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Senior UN officials sound alarm on multiple crises gripping Central African Republic

Humanitarian Affairs chief Valerie Amos (right) visits a paediatric hospital in Bangui during a trip to the Central African Republic in July 2013. OCHA/C. Illemassene
Humanitarian Affairs chief Valerie Amos (right) visits a paediatric hospital in Bangui during a trip to the Central African Republic in July 2013. OCHA/C. Illemassene

Senior UN officials sound alarm on multiple crises gripping Central African Republic

Senior United Nations officials today raised the alarm about the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), which is marked by ongoing insecurity and instability as well as a rapidly growing humanitarian emergency.

“The Central African Republic is not yet a failed State but has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos warned in her briefing to the Security Council.

She reported that, over the past months, the humanitarian situation in CAR has deteriorated “dramatically” and has shifted from being a long-term crisis of poverty and chronic vulnerability to a complex emergency characterised by violence, acute needs and grave protection issues.

“If inadequately addressed, this crisis threatens to spread beyond the Central African Republic’s borders and to further destabilize a region already facing significant challenges,” she said.

The CAR – which has been marked by decades of instability and fighting – witnessed a resumption of violence last December when the Séléka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks. A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels again seized the capital, Bangui, in March, forcing President François Bozizé to flee.

The recent fighting has further eroded even the most basic services in the country and exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation that Ms. Amos said affects the entire population of 4.6 million people, half of whom are children. Currently, 1.6 million people are in dire need of assistance, including food, protection, health care, water, sanitation and shelter.

She noted that more than 206,000 people have been internally displaced and nearly 60,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, two-thirds of them in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, over 650,000 children are not able to go to school due to the closure and occupation of schools by armed groups. Some 484,000 people are now severely food insecure and thousands of boys and girls are acutely malnourished.

During her recent visit to the country, Ms. Amos heard reports of armed attacks against civilians, illegal detention, torture, and abductions. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 3,500 children have been recruited into the armed forces and groups during the conflict. There are also reports of widespread sexual violence.

Ms. Amos, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, noted that humanitarian assistance cannot be the long-term solution to the complex challenges facing CAR. “A comprehensive response, prioritizing the restoration of security and addressing humanitarian, recovery and development needs, is urgently needed,” she stressed.

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Ṡimonović, who also visited the country recently, found that the conflict was marked by an “unprecedented” level of violence, looting and destruction. A key priority is to swiftly provide security and protect the population from further human rights violations.

“It is therefore urgent to establish a credible and legitimate national security force, composed of a limited number of both former regime security and Séléka forces,” he stated. “They have to be screened and vetted under international guidance to exclude perpetrators of human rights violations, and properly trained.”

Since this will take some time, Mr. Ṡimonović called for the deployment of a large international force with a strong protection mandate to immediately provide security, protect the population throughout the country, restore the rule of law, and create favourable conditions for free and fair elections.

He also cited the need to reinforce the human rights component of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in CAR (BINUCA), noting that it currently does not have sufficient capacity to monitor, verify and report on human rights violations throughout the country.

The African Union last month established a 3,600-strong African-led peace support operation in CAR (AFISM-CAR), mandated to protect civilians and restore security and public order, restore state authority, reform and restructure the defence and security sector, and create the conditions conducive for humanitarian aid delivery.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of BINUCA, Babacar Gaye, reported that while there is still a “total absence” of rule of law nationwide, the security situation has slightly improved in Bangui. However, looting, plunder, kidnapping, torture, and killings continue.

“As there is no proper chain of command, the country runs the risk of descending into anarchy and chaos,” he stated. “Some police officers are reporting to work, but are not equipped to work safely and effectively. Furthermore, they do not trust and they fear their Séléka counterparts.”

While the overall situation in CAR has remained “highly volatile and unpredictable,” there has been some progress on the political front, said Mr. Gaye. Most of the transitional institutions and mechanisms have been established, and former defence minister Michel Djotodia will be sworn in on 18 August as the head of State of the transition, which should last from 18 to 24 months.

However, tensions persist between Mr. Djotodia, Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye and the President of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mr. Gaye added. “Therefore, the political gains made remain fragile, while the road map for elections remains to be established.”

The Council, in a statement issued to the press after the meeting, “demanded that all parties refrain from any act of violence against civilians, allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access throughout the country, and respect fully international humanitarian and human rights law.”

In addition, it underlined the need for swift progress on the political track, “which will be vital to achieving any progress in the country.”