The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR), where the notorious criminal Joseph Kony roams and abducts and forces children to serve as his soldiers, and where foreign Islamic radical fighters of the group called Seleka are wreaking death and destruction, was the focus of a hearing held Tuesday by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees Africa.
Smith said that even since the committee first decided months ago to hold a hearing to spotlight the human rights situation in the CAR, the situation has rapidly deteriorated.
“Today the country is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Smith said. “And if that is not bad enough, elsewhere, the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, under the psychotic leader Joseph Kony is also loose in the Central African Republic. Both the LRA and Seleka are said to kidnap children to serve as soldiers, and UNICEF estimates that there are now as many as 3,500 child soldiers affiliated with armed groups in the country.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s full statement.
The hearing of the Committee on Foreign Affairs’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations entitled “Crisis in the Central African Republic” featured Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert P. Jackson, Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia, Bishop of Bossangoa in the CAR; Search for Common Ground Senior Programme Manager for Africa, Mike Jobbins, and; Human Rights Watch’s United Nations Director, Philippe Bolopion. Click here to read their testimony.
Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia, whose diocese includes 623,000 people including 360,000 Catholics, said 35,000 people have taken refuge in his diocesan compound alone to escape violence, and there are as many as 440,000 refugees in a country of about 4.5 million. One in four are at serious risk of running out of food, he said. He urged the U.S. to rally the international community in the CAR’s moment of need.
“Villagers have fled to escape the attacks, mass killings, rape, and plundering perpetrated by the roaming groups of Seleka militia,” said Nongo-Aziagbia. “Central Africans look up to the United States as the leader of the community of nations. You are a country and a people who many years ago fought to establish your own freedom from a foreign power. You endured a brutal civil war and reunited as one nation to rise to the world power that you are.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jackson cited reports that five to ten women per day are being raped, violence that continues with “total impunity” since not one accused rapist has yet to be brought to justice.
“We remain concerned about the continued activity of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in southeastern CAR,” where in 2013 the LRA has continued to commit attacks against civilians, Jackson said. According to U.N. sources, from January to September 2013, presumed LRA fighters committed 21 attacks, resulting in 33 deaths and 128 abductions in the CAR. “An estimated 21,000 Central Africans remain internally-displaced and over 6,000 are living as refugees as a result of the LRA threat. The United States continues to support efforts by the regional forces of the AU [African Union] Regional Task Force to end the LRA threat and bring its top commanders to justice.”