The Security Council voted unanimously on 10 April to send 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers to the Central African Republic (CAR), which had burst into religious violence between the country’s Christian majority and Muslim-led government. In March 2013 Muslim rebels overthrew long-term president Francois Bozize and seized government power. Michel Djotodia, Mr Bozize’s replacement, left his position after accusations of failing to prevent his forces from torturing, raping and killing civilians which caused significant political pressures in January.
Since then, Christian militia have begun their retaliatory attacks against Muslim citizens. Tens of thousands of Muslims have been forced to flee the nation and the violence between the two religious groups have triggered fears of genocide. Thousands have died as a result of the conflict over the past year. On 9 April at least 30 were killed and another 10 were wounded in fighting in the central town of Dekoa. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, called on the international community to prevent the CAR of becoming “another Rwanda in our time”.
The resolution, submitted by France, proposes to deploy up to 10,000 military personnel and 1,800 police, replacing the current 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union soldiers on 15 September. It also “demands that all militias and armed groups put aside their arms, cease all forms of violence and destabilizing activities immediately and release children from their ranks”. The mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is to protect civilians and humanitarian convoys, maintain order, support a political transition and promote human rights. Yet the resolution authorises French troops to “use all necessary means” to implement this mandate, according to African Union reports. Peacekeepers are also authorised to help investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law by armed groups including former Seleka rebel and the anti-Balaka.
French ambassador Gérard Araud told the media that “the security situation in CAR remains volatile” and that “African Union troops supported by the French troops are doing tremendous work to protect the civilian population – but it’s just not yet enough”. The United States have stated that they will work towards getting more African troops into CAR before the UN deployment in September 2014, to balance the fall in numbers provoked by the departure of Chadian soldiers, who were accused of siding with Muslims in the religious violence. The US also promised $67 million in humanitarian aid for the CAR, focusing on health, protection, economic recovery, water and sanitation; but in order for this aid to be truly effective political stability is much needed.
The election of Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president in January first sparked international hope for progress in the violent political conflict, yet so far it seems as though the situation has become increasingly desperate. Approximately a million people have been forced from their homes by the sectarian conflict. “I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings” Ms Samba-Panza said in her electoral speech. Ms Samba-Panza herself is Christian but seen as politically neutral and was accepted by both sides when she was proposed as Bangui’s mayor under the interim administration.
The foreign minister of the Central African Republic, Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, thanked the Security Council and said that “the UN will create the necessary framework where all nationals, all the citizens of the Central African Republic will sit, discuss, talk to each other in order to find a lasting solution. Though the country is rich in gold, diamonds and other valuable natural resources, decades of unrest, political instability, corruption and mismanagement have left most of its people stuck in an increasingly tumultuous and violent cycle of poverty. Aid Group ‘Save the Children’ said that the UN deployment “cannot come soon enough”.