Violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) is threatening to spiral into a crisis, following months of escalating violence. Former members of disbanded rival Christian and Muslim militias, the anti-Balaka and the Seleka respectively, have formed ‘self-defense groups’ and have renewed fighting despite a series of peace agreements being signed. The Norwegian Refugee Council has reported that more than 100,000 people have fled their homes, and hundreds of people have been killed. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that half of the population is in need of aid.
The CAR has been plagued by conflict since 2013, when the Seleka rebels seized power, triggering reprisals from the anti-Balaka. These groups have splintered since. Despite elections being held in 2016, and the election of President Faustin-Archange bringing the prospect of a reconciliation process, violence has instead escalated. Although 13 of the 14 armed groups and the government signed a peace deal in June, fighting has spread. Especially in areas outside the capital Bangui and other large urban centres. Civilians, particularly women and children, have been affected by the fighting. The UN has criticized the armed groups involved, with all those involved accused of atrocities.
“How can they call themselves ‘self-defense groups’?” said UN humanitarian coordinator Najat Rochdi in the CAR. “Who are they defending? The population? The communities? When you loot the bases of the humanitarians who actually are supporting the communities, when you are stealing the food from the mouth of the communities, and from those who are starving, are you really protecting and defending the population? I am not sure.”
The CAR is among the world’s poorest countries and has been wracked by instability since it gained its independence from France in 1960. Inter-communal violence occurs at regular junctures. Speaking to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, OCHA chief Stephen O’Brien outlined that the latest violence was part of a deteriorating cycle in the country. “It has the worst level of humanitarian needs per capita,” O’Brien added by phone from Bangui, calling on donors to boost support. According to the UN’s Financial Tracking Service, only $118 million of the $497 million requested for the country’s 2017 humanitarian response plan has been funded.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which integrated a previous African Union mission, has more than 12,000 troops on the ground in the country. The peacekeeping mission was implemented in April of 2014 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, with a mandate including the protection of civilians, supporting a transition towards a new and democratically-elected government, and the integration of a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program. MINUSCA has been criticized for its continuing inability to protect the CAR’s civilian population, while also being plagued by allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct.
It seems clear that in order to break the cycle of violence in the country, the UN, the international community, and CAR’s regional partners will need to re-engage with the problems in the country. A concerted effort at a peace process, deploying peacekeepers with the aim of disarmament, returning a monopoly of force to the government and the protection of civilian populations should be the initial priorities. Also, increased funding should be pursued to address the humanitarian crisis. In the longer-term, funding gaps should be tackled. Development programs, particularly in areas outside Bangui, should also be pursued. Without taking these steps, the conditions that give rise to nascent inter-communal violence are unlikely to be addressed, and the progression of violence will continue.
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