Violence and Impunity in the Central African Republic Threatens a Fragile Peace

In Kaga Bandero, a town 350km north of the nation’s capital Bangui, violence is unending. Civilian massacres, destruction of houses, and targeted attacks against Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camps are just some of the deadly indicators of a fragile peace teetering on widespread conflict. Since the democratic election of President Faustin Touadera in February of this year, the Central African Republic (CAR) has shown its ability to move beyond conflict and strive for peace and stability. However, the increasing violence of the last two months has threatened to upend the CAR’s path to peace, and with it, the lives of civilian populations caught amid the chaos. The withdrawal of French troops from the country, and the presence of inter-religious violence that has resulted in 20,000 people seeking refuge at the United Nations (UN) base, are just some of the recent events that demand further international attention and warrant institutional paths to peace and reconciliation. The last two months have demonstrated that the country faces a critical stage in its post-conflict context that could either foster peace or incite violence.

The situation in the CAR can only be defined as a fragile peace. Indeed, Professor Phillip Burnham, the Director of the International African Institute argues: “With the absence of effective state institutions (police, courts, civil administration), it is hard to see how this stability will be maintained”. Much of this has to do with the protracted nature of conflict in the CAR. Violence is not the exception in the war-torn country. As Emmanuel Lampaert, Medécins sans Frontières country representative in the CAR, remarks: “What does ‘normal’ mean for a country that has been in a protracted crisis for decades? The most acute phase of the crisis may be over, but the problems are far from solved”. How then, can the normalisation of violence be reversed? Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, believes that unless impunity is combatted, “we are looking at a cyclical pattern in which crimes are going to continue to be committed because people know they can get away with it”.

The continuation of violence in the CAR is deplorable. Both Seleka and anti-Balaka rebels must respect the human rights of civilians. The MINUSCA peacekeeping force in the CAR must be supported in their endeavour to peacefully quell the violence and atrocities committed by both Seleka and anti-Balaka groups. The continued presence of the UN peacekeeping operation is absolutely necessary to ensure the cessation of lethal violence. Both the government of CAR, and the international community should support national and local justice mechanisms. Criminals must be prosecuted and held to account for their crimes, in an effort to curb impunity and decrease the recent upsurge in communal conflict and mass atrocities. The International Criminal Court and the Special Criminal Court in the CAR are continuing to investigate individuals responsible for such crimes. Beyond these international and national initiatives, community-based programs should encourage reconciliation and promote peace projects between Christian and Muslim populations.

The CAR has experienced conflict since the 1980s, however; severe violence broke out in late 2012. In 2013, Seleka rebels; a Muslim-led armed group overthrew the government, which led to a bloody conflict between the Seleka and anti-Balaka rebels, the latter claiming to defend the Christian population. However, the conflict soon unleashed upon civilian populations, who were targeted by both armed groups. With the election of a new president in February 2016, the CAR has shown progression towards peace and stability, despite daily occurrences of violence.

However, the last two months of increased violence have left doubts about the CAR’s path to peace. It is at this crucial moment that the international community must support reconciliation and peace programs within the country. The people of the CAR have the right to a life that is free from violence. If this surge in violence is left unabated, conflict will remain the norm, and peace the exception.

Caitlin Biddolph