Florent Geel is the FIDH Africa Desk Director. He recently travelled to the Central African Republic (CAR), where he witnessed first hand the atrocities of the civil war. This piece is co-signed by Mathias Morouba, president of the Central African Human Rights Observatory.
A United Nations peace-keeping mission for Central Africa? This is the ultimate question for the US and the international community as a whole as talks launched in New York on March 6 wend their way to a vote. Despite the deployment of nearly 8,000 African Union troops (MISCA) supported by the French army's Operation Sangaris, the horrific violence in this dwindling state rages on. During our recent mission to the CAR, we witnessed the fate of men, women and children killed and mutilated daily.
The CAR's conflict is one of the few in which more people are killed than injured. We estimate that over 2,500 persons have been murdered over the last three months - victims of firearms, grenades and, most often, machetes.
International forces have prevented the genocidal slaughter of several thousand people but have not been able to stem the daily horrors inflicted on civilians, including man hunts, and the hunting down of those designated as "other". Anti-Balaka militia are now stationed in 18 enclaves in the west and south of the country, where over 15,000 people live in fear. These enclaves bring back memories of the eerie Bosnian safe areas in which UNPROFOR sought to protect the lives of innocent civilians. In the CAR, however, under-resourced African Union troops cannot alone provide security throughout the country, even with French support. France's Defense Minister was right to extend the French mission and increase troop deployment for Operation Sangaris by 2,000 men.
Politico-religious cleansing contributes to the national divide
The scenario unfolding in the CAR is not entirely unfamiliar -- the country has known only tenuous peace, having witnessed what seems like a succession of coup d'états since the 1960s. Having been disbanded, ex-Seleka rebels have taken their weapons and belongings and left for the immense northern and eastern regions of the country where they continue their acts of violence whilst no-doubt planning their next attack on Bangui. Meanwhile, in the west, self-proclaimed "self-defense" militias and "resistance forces" are terrorizing local populations along ethnic lines, as the country disintegrates.
CAR's Muslim population is undeniably the victim of an appetite for retribution for Seleka abuses, and community violence continues to rise. However, anyone suspected of siding with the former Seleka is also being tracked by anti-Balaka forces, regardless of their religion. As Muslims flee the country, anti-Balaka violence is increasingly targeting CAR's remaining population, thus indicating its true objective -- the creation of chaos to seize power. Our investigations clearly show that ex-president Bozizé and his supporters are directing anti-Balaka operations. This highlights that the conflict in the Central African Republic is more political than religious, and explains why we are witnessing more of a politico-religious cleansing than an ethnic one.
Faced with these challenges, a strong peace-keeping force is essential to returning stability to the whole of the country, to rebuilding the State and to bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. The African and French forces have shown that they, by themselves, are unable to stop the crimes against humanity and support the fragile political process. AU peace-keeping operations to quell crises across Africa are yet too weak, being still too much in their trial phase to cope with the complex conflict in the CAR alone.
Why doesn't the United Nations, whose job it is, intervene in Central Africa? In New York, the UN Security Council has begun talks on whether to send a peace-keeping operation to the CAR. Stalling a decision on this point is the cost of such an operation to the biggest contributor to the UN budget -- the United States. As the international community remains powerless to save the Syrians from their bloody fate, can we stand by and watch crimes against humanity perpetrated daily against Central Africa's men, women and children because of the budget? The vote will be in New York, but the answer to this question lies in Washington.
FIDH is an international human rights NGO federating 178 organizations from close to 120 countries. Since 1922, FIDH has been defending all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Follow FIDH on Twitter @fidh_en