Preventing Genocide in the Central African Republic

February 21, 2014

The United Nations has warned that the Central African Republic (CAR) is heading toward a humanitarian disaster to the point that current sectarian violence between Christian and Muslim militias will end in genocide.

Since December 2013, bands of Christian militia, known as anti-Balaka, have waged war on Muslims and their property and engaged in a violent campaign of “ethno-religious cleansing,” according to Amnesty International. French and African Union troops have been stationed in CAR since December but are overwhelmed with the 2.5 million residents requiring assistance and safety.

Watch: Ethnic Cleansing in the Central African Republic, Amnesty International

Disturbingly, with the amount of data and reports coming out of CAR regarding the crisis, and experts agreeing that current conditions could lead to genocide, why isn’t more being done to protect the citizens of the Central African Republic? In 2002, current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power argued in her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” that American presidents and other world leaders should utilize a toolbox with a wide range of options to prevent mass killing. She emphasized the importance of approaches other than military intervention – economic sanctions, freezes on assets, bans on travel, denunciations of human rights abusers and referrals to the International Criminal Court – to prevent humanitarian crises similar to Rwanda and Bosnia.

The signs for genocide are apparent and the crisis needs to be addressed before it gets worse both within CAR and the spillover effect to neighboring countries. Persecution of religious and ethnic minorities is not only a humanitarian issue but a national security issue as well. The impact of this type of repression is a slow turn toward authoritarianism or fuels extremism. It will be more costly if we have to address the issue later rather than now. Back in Geneva at the United Nations, the debate is academic: Should U.N. troops provide assistance to Muslims fleeing to neighboring countries or would that possibly aid in ruining the social fabric of society rendering reconciliation less likely? 

Currently, the U.S. is providing transportation, equipment, training and logistical support to African-led troops who are trying to restore stability in the country. Additionally, Secretary of State John Kerry has threatened CAR with targeted sanctions against past and present political leaders who abet or encourage the violence for their own selfish purposes. “We are deeply disturbed by reports that some CAR leaders may be supporting attacks by anti-Balaka and Seleka, respectively, instead of working for peace and reconciliation. We will continue to work tirelessly with our international partners to hold accountable all those responsible for atrocities committed in CAR,” said Kerry.

This is the exact kind of conflict that the International Religious Freedom (IRF) office at the U.S. State Department and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) should be highlighting and writing reports about. IRF and USCIRF’s mandate and the reason for their creation was to monitor the status of freedom of religion abroad and provide policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State and Congress.

The initial conflict began when the 2007 peace agreement between then-President Francois Bozize and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) was not adhered to, and political abuses such as torture and illegal executions by the Bozize government continued. Sadly, as the government continued to weaken and be overtaken by rebel groups, the conflict reared its ugly head into sectarian violence with both Christians and Muslims blaming each other for the state of the country.

President Barack Obama sent a message to the people of the Central African Republic in December, saying, “I know that in your lives you have faced great hardship. But I also know that you’ve lived together in peace—as diverse and vibrant communities, Christian and Muslim. Together, you emerged from colonialism and achieved independence. Together, you realize that we are all children of God and that—whatever our faith—we all deserve to live in peace and dignity.”

When will we learn from past mistakes of unwittingly allowing these mass atrocities to happen? Out of the horrific reports coming out of CAR, there still remains a shining glimmer of hope that communities can work together. Reports of churches helping and sheltering Muslims are a sign of humanity in this tragic crisis; we commend those churches and hope that acts like these continue to be promoted. 

Help us continue our work with a quick
one-time or monthly donation.