UN alarmed at worsening violence, humanitarian situation in Central African Republic

Colourfully dressed women and children arrive in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, after fleeing their homes.
UNHCR/Boris Heger
Colourfully dressed women and children arrive in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, after fleeing their homes.

UN alarmed at worsening violence, humanitarian situation in Central African Republic

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and several United Nations agencies today voiced alarm at the escalating inter-communal violence and worsening humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), where over 100 people were reportedly killed yesterday alone and hundreds have fled their homes.

“The latest reports from the ground are grim, indicating deepening conflict between Muslim and Christian communities and armed groups, with tragic consequences,” said a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at least 140 civilians were killed during fresh attacks yesterday in the capital, Bangui, while heavy shelling in Bossangoa caused panic among the residents.

The agency added that that close to 700 people had crossed over into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday alone to seek safety. Since last December, when the Séléka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks leading to months of violence, nearly 400,000 people have been displaced, with another 69,800 forced into exile in neighbouring countries.

Following yesterday’s attack on Bangui, the UN political mission in the country, BINUCA, reported that killings continued overnight. Ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka elements have been reported raiding homes and killing adults and children, Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said, adding that hundreds of houses were reported burned in Bossangoa after an offensive by anti-Balaka elements was repelled.

“This horrific cycle of violence and retaliation must stop immediately. Civilians must be protected,” said the spokesperson. “The Secretary-General appeals urgently for all parties to apply restraint and do everything in their power to reign in those fomenting and perpetrating the violence. Those responsible for grave violations must be brought to justice.”

The violence that began last December culminated in March, when President François Bozizé was forced to flee. A transitional government, headed by Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, has been entrusted with restoring law and order and paving the way for democratic elections. However, armed clashes in the north-east have increased since August, and the country is facing a dire humanitarian situation.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said she was gravely concerned that the rapid deterioration of the situation could lead to further displacement.

“I urge all those involved in the violence to protect civilians and ensure their safety, and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. They must allow free and unfettered access for neutral and impartial organizations to safely deliver humanitarian aid,” she added in a statement.

Ms. Amos, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that despite the insecurity, the UN and its humanitarian partners are scaling up their activities, providing displaced families with shelter, safe water, sanitation, food and emergency health services in areas across the country.

Yesterday, the Security Council, seriously concerned that the new dynamic of unrest and retaliation in CAR could divide the country along religious and ethnic lines and potentially “spiral into an uncontrollable situation,” authorized an African-led and French-backed peacekeeping force to quell the spiralling violence.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today welcomed the Council’s authorization of the deployment of a peacekeeping force, as well as its request for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate reports of human rights abuses by all parties since 1 January 2013.

Spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva that the Office plans to deploy a human rights monitoring team to CAR early next week to strengthen the existing monitoring capacity of the human rights section of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the country (BINUCA).

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today that children are increasingly becoming the victims of violence and forced recruitment amidst ongoing atrocities. “Urgent action is needed now to protect children from harm, release them from armed groups, and provide them with safe access to humanitarian assistance,” the agency said in a news release.

With growing tension between communities, the chances increase that violent clashes such as those in Bangui and other cities may escalate into large scale massacres, said UNICEF, noting that there have been confirmed attacks on children and women in Mboki two weeks ago and in Bouali three days ago.

“There must be no further delay in taking effective action; there can be no excuse for failing the children and families of the Central African Republic,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Action must be impartial and swift to stop the targeting of children, to protect schools, health facilities and transit centres, and to provide care and support to victims – with no impunity for the perpetrators of these outrages against children.”

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, welcomed the Council’s action and called for robust action to end violations against the children in CAR.

“Children are killed and mutilated, recruited by armed groups, victims of sexual violence and other grave child rights violations,” she said. “All parties must commit to ending violations and perpetrators must be held accountable. Reopening schools that have been shut down and ensuring safe access for teachers and students must also be a priority.”