The situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) has gone from bad to worse in recent weeks, as the international community slowly begins to turn its gears to intervene on behalf of the hundreds of thousands displaced in the ongoing violence.
In the eight months since President Francois Bozize fled as rebels approached the capital city, Bangui, little has improved in the lives of anyone within the country. The ragtag collection of rebel groups that swept into Bangui — known as Seleka, a word that means “alliance” in the Sango language — has promised elections in the next year, an improvement over the undemocratic Bozize, but it has come at a tremendous cost. Violence at the hands of Seleka members has grown wanton since March when the rebels first took power, and has continued apace in the time after former rebel leader — and current president — Michel Djotodia declared that the umbrella group would be dissolved.
Now Adama Dieng, the United Nations’ special adviser on the prevention of genocide, is warning that the situation could be far worse than anyone feared. “We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion and my feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other,” Dieng said after an informal U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis on Friday. “If we don’t act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring in the Central African Republic.”
“The country has been totally destroyed,” Deing continued. “There is total chaos.” Eugène Richard Gasana, Rwanda’s ambassador to the U.N., agreed with the assessment, telling reporters that reports from CAR reminded him of the genocide in his own country. “I had the impression it is like in 1994 at home,” Gasana said.
Dieng raised the bar, but was not the first U.N. official to warn about the deterioration of the situation in the country. A U.N. report detailing the situation since March noted that both the government and Seleka engaged in “summary executions and extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and looting of private and public property.” Adding to the severity of the violence, the U.N. also says the Seleka “engaged in sexual violence and grave violations against children,” leading the report to determine that gross human rights violations had occurred, possibly on the level of constituting war crimes.
The crisis in the CAR has mostly flown under the radar, despite such dire warnings, with a tepid response from the international community that has been slow-moving at best. The U.N. Security Council in late October approved a guard force of 250 troops to be immediately deployed to the Central African Republic, pulling from existing contributions in other peacekeeping missions to do so. That number will be increased to 560 troops in the future to protect areas where there’s a U.N. presence.
An African Union peacekeeping force is already on the ground, but has been unable to stop the death and looting that has become commonplace. Plans exist to bolster the 1,100-strong force to a possible 3,600 troops, with the backing of French president Francois Hollande and the possibility of converting into a full-fledged peacekeeping mission, but Dieng has warned that “African forces will not be sufficient.” Meanwhile, advocacy groups such as Amnesty International are attempting to raise the profile of the situation in the hopes of further intervention.
While discussions carry on though, Central Africans are currently having to live through the crisis. According to the United Nations as of September at least 214,000 Central Africans have fled the country, with another 390,000 displaced internally. A total of 1.6 million people as a result are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF alone is requesting $3 million in emergency relief, deploying Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow to the country this week in hopes of boosting donations.