This past Tuesday, UN Human Rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad stated that the latest round of violence currently being witnessed in the Central African Republic is ‘very worrying’. Over the past week alone, 130 people have been killed and an additional 15,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. In what has been called the deadliest month since the UN Mission began in 2014, six UN peacekeepers have been killed. Five of the peacekeepers in question had formed part of the United Nations’ Mission in CAR, commonly, known as MINUSCA. They were ambushed on May 8th in the city of Bangassou, when their convoy came under attack by the “anti-balaka,” a predominantly Christian rebel group which has been engaged in a bloody conflict against the mostly-Muslim rebel coalition known as Seleka. In the ensuing firefight, eight other individuals were injured and one went missing. This and several other incidents involving both armed rebel groups have been widely condemned and only serve to add further instability to the country (and the surrounding region by extension).
International reaction to the killings has been swift, with key international figures and organizations releasing statements condemning both the violence and potential war crimes being carried out by the warring sides. The UN Security Council, for its part, has released a press statement following the attack on the UN convoy, in which it reiterates the 15-nation body’s position “that attacks against peacekeepers may constitute war crimes and reminded all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law.” Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has, via his spokesperson, stressed the need to strengthen humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts in the CAR through “continued and sustained regional and international support to overcome the challenges at hand,” which include “significant population displacement, and undetermined number of civilian casualties” and of course, the aforementioned killing of UN peacekeepers.
To that end, some progress appears to have been made, with the UN’s emergency food agency (WFP) having dispatched supplies by air and road to the CAR. The agency says that it aims to reach about 7,200 of the people displaced by violence in the southeastern region of the country. Its efforts are not only limited to food supplies, as it also intends to target malnutrition amongst children 2 years and younger. Furthermore, WFP has a target of $9.9 million in funding as part of its aid package for CAR—so far it has secured half of that amount. Food aid and MINUSCA’s commitment to its original mandate to protect civilians would go a long way in addressing the concerns of some (if not most) observers who believe that not enough has been done to shield the civilian population from the senseless acts being committed against them. Most importantly these measures can help to tackle the most pressing needs of the country, while long-terms solutions to the conflict are worked out.
The above-mentioned efforts, along with other measures by foreign actors, come at a time when ethnic and religious tensions appear to be at an all-time high. In total, an estimated 3000-6000 people have been killed, while 384,500 others have been displaced since the war began in 2013. Caused in large part by the ouster of then President Bozize due to tensions relating to the CAR Bush War, the warring sides—Seleka, anti-balaka and its allies—have been involved in a series of revenge killings (carried out along religious lines) in which the “highest price” has fallen upon the defenseless civilians caught in the middle. Major cities and towns like the capital Bangui had experienced relative peace compared to other areas (most in the North). That all changed once elements of the anti-balaka began committing widespread atrocities against Muslim civilians, which has forced most of them to flee to northern parts of the country controlled by the Seleka. The brutality of the Seleka forces is seen as the causal factor behind the anti-balaka‘s campaign of violence, even though it has long been established that excessive force and indiscriminate killings are a common feature on both sides.
Moving forward, it remains to be seen how this rather complex conflict will be resolved, due in large part to recent developments (i.e. the steady flow of refugees into neighbouring countries and infighting within the rebel group coalitions). In the meantime, protecting civilians and gaining access to the remotest regions in the country remains key for MINUSCA and its partners on the ground.
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