participating or supporting coups in 2003 and 2013.

 Séléka is ignoring the dire humanitarian and human rights situation. The self-proclaimed interim president Michel Djotodia claimed in July that security had returned to much of the country, dismissed report of insecurity, and blaming the Lord’s Resistance Army for remaining problems. Séléka leaders say their men are not responsible for exactions and claim, of course, that they are protecting the population. But the narrative of the population is very different.

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CAR has a long history of conflict and crisis. The State has never really functioned. The March 2013 coup was the fifth of its kind since the country’s independence on 1960. Ousted President Bosizé himself participated in coups and ousted President Ange-Félix Patassé in 2003. He has been accused of committing or presiding over crimes against humanity during his presidency.

The current “interim president”, Michel Djotodia, has a history of violence as well. After Bosizé took power in 2003, Djotodia‘s Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) instigated a rebellion in 2004 called the “Bush War.” The Global Peace Accord signed in 2008 put an end to the conflict but also granted amnesty acts committed before the signing of the Accord. Djotodia was arrested in November 2006 but let free in 2008 after participating in the peace talks. The culture of impunity is therefore widespread.

Despite the peace agreement, Djotodia helped form Séléka and continued his campaign against Bosizé. The government signed another peace agreement with Djotodia in January 2013 and gave him a post in the Ministry of Defense. The agreement was short-lived: Séléka ousted Bozizé in March, accusing President Bosizé of failing to keep his promises. Djotodia suspended the constitution, dissolved the government and the National Assembly, promised to hold elections within 18 months but then postponed them to 2016.

There are numerous risk factors for the situation to get even worse. The current government does not have the capacity or/and refuses to prevent crimes against humanity and does also not have the institutions designed to protect the population. Impunity for violations committed by armed forces, militias, rebels and other state and non-state actors also heightens to risk of more abuses. Finally, atrocity crimes are more likely to occur during armed conflict, especially intra-state conflict. Considering the state of chaos since the Séléka takeover, risks of an all-out conflict have increased, especially between Muslims and Christians. The LRA is also more likely to become stronger as a result of the general lack security in the country. Finally, increased divisions within the Séléka coalition will render the transitional government even weaker.

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The latest Report of the Secretary General on the Responsibility to Protect underlines the need to address structural and operational factors that affect state capacity to prevent human rights violations and mass atrocity crimes. Particularly important is the establishment of an environment of resilience and to build state structures that will address crimes. This includes constitutional protections; democratic electoral processes; political pluralism; ensuring accountability for human rights violations and past atrocity cries; setting up national accountability mechanisms; confronting economic disparities and deprivation; effective sector reform; guaranteeing legislative protection for human rights. CAR has not addressed these structural issues. There is no political will or leadership to do so.

In view of the current situation, the cycle of conflict, coups and violence, there is a urgent need to put an end to the culture of impunity. In terms of security sector reform, the government must absolutely condemn exactions and stop integrating Séléka elements into the army without screening them beforehand in order to determine their suitability. An efficient national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) is system urgently needed, and those who have committed violations of human rights should be prosecuted.

In terms of justice, African civil society groups and international NGOs have urged ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to launch an investigation into ongoing human rights abuses, and thus to go beyond simply monitoring the situation. The ICC may be accused once again of focusing only on African cases but the situation in CAR is pressing and monitoring human rights abuses is not sufficient considering the number of reports of human rights violations.

The African Union on sanctions on Séléka leaders, including asset freezes, but member states should actually implement them. As the United Nations Secretary General states in his report on CAR, Djotodia visited to Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Sudan despite travel bans.

 United Nations member states and the international community, if it exists, have a responsibility to act. In the past couple of years, our collective failure to prevent atrocity crimes and abuses from being committed in countries such as Syria, the DRC, and Burma should already put us to shame. The Central African Republic should not remain a forgotten conflict.

 

Read the UN Secretary’s General report on the Central African Republic HERE

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