Conditions remain dire in the Central African Republic, and a U.N. official urged the international community to step up humanitarian aid efforts dramatically. Despite the end of the large-scale violence that rocked the nation in December and January, people are still being killed every day. “The inter-communal hatred remains at a terrifying level, as evidenced by the extraordinarily vicious nature of the killings,” said Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement to the press during a visit in the capital, Bangui, on March 20.
“This has become a country where people are not just killed, they are tortured, mutilated, burned and dismembered—sometimes by spontaneous mobs as well as by organized groups of armed fighters. Children have been decapitated, and we know of at least four cases where the killers have eaten the flesh of their victims,” she said.
It is believed that thousands of people have been killed; and 2.2 million, about half the population, are now in need of assistance. More than 650,000 people are still internally displaced, and over 290,000 have fled to neighboring countries to escape the conflict, which has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones as mainly Christian militias, known as anti-Balaka (“anti-machete”), have taken up arms against Muslim communities and individuals they associate with Muslim Seleka rebels. The United Nations reports around 15,000 Muslims are trapped in Bangui and other areas of the country, protected by international forces but still in an extremely dangerous and untenable situation.
“The anti-Balaka, who originally came into existence as a reaction to the depredations of the Seleka, are now metamorphosing into criminal gangs who, in addition to continuing to hunt down Muslims, are also starting to prey on Christians and other non-Muslims,” Pillay said.
Peacekeeping efforts in the republic were criticized by the nation’s Catholic bishops. In a letter to their counterparts in the United States, the bishops complained that African countries that contributed troops seem to be merely defending their own borders. Chad, a country north of the Central African Republic, for example, is deploying “peacekeeping” troops only along its southern border, adjacent to the large population of Seleka rebels in the north. In January, Chad was accused of backing the rebel movement.
“So Chadian troops are deployed in the northwest, Cameroonians in the West, Congolese from Brazzaville in the southwest, Congolese from [the Democratic Republic of Congo] in the southeast,” the bishops said. “Moreover, the proximity of these [troops] with their country of origin can encourage illegal mineral resources trafficking beyond our borders,” the bishops wrote in their letter. They encouraged peacekeeping participation from European and American troops and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa that might not have a vested interest in protecting their own borders.
Since January, Central African bishops have insisted that the ongoing slaughter of civilians by competing militias is not religiously based, despite its characterization in media reports. “The real problem facing the country is that of insecurity,” the bishops wrote. The bishops argued the republic needs “a comprehensive process that includes both security and development.”
With increasing food insecurity and malnutrition, rape and sexual violence on the rise—especially in refugee camps—and the collapse of the economy, health care, justice and education systems, the state is now facing a gargantuan crisis where impunity reigns, according to the high commissioner.
“The state’s top leadership told me there is, in effect, no state: no coherent national army; no police, no justice system; hardly anywhere to detain criminals; and no means of charging, prosecuting or convicting them,” the commissioner said. “The so-called ‘penal chain’ is not only missing links, it is not functioning at all.”