The United Nations on Thursday cleared the path for nearly 12,000 peacekeepers to deploy to the Central African Republic in the hopes of finally ending the string of communal violence that has devastated the country.
The resolution — approved by a unanimous vote — transitions the peacekeeping force currently on the ground in the CAR, formed of African Union and French soldiers, into a United Nation-led mission. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) will include “up to 10,000 military personnel” once it reaches full strength, according to the resolution, along with another 1,800 police personnel. Despite passing today, however, the blue helmeted peacekeepers won’t take over from the African Union mission until September of this year.
In taking over from the ad-hoc conglomeration of African Union mission, the French soldiers, and promised European Union troops, the newly formed mission will have the advantage of full United Nations backing. This includes being able to more directly draw from and assist the political offices that the U.N. has set up in the country to aid in rebuilding the shattered state, along with access to enhanced resources and equipment for the peacekeepers that will be folded into the new mission.
So far, the international community’s intervention in the Central African Republic has proven unable to stem the bloodshed that has become a part of daily life since last December. It was then that communities in the country formed self-defense militias known as the anti-balaka, designed to protect themselves from the former Seleka rebels that helped overthrow the government last March. Freed from their bonds in the previous months, the ex-Seleka fighters, who were mostly Muslim, began looting and pillaging, sending hundreds of thousands of Central Africans fleeing their homes. The majority Christian anti-balaka, however, has since evolved from being rested in self-defense into a threat in their own right, prompting a spiraling clash between Christian and Muslim Central Africans that shows no signs of slowing.
It is for that reason that MINUSCA will primarily be charged with protecting civilians throughout the CAR, with the authority to “take all necessary means to carry out its mandate.” That mandate will prove trying should the current climate continue until the launch of the mission. On Thursday, a Central African priest told the Associated Press that a single clash between the ex-Seleka and anti-balaka fighters in a small village left nearly 30 dead. 2,000 French troops and around 6,000 African Union forces have done little to prevent such killing, which has reached the point that the United Nations has warned of ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim population.
Making matters all the more difficult, Chad — one of the CAR’s neighbors and a sizable contributor to the African Union mission — recently decided to withdraw its 850 troops from CAR amid calls of abuse from its soldiers. Last Friday, the United Nations accused Chadian soldiers of killing 30 civilians and wounding more than 300 more on March 29 in what was called an “indiscriminate attack.” However, Chad’s “withdrawal from MISCA in no way weakens its commitment to provide all possible support to the Central African partners and efforts of the African Union and international community in seeking a solution to the crisis,” the Chadian ambassador to the U.N. said following the vote on Thursday.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power has been taking the point position on the crisis in the CAR within the U.S. government, becoming the face of the administration response. “It has been 20 years since the Rwandan genocide taught us the price of delay in responding to mass violence,” Power said, addressing the African Union and French troops on a visit to the CAR on Wednesday. “The world has not delayed in reacting to the outbreak of horrific violence here, but it is evident from the ongoing targeting of the other that what we are doing has not yet calmed the situation.” Power previously visited the Central African Republic earlier this year to urge calm.
Power had returned to New York by the time of the vote on today’s resolution, telling reporters aftewards that she “can personally attest to the critical urgency” of the deployment of the newly authorized peacekeeping force. She also announced that the United States would be committing an additional $22 million in humanitarian aid to the Central African Republic, bringing the U.S. total to nearly $67 million this year. This could prove crucial, as along with the horrifying security situation, the violence in the CAR has also spurred a massive humanitarian crisis. To date, more than 200,000 Central Africans have become refugees in neighboring countries, with an additional 200,000 internally displaced persons throughout the country.