A United Nations official just returned from the Central African Republic on Thursday told reporters that the violence between religious communities and the impunity on the ground towards the perpetrators was reaching the point that “people are losing their humanity.”
In the months since violence between members of the Muslim and Christian communities of the CAR — fueled by the former rebels who toppled the government last April and community defense groups who have become just as fond of lynching and looting, respectively — exploded into the international spotlight, the rhetoric between the two previously harmonious groups was providing “foundation for further atrocities,” John Ging, operations director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said.
Ging recounted speaking to members of the Christian community who had declared all Muslims as the problem in the country, and asking them if they truly believe “Muslim babies are a problem for your security? Because that’s what you’re telling me in the first instance. That there’s no innocent people in the Muslim community? That’s nonsense.”
The answers he received, though, weren’t encouraging. Central African Muslims, Ging said, are “feeling now trapped and completely isolated.” The African Union and French forces on the ground in the Central African Republic have been aiding the U.N. in the process of helping Muslim families pack up and move from their homes, fleeing in the face of violence. This Monday, the last of the Muslim community in the capital city, Bangui, took flight for the countries’ north. That didn’t stop armed men from attacking the convoy anyway, killing one and wounding several others.
“The basis for fear here is real,” Ging said, “the challenge on the security side is bigger than our capacity as an international community to respond to it, and this is leaving us and particularly the people of the CAR in an impossible dilemma. If they stay, they’re likely to be killed. If they flee, they’re — that’s not the solution.”
Ging defended the decision to aid in the movement of Muslims, despite the fact that the U.N. has referred to what’s going on in the Central African Republic as ethnic cleansing. “In talking to their leaders and to people themselves, they were appealing for evacuation,” he said. “That’s what they saw as their immediate requirement to have the safety and security that they need. The Christian community leaders that we met were urging us to evacuate the Muslims. And again, this is the ugly dynamic, the ugly face to this conflict,” he said.
Ging had nothing but praise for the interim government in the CAR and the international forces that have been deployed so far, but saved his sharpest words for the international community, saying actions to date were “not enough and not in time.”
“We can’t say that it’s a forgotten crisis or that we don’t know what is needed,” he said. “The response has not been mobilized on the scale or in the timeframe needed to solve the problem.” That is particularly the case in terms of humanitarian assistance for the 2.5 million people currently in need. Of the $515 million dollar appeal, Ging said, only 28 percent has been provided from donor countries as mid-year approaches. This has lead to shortages in food, medicine, and other supplies, he said.
The United Nations Security Council recently approved the deployment of a new peacekeeping mission in the CAR, folding the French and African Union forces into the structure. But that mission isn’t due to launch until September. Ging said that many on the ground approvingly cited the development, but as he told the assembled reporters: “The question is what happens between now and when the mission stands up?”