blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
What has been happening in the Central African Republic? And what will help quell the violence?
Violent conflict and absolute devastation have characterized Central African Republic for the past year and a half, as religious tensions rip the population apart. Since President Michael Djotodia came to power in March 2013, the Seleka group (Muslim) and the anti-balaka forces (Christian) have been in a terribly bloody struggle. Both sides have committed horrible violence against the other, appearing to be on the basis of their religious differences.
The big question is, is this conflict genocide, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity?
International human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, are claiming that this conflict has escalated into ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in the African country. On the other hand, the United Nations is hesitant to refer to the ongoing conflict as genocide or ethnic cleansing just yet. The UN’s preliminary report on the conflict, conducted in January 2014, did indicate that the situation could “deteriorate and bring about genocide and ethnic cleansing” if the international community does not take the necessary steps in the near future. As of now, all can agree that both sides of the conflict have committed, and are still committing crimes against humanity and the need to end the violence is absolutely urgent.
The preliminary response was to send 2,000 French troops and 6,000 African Union peacekeeping troops to CAR in an attempt to quell the “orgy of bloodshed.” Despite the presence of the troops violence has persisted and the anti-balaka forces continually persecute the minority Muslim population.
Thousands have lost their lives, more than a million people have fled the country, and many more are in camps within the country seeking protection from the violence. On top of the violence, life is extremely hard for those living in the conflict zone. They do not have the necessary access to food, sanitary living conditions, and basic health care, which is only increasing the desperation of the situation.
Again the world is faced with another great human atrocity, which could have been prevented if a greater respect for human rights and the differences between peoples existed. By now, the international community is seasoned at dealing with devastating human conflict. Per usual, the international community has been slow to respond to the conflict in Central African Republic. On a brighter note, the United Nations passed resolution 2149 which will deploy 12,000 peacekeepers to CAR. The resolution, establishing this mission, took an unprecedented step by declaring that the peacekeepers are “authorized to do whatever is necessary” in order to protect the civilians caught between the crossfires of the conflict. However, the mission will not be arriving until September.
By allowing the peacekeepers the ability to use force when necessary demonstrates that the UN is learning from its past mistakes in Rwanda where peacekeepers stood idly by as people were massacred due to their inability to use force. The UN under the leadership of Ban Ki-moon is working hard to insure that the international community does not let the Central African Republic become “another Rwanda of our time.”
The International Crisis Group praises UN resolution 2149 as it upholds the organization’s “responsibility to protect” and on top of that it also aids in state building as it “emphasizes the urgency of funding the transitional authorities and the need to clean up the public finances.” Despite these positive aspects of the resolution, the UN is using the peacekeeping mission as “the strategy” instead of “being the tool of the strategy and it is “reusing techniques that have proved their ineffectiveness.” For the peacekeeping mission to be as effective as possible it will need the cooperation of community and religious leaders to help promote “tolerance, non-violence, and dialogue.”
In order for the UN’s peacekeeping mission to work in CAR it will require a synchronization of several fronts within the politically unstable country. I do think that this is absolutely possible but I do not think it will be easy. Collaborating with many different people holding differing perspectives and interests can be challenging. Collaborating while trying to rebuild a devastated country from the ground-up presents greater and more unique challenges.
Although I am not an expert on conflict resolution or the Central African Republic I do have my own opinions on the international community’s handling of this crisis. I applaud the UN for establishing a stronger peacekeeping mission armed with the ability to protect.
Like the International Crisis Group, however, I believe that the international community is depending too much upon the peacekeeping mission as a means to resolve the conflict. Another downfall to the resolution is the timeframe for which the peacekeepers will be deployed. Three months from now is quite a while for the people of the Central African Republic to wait for better lives. Furthermore if the peacekeeping mission fails, it is very likely that more problems will arise and even greater conflict could ensue.
Despite the issues of the international community’s efforts, I am hopeful for peace in Central African Republic because of the efforts of national and local organizations attempting to re-establish peace. One of these schemes, “work-for-peace”, was developed by the public works agency (AGETIP) and it employs thousands of youth in the capital of Bangui. This donor-funded program is a positive step in the right direction for achieving well-deserved peace within the Central African Republic.
Supporting and funding organizations, like work-for-peace, is the next step for quelling the crisis and restoring order in Central African Republic.