There have been over 20 United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations in Africa since 1960. In the second of a three part series, Blandine Sixdenier, looks at the challenges and successes of one of the UN’s most recent deployments, in the Central African Republic (CAR), one of the world’s poorest strife-ridden countries. You can read the first part here.
Following the outbreak of civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) and to prevent genocide, the United Nations deployed a peacekeeping mission to the country in 2014; known by its acronym MINUSCA.
With the departure of French troops in September last year, MINUSCA was left in charge of restoring the state’s authority and protecting the civilian population. With less than 13,000 troops to stabilize a fragile country of 5 million, the size of Spain and Portugal combined, the UN mission was handed an impossible challenge.
Fourteen armed groups control more than 60% of the territory and the security situation in CAR has been deteriorating on a daily basis. Since May, clashes between rival militias, especially in the East and Southeast of the country, have killed more than 300 people and displaced a further 180,000.
CRITICS AND CHALLENGES
MINUSCA has been plagued by a number of scandals since its deployment in 2014.
Allegations of sexual abuse and rape, including of children, have shed a light on how protectors could become predators in CAR. The first sexual abuse scandal erupted in 2015 when a report found that the UN had failed to take action against cases of sexual abuse committed by French soldiers — not under the UN command — after it uncovered them.
“Sexual abuse and exploitation is a serious breach of the UN regulations and a human rights violation, a double crime that affects the vulnerable women and children you were sent here to protect” said Parfait Onanga-Anyanga — Head of MINUSCA
Since their deployment, UN peacekeepers have also been accused of committing sexual crimes. In December 2016, following investigations, the UN identified 41 perpetrators of sexual abuse. The latest scandal emerged in January 2017, when Congolese soldiers were accused of sexual abuse and other misconduct. As a result, the Republic of Congo announced that it will withdraw its troops from CAR. Though the UN can send home troops accused of sexual crime, once soldiers are back home, the UN has no judicial authority and often these soldiers do not face trial.
While violence is soaring in CAR, MINUSCA has repeatedly been unable to deliver its protection mandate. Present in towns such as Bangassou or Bria, in the East of the country, MINUSCA is struggling to contain violence while armed groups continue to fight and target civilians. Today, 2000 people remain trapped in a church in Bangassou, threatened to be killed if they leave, despite MINUSCA being present in the city.
THE HIGH POINTS
While MINUSCA faces many challenges, it has also had some successes and achievements.
First, the mission supported the National Electoral Authority in preparing and organizing the national elections in 2016. Its role included coordinating security and distributing voting ballots. Critically, the elections took place peacefully, restoring a legitimate regime following the outbreak of violence in 2013.
MINUSCA has contributed to the promotion of human rights and justice in CAR. The mission supported the creation of the Special Criminal Court providing technical guidance, and to fight impunity in CAR, released a comprehensive mapping report in May documenting more than 600 human rights violations from 2003 to 2015.
“In documenting the violations and abuses of the past, we hope to galvanize national and international efforts to protect and bring justice to the victims of these crimes”stated Parfait Onanga-Anyanga — Head of MINUSCA
Regarding its protection mandate, MINUSCA prevented bloodshed in Bambari in February this year. With one armed group (FPRC) threatening to oust the other (UPC) from Bambari, combat in CAR’s second-largest city would have resulted in high civilian casualties. MINUSCA intervened twice to stop the FPRC offensive and negotiated UPC’s departure, making Bambari a ‘city free of armed groups’.
A DEADLY TOLL
Despite being tasked to protect civilians, MINUSCA does not replace a national army, and does not wage war, leaving armed groups operating almost freely.
MINUSCA has paid a heavy price while carrying out its mission, with 13 peacekeepers killed to date this year. Last July, 3 peacekeepers were killed in two separate attacks in Bangassou while escorting water to the 2,000 people stuck in the church.
“When insecurity reaches a level that constrains humanitarian actors to strictly life-saving activities, it is the lives of thousands of people that are in danger”said Najat Rochdi — Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR
Fourteen out of the 16 provinces in CAR are currently experiencing violence. The persistent insecurity continues to disrupt many lives, with the prospect of ethnic cleansing looming over many Central Africans. The number of internally displaced people has reached 600,000, the same number as January 2013, at the height of the crisis. Rising violence has forced humanitarian organizations to relocate from certain areas, depriving thousands of people from much needed aid and assistance.
Blandine’s next blog will explore the possible alternatives to prevent the deterioration of the security situation in CAR. Though the country receives little attention, the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen with increased violence and mass displacement.