Crisis in the Central African Republic
U.S. State Dept., Humanitarian Groups Testify; Reports of over 2,000 dead, 2.5 million need humanitarian assistance
The worsening humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) was the subject of a hearing held Thursday by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees Africa and global human rights.
“This is happening at a time when we mark the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda,” Smith said. “When that country was being turned into a massive killing field, the world stood idly by. When the blood stopped flowing, the world looked at the corpses piled high and was shocked. ‘NEVER AGAIN’ was the phrase that was on everyone’s lips. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is happening again. The question before us is whether the phrase ‘NEVER AGAIN’ is one that we simply use to pay lip service while doing nothing, or whether we are going to act. We have a situation where in a country with a population of roughly 5.2 million people, 1.3 million are in risk of starvation, while 2.5 million in total are estimated to need some form of humanitarian assistance. That is nearly half the country.”
The hearing of the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations was entitled, “The Central African Republic: From “Pre-genocide” to Genocide?” Testifying were Robert P. Jackson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, U.S. Department of State, and; non-governmental organizations running humanitarian operations in the beleaguered nation.
Jackson testified that “U.N. and human organizations have estimated that at least 2,000 people have been killed since December.
“The humanitarian situation in CAR remains dire, with over 628,000 individuals internally displaced and over 112,000 who have fled to neighboring countries since December 2013,” Jackson said. “Violence continues to beset interior areas of CAR, resulting in humanitarian needs that exceed the capacity of religious relief agencies to respond. In recent days, armed groups have launched multiple attacks in remote areas.” Click here to head Jackson’s opening remarks.
“Nearly one million Central Africans have been forced to flee their homes,” said Richard, who visited CAR and neighboring Chad in April. “Nearly two-thirds, 603,000, are displaced within CAR while one-third, 348,000, have fled to neighboring countries and thus are now refugees. Beyond numbers, each and every one of these uprooted people have stories of personal tragedy and loss, including family members killed, wives and children raped and abused, and dreams shattered.
“The U.S. Government is committed to working with the international community to provide life-saving assistance inside CAR and in neighboring countries and to structuring our aid programs to enhance efforts to protect the displaced,” Richard said. Click here to read her testimony.
Also testifying were Kasper Agger, Field Researcher, Enough Project; Robin Renee Sanders, Chief Executive Officer, FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative; Scott Campbell, Regional Director for Central Africa Relief, Catholic Relief Services, and Madeline Rose, Policy & Advocacy Advisor, Mercy Corps. Click here to read testimonies or to watch the hearing.
Campbell visited CAR as recently as April 2014. He said CRS and the USCCB recommend the U.S.government adequately fund and support UN peacekeeping efforts to ensure that relief and recovery activities are tenable. The peacekeeping force must prioritize the protection of civilians, especially women and children as they return to their homes, and work to ensure that Muslim refugee communities are safe to return from neighboring countries.
“I saw the great destruction that violence had brought to the houses people lived in and the fear in people’s lives, yet also saw hope that people wanted to rebuild and reconnect,” Campbell said. “In Bossangoa, where most houses had lost either their roofs or doors, people used tarps we distributed to return to their homes, while working to re-thatch their homes more permanently. I spoke with farmers eager to return to their fields to plant for the rainy season, using the seeds and tools we had distributed. They were relying on their own community structures to watch for and warn of signs of violence and danger. Continued threats of violence are on everyone’s mind and we are particularly concerned about the space and ability for Muslims to return to the country.”
Agger, who traveled to the Central African Republic in February 2014, met with Séléka fighters, Anti-Balaka fighters, and Central African government officials. He addressed poaching and conflict diamonds.
“As the U.S. crafts the future of its critical engagement in CAR, I urge Congress and the Administration to not only target the acute, immediate needs created by the conflict but also pursue sustained U.S. engagement that addresses the core underlying drivers of conflict that could incite continuing cycles of violence,” Agger said. “This can be done at a low cost with diplomatic efforts within CAR and outside to pressure CAR’s neighbors and the financiers of violence. The U.S. should work with the U.N. to encourage an inclusive, bottom-up peace and reconciliation process.”
Sanders said that things are bad, but could get even worse.
“Events like we see in CAR, although we might think it cannot get worse, it can. They can spirally even more out of control so quickly, so fast,” she said. “There is the potential for untoward groups to come into CAR and take advantage of the environment and the segregated environment of Muslims and Christians – not only fueling more hatred and violence, but also bringing with them more violent method such as terrorist tactics. I am specifically thinking of fundamentalist groups who could come in to provide Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist training to help advance the mission of revenge and reverse revenge killings. This could happen on either side of the religious divide, not just within the Muslim segregated enclaves but also within segregated Christian segregated communities that now exist since the negative atmosphere of hatred and violent pay-back is the order of the day.”