|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
7098th Meeting* (PM)
Central African Republic’s ‘Spiral of Vengeance’ Could Undermine Trust
among Communities Far into Future, Security Council Warned
Top Human Rights, Humanitarian Officials Brief Members Following Year-End Visit
The Central African Republic was trapped in a “spiral of vengeance” that had destroyed the social fabric and undermined trust among communities for generations to come, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, calling for a stronger international response to alleviate the human suffering in that country.
“We have run out of time to prevent the violence from escalating,” emphasized Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, in one of four briefings. “Our only option today is to scale up our response with robust, immediate and urgent actions.” Others briefing the Council were Adama Dieng, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Recounting her recent visit to the strife-torn country as a member of a high-level United Nations delegation, she said the team had assessed the impact of the conflict on women and children, as well as the risk of genocide. The impact on children had been particularly dramatic. With “unprecedented” brutality, children had been maimed, killed and beheaded in the capital, Bangui, as well as Bouar, Bossangoa and Bozoum. Both sides had manipulated and divided children along religious lines, forcing them to become both victims and perpetrators of abuse. Going forward, United Nations civilian capacity must be strengthened, she emphasized. “We need to send a stronger signal to perpetrators of these atrocious crimes that they will be held to account.”
Mr. Dieng said it was evident that the situation was desperate. Violence initially perceived as being between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka militias had evolved into “a very dangerous confrontation between Muslim and Christian civilians”. The widespread, unchecked nature of attacks against civilians on the basis of religion or ethnicity “constitute crimes against humanity”, he declared. “If not halted, there is a risk of genocide.”
He said that, as one step forward, his office was supporting efforts by the President of the National Transitional Council’s Commission on Human Rights and the National Coordinator of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to organize peace forums in the country, with a view to bringing together community and religious leaders from seven provinces.
Ms. Bangura described sexual violence in the conflict as pervasive, citing United Nations data. The figures showed that, between January and November 2013, 4,530 cases of sexual violence had been perpetrated by armed men believed to be Séléka members in Bangui, Boali, Bossembélé, Damara, Mbaiki, Sibut and Prefecture de l’Ouham Pende. There had also been numerous claims that camps for internally displaced persons were the locus of such violence.
She urged the international community to throw its full support behind the first-ever female Interim President, whose historic appointment was a source of hope and inspiration for all. In addition, programmes for the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration and resettlement of foreign armed groups must be carried out, and the coordination of international efforts improved, notably through the establishment of emergency hotlines.
On the humanitarian front, Ms. Kang said more than half of the country’s population — 2.5 million people — needed assistance. More than 900,000 were internally displaced, including some 480,000 in Bangui alone. Outside the capital, thousands of people were hiding in the forest with no aid or services. Half of the displaced were children, she said, describing the crisis as a top priority for the international humanitarian community.
She recalled that on 11 December, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had activated the highest level of response. It had deployed a Senior Humanitarian Coordinator, dispatched its most experienced and skilled staff, released emergency funds and mobilized relief supplies and pipelines. The main challenge was to overcome the international community’s chronic underfunding of the crisis, which would require more than $551 million in 2014, she said.
The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 3:52 p.m.
Meeting this afternoon to consider the situation in the Central African Republic, the Security Council heard briefings from four senior United Nations officials, some of whom had recently visited the country.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said she had visited the Central African Republic from 17 to 21 December 2013, accompanied the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and the Chief of Staff to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Their aim had been to assess the impact of the conflict in the country on women and children, as well as the risk of genocide. In line with the Rights Up Front Framework, another goal had been to secure the commitment of the national transitional authorities to stopping the violence.
“Despite its chronic instability, the Central African Republic has not previously suffered from such a violent outbreak of religiously motivated violence,” she said, noting that the country was trapped in a “spiral of vengeance” that had destroyed the social fabric and undermined trust among communities for generations to come. The visit had taken place soon after the 5 December attacks on the capital, Bangui, and against a backdrop of increasing sectarian violence which continued today. Describing communities pitted against each other seeking refuge in churches and mosques, she said the impact on children had been dramatic. With “unprecedented” brutality, children had been maimed, killed and beheaded in Bangui, Buar, Bossangoa and Bozoum.
For more than a year, she continued, Séléka combatants and anti-Balaka militias had recruited children and forced them to commit atrocities, she continued. Both sides had manipulated children and divided them along religious lines, making them both victims and perpetrators of the violence. Nearly half a million children had been displaced in 2013. While African Union and French forces were deterring violence, too many civilians lacked basic protection, she said, adding that it was nevertheless to be hoped that efforts to quell the violence, the deployment of additional European Union troops and the evolution of the political landscape would help re-establish law and order. “We must urgently ensure better coordination among all actors on the ground, including through civil-military liaison,” she said, emphasizing the vital need to optimize existing resources in Bangui and to scale up capacity in the provinces.
Sounding a positive note, she said that on 6 January, the process of identifying and separating children had started. On 17 January, 23 children had been released in Bangui and taken to a Transit and Orientation Centre sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) — a result of the dialogue between the United Nations and the transitional authorities on allowing child protection actors unimpeded access to military and cantonment sites. Going forward, the separation and reintegration of children associated with armed groups must be part of a holistic disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, she said.
She went on to underline the importance of strengthening United Nations civilian capacity, and of providing child protection actors with the human and financial resources to provide reintegration assistance. “We need to send a stronger signal to perpetrators of these atrocious crimes that they will be held to account,” she said, urging the international community to use all the tools at its disposal. It was crucial to help the transitional authorities restore law enforcement and establish a judicial response to ongoing violations. “We have run out of time to prevent the violence from escalating,” she noted. “Our only option today is to scale up our response with robust, immediate and urgent actions.”
ADAMA DIENG, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said he had visited the Central African Republic to assess the risk of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as to advocate for an end to the violence and for enhanced protection of civilians. “It was evident from what we saw and heard that the situation in the Central African Republic was desperate,” he said, referring to reports and testimonies from victims and witnesses who recounted shocking episodes of violence perpetrated against innocent people, including women and children.
Describing how rapidly the violence, initially perceived as a confrontation between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka militias, had evolved into “a very dangerous confrontation between Muslim and Christian civilians”, he said he had been shocked by the level of hatred displayed. Incitement to commit violence on the basis of religion or ethnicity, as well deliberate and targeted attacks against civilians based on their identity, indicated a high risk of both crimes against humanity and genocide, he emphasized. Indeed, the widespread, unchecked nature of attacks by both groups on the basis of religion or ethnicity “constitute crimes against humanity” he said. “If not halted, there is a risk of genocide.”
Stressing that it was the prime responsibility of national authorities to protect their people, he said that he recognized that the transitional authorities had neither the capacity to protect the civilian population nor to exercise control over the armed elements attacking them, particularly women and children. There was an urgent need to support the full and effective deployment of the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), he said, urging African countries urgently to contribute troops.
He also underlined the need for concerted efforts to promote and support a national peace and reconciliation process by promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims. As a first step, his office was working to support the efforts of the President of the National Transitional Council’s Commission on Human Rights and the National Coordinator of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to organize peace forums that would bring together community and religious leaders from seven provinces. It was also very important to help the Commission of Inquiry identify perpetrators and to hold those responsible for violations and abuses to account, he emphasized, proposing the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms to that end.
ZAINAB HAWA BANGURA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, recalled that she had warned exactly one year ago that the situation in the Central African Republic was a “forgotten conflict” and that the regional aspects of the crisis required attention. Today, many of the worst predictions had come true: communities had taken up weapons and were killing each other on the basis of religious affinity. Noting that such extreme animosity was new, she said those communities had previously lived together, worked side by side and intermarried. “There should be no doubt that the violence in the Central African Republic will stain the conscience of its people and the world forever,” she said.
She went on to say that her Chief of Staff had been among members of the United Nations mission that had travelled to Bouar, a visit coordinated with a fact-finding team deployed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The delegation had observed the unfolding violence, including near-lynching incidents and empty villages with homes still burning. Further, it had learned of the growing strength and organization of armed groups, notably the anti-Balaka, who had colluded with elements of the former Central African Armed Forces (FACA) in targeting Muslim combatants and civilians. Muslim civilians had in turn engaged in retaliatory attacks, reportedly with the aid of Séléka and Chadian elements.
“Sexual violence continues to be pervasive in the conflict,” she emphasized, pointing out that 4,530 such cases had been perpetrated between January and November 2013, by armed men believed to be Séléka elements, in Bangui, Boali, Bossembélé, Damara, Mbaiki, Sibut and Prefecture de l’Ouham Pende. In addition, there had been numerous claims that camps for internally displaced persons were the locus of such violence, she said, expressing concern that provisions had not been made for assisting victims. Yet, there had been “encouraging” signs, including efforts by religious leaders to reconcile communities, and the involvement of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) in managing two delicate political transitions.
To stop the violence, she continued, the international community should lend its full support to the first-ever female Interim President, whose historic appointment was a source of hope and inspiration for all. Programmes for the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration and resettlement of foreign armed groups must be carried out, while the coordination of international efforts must improve, notably through the establishment of emergency hotlines. Expertise in civil-military coordination and civilian protection must also be deployed, she stressed, adding that the management of regional dynamics could lay the foundation for resolving the crisis. With that, she called upon international partners to intensify its focus on the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence.
KYUNG-WHA KANG, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that more than half of the country’s population — 2.5 million of its 4.6 million people — had been affected by the crisis and need assistance. More, than 900,000 had fled their homes and were internally displaced, including some 480,000 in Bangui alone. About 100,000 people were sleeping out in the open at the capital city’s airport, with little access to basic services and very limited supplies. Outside Bangui, thousands of people were hiding in the forest with no aid or services, too afraid to come out. Half of the displaced, or 450,000 people, were children, she pointed out. Meanwhile some 86,000 Central Africans had sought protection in neighbouring countries over the last year, mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also in Chad, Cameroon and Congo, bringing the total number of Central African Republic refugees in the subregion to 246,000. Some 28,000 third-country nationals had been evacuated since the mid-December escalation of the crisis.
“The crisis in the Central African Republic is a top priority for the international humanitarian community,” she declared, noting that her office had activated the highest level of response on 11 December. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had reinforced the humanitarian leadership on the ground by deploying a Senior Humanitarian Coordinator, dispatching its most experienced and skilled staff, releasing emergency funds and mobilizing relief supplies and pipelines. The Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee had met twice this month to identify areas needing urgent attention, she continued, pointing out that the Emergency Director of the Humanitarian Affairs Office had returned to the Central African Republic last week to meet with humanitarian partners and leaders of the affected communities.
On the ground, non-governmental organizations and United Nations entities were working closely with civil society and religious leaders from all communities to deliver aid “in a very dangerous and unpredictable environment”, she said. The World Food Programme (WFP) had mobilized food for about 315,000 people in December and January; Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was leading medical assistance; the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) had provided crucial relief items, including blankets and mattresses, for some 20,000 people this month, with thousands more to receive relief in the coming days; and UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) had supported the vaccination of some 72,500 children at 17 sites this month. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was airlifting thousands of stranded migrants, paying priority attention to the most vulnerable. She noted that a major challenge to date had been the international community’s chronic underfunding of the crisis, which would require a response exceeding $551 million in 2014. Recalling that Member States had pledged more than $200 million for humanitarian assistance and an additional $280 million for development and long-term reconstruction at a high-level meeting on humanitarian action in the Central African Republic held in Brussels on Monday, she said those pledges would allow the provision of lifesaving food, drinking water, shelter and health care for the next few months. However, much more was needed, she emphasized.
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* The 7097th Meeting was closed.