Expert Opinion

4 Recommendations for next steps in Central African Republic

In less than one year, more than 533,000 people in the country have been forced to leave their homes due to on-going violence along religious and ethnic lines. This is an astonishing increase of 960% on figures from December 2012, when 50,000 were reported as internally displaced. Today, well over a tenth of the population is now living in displacement.

In an open letter released yesterday, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) highlighted key weaknesses in the current humanitarian response in CAR. This followed a deterioration of the situation in the country over the past three months, which has also contributed to the authorisation by the UN Security Council of an African-led peacekeeping mission. To add to recent developments and the welcome increase in international attention and commitment to the situation in CAR, the UN yesterday qualified the situation in CAR as a Level 3 Emergency.

CAR is no stranger to violence and instability. It is therefore even more crucial that the current steps are seen as just the beginning of a sustained engagement if solutions are to be found for the long-term.

Number of IDPs doubled in last 3 months, as fear of rape, execution and extortion force vast numbers of people to flee

Due to widespread fear caused by a dramatic increase in human rights violations including arbitrary executions, extortion, sexual and gender-based violence, the number of IDPs has more than doubled over the last three months.

On the one hand, most of the violence has reportedly been caused by mainly Muslim armed groups drawn from ex-Séléka members, who are related to the coalition of armed groups that took power in March.  On the other it has been caused by other groups, including the so-called mainly Christian ‘anti-Balaka’ militia who established themselves in response to the growing violence and to oppose ex-Séléka members.

More than 400 people, mainly men, were killed in just 3 days this month as violence hit the capital city of Bangui. In one particularly violent incident in Bangui, ex-Séléka fighters entered a hospital and began executing patients who were being treated for gunshot and machete wounds.

Ethnic and religious divides intensify as targeted killings abound

Armed groups, mainly reflecting the divisions between Séléka versus anti-Balaka – or Muslim versus Christian – are increasingly carrying out targeted attacks based on these religious or schisms. These sectarian conflicts were initiated by the perception that Christians were being targeted by Séléka members at the beginning of the crisis and has since escalated into a series of retaliation attacks targeting both Christian and Muslim communities.

Door-to-door searches and the targeted killings of any male over 15 years old have heightened fears for families around the country. Even more worrying is that these tensions are now spilling over to the civilian populations, with retaliations among civilians having occurred based on the same criteria.

This divide between Christians and Muslims is separating the displaced as well as these two communities increasingly lose trust in one another. In Bossongoa, Christian IDPs have found refuge at a church while the Muslim IDPs are staying separately in a school building.

Beyond the emergency phase, CAR cannot be forgotten

For too long the internal displacement situation in CAR and the current crisis has largely remained in the shadows. There are hopes this is changing with the recent unanimous adoption of a resolution by the UN Security Council on 5 December 2013, and, in parallel, yesterday’s reclassification of the crisis as a level 3 Emergency. The latter would provide a basis for a bigger and more sustained response, including greater capacity in-country.

Here, we offer four recommendations on what the next steps should be:

  1. In CAR, the issue of security and humanitarian access must be prioritised with the rollout of the Security Council resolution. Both of these have been lacking under the transitional government and regional forces (FOMAC). It is therefore a good sign that the African Union and French forces, deploying as a result of the resolution, will be specifically tasked with providing protection to civilians and enabling wider access to those who need help the most.
  2. The military forces must ensure that humanitarians are given easy access to people who have fled the conflict and that they are also able to deliver aid in a neutral and impartial manner. For this to be a reality, it is essential that there be a clearly defined civil-military framework throughout the operation to guide the engagement of all parties, including those living in the affected communities.
  3. The growing religious and ethnic tensions are concerning as populations currently experiencing extreme violence and displacement are representative of communities across the country.  It is crucial that the response to this conflict – including the peacekeeping intervention – positively contributes to rebuilding trust within and between these communities, particularly if the growing sectarian tensions are to be diffused.
  4. Planning for long-term solutions for those who have been forced to flee needs to start now. If the international community is to actively support durable solutions for all IDPs, it will be important for it to engage with all sides of the conflict, on an equal basis and at local and national levels. Long-term commitment from the international community to support peacebuilding, development, rule of law, and governance in CAR is needed – a short-term peacekeeping mission at the peak of the crisis will, in time, prove to not be enough otherwise.

As past decades have shown, the failure to address and resolve underlying grievances lays the ground for recurrent instability, preventing people affected by conflict to truly rebuild their lives and find lasting peace.

For more information, see IDMC’s country page on Central African Republic.