Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the violence gripping Central African Republic (Photo Credit: Matthew Alexandre/AFP/GettyImages).
By Natalia Taylor Bowdoin, Amnesty USA Country Specialist on the Central African Republic
If we were warned that a disaster, including the mass slaughter of civilians, was brewing, wouldn’t most of us want to do whatever we could to stop it? Or would we rather live with the knowledge that, despite all our promises to never see another human tragedy on a grand scale, the global community let it happen again?
This week could be the tipping point for the human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic, which continues to spin out of control. With the situation worsening on a daily basis, including extrajudicial killings and rape, the U.N. Security Council will meet Thursday to vote on a resolution related to the deployment of peacekeeping forces to the country.
This vote presents a unique opportunity to start pulling the country back from the brink. However, public pressure is needed over the following days to demand a robust peacekeeping force with a strong human rights mandate to protect civilians, including many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees. We are thus calling on the decision makers in France, the UK and the U.S. to support our demands. You can participate in this campaigning push through our global Twitter action that accompanies our media, lobby and field work.
In the Bouca area, approximately 485 structures—represented here by yellow dots—appear burned in imagery from November 2013. Image (c) DigitalGlobe 2013.
“These new images offer a glimpse of physical scarring to homes and civic life visible from space, but the true scale of the human impact of the crisis cannot be captured by satellite.” - Aster van Kregten, Deputy Africa Program Director at Amnesty International.
Expert analysis of new satellite imagery we have obtained from the Central African Republic (CAR) reveals the shocking aftermath of recent human rights abuses amid spiraling violence by armed groups and security forces.
The images - some less than a week old - include evidence of 485 homes being torched in Bouca as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs) massing near the town of Bossangoa as people flee the ongoing violence.
Satellite image of likely LRA camp in Kafia Kingi. Click to see full image . (Photo Credit: Digitial Globe 2013).
Now where will the US go on the ICC? While international justice has seen many milestones over the last months, including the surrender of “The Terminator” Bosco Ntaganda, one of the most well known fugitives from the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains on the loose. Joseph Kony, the Lord Resistance Army’s (LRA) notorious leader, has so far evaded arrest. However, as of today, attempts to locate his whereabouts have gotten a considerable boost. In fact, thanks to satellite imagery, we might know the exact coordinates of his recent location.
In December last year, five rebel groups from Northern CAR came together to form the über-rebel group Seleka (meaning “the alliance” in Sango, the national language of CAR) and began rapidly taking over towns in north and central CAR (Photo Credit: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images).
By Natalia Taylor Bowdoin, AIUSA’s Central African Republic (CAR) Country Specialist
While the world recently celebrated when Bosco Ntaganda turned himself into the U.S. Embassy in Kigali and asked to be delivered to the International Criminal Court, a precarious human rights and humanitarian tragedy was unfolding in another little known corner of Central Africa, the Central African Republic (CAR). On Sunday, the rebel group, Seleka, succeeded in toppling the CAR government, sending the president, François Bozizé, into exile and the citizens of the country into crisis yet again.
CAR watchers were hardly surprised by this turn of events. Bozizé himself came to power through a coup in March 2003, ousting then-president Ange-Félix Patassé with the help of his Chadian friends. Shortly after coming to power however, many of his Chadian helpers became disgruntled. They and former supporters of Patassé split from the government, and along with other disparate elements in northern CAR, began to take to arms and form rebel groups. These rebels groups alternated between terrorizing, harassing and occasionally offering protection to local populations in exchange for loyalty and at great cost. The majority of the rebel groups agreed to come to peace talks in 2007 and 2008 with the Bozizé government and together they ironed out a path forward. Unfortunately, that path didn’t hold for long.
I checked my email this morning to find this message from Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, currently in Abeche, Chad, and wanted to share it with you. It’s a powerful reminder of why we all need to speak up now to ensure peacekeepers aren’t forced out of eastern Chad.
We have begun our work on the ground in eastern Chad and in early days much of our focus is on the impending decision of the UN Security Council about the future of the critical UN mission here. Under pressure from the Chadian government, and with the conspicuous absence of the usual strong influence of Chad’s former colonial power, France, the Security Council is poised to agree to begin a pull out of UN troops from the east of the country, to be completed by mid-October. It could very well prove disastrous for human rights protection, development projects and overall security. And at this point in time it seems near irreversible.
My friend Celine Narmandji, a remarkably tenacious women’s human rights defender who I’ve worked with on missions here in the past, put it very well when we met for lunch right after my arrival in Chad. She said:
We were abandoned before. We’re going to be abandoned again. The good news is that in between, for a short while, the world did care about the situation in eastern Chad.
MINURCAT’s future still hangs in the balance. Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously decided to postpone making a decision on whether or not MINURCAT, the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic, should be renewed.
Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad. Copyright Amnesty International
All 15 members of the UNSC felt they needed more time to think about the recommendations put forward by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and to determine Chad’s capacity to protect civilians without the help of the peacekeeping mission.
We’ve been pushing for the UN Security Council to continue protecting civilians in the region by renewing MINURCAT’s mandate. At least 10,000 people worldwide have already taken action. There is still time to add your voice – take action now and ask Secretary Clinton to support MINURCAT’s renewal.
And don’t forget to ask Secretary Clinton to support MINURCAT’s renewal! We need you to take action today to make sure peacekeepers can stay in Chad and the Central Africa Republic. MINURCAT still has a chance.
UN peacekeepers that have been crucial in protecting civilians in eastern Chad and northern Central African Republic (CAR) are being asked to leave once the mission’s mandate ends on May 15th. Without these peacekeepers, human rights abuses in the region will almost certainly increase, further endangering the lives of the refugees and internally displaced people living in camps.
Both the conflict in neighboring Darfur, Sudan, and Chad’s own internal conflict have created hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people, many of which now live in refugee camps in the eastern part of Chad, close to the border with Sudan.
Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad
Despite recent improvements, security in these camps remains a major issue. Amongst other issues, violence against women and girls is common both within and outside of the camps, and acts of violence are carried with almost complete impunity. And the UN peacekeepers are the only ones who can provide protection for these people.
Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, has asked the UN peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINURCAT, to withdraw from Chad when the mission mandate’s comes to an end on May 15th. But it’s not too late. If the United States can take a leadership at the UN Security Council, MINURCAT has a chance. And so will the people living in eastern Chad.
It’s up to you to take action today to ask the US government to be a leader in ensuring MINURCAT’s renewal.
Refugees in Mile refugee camp, eastern Chad. (c) Amnesty International
Yesterday, Reuters began reporting that the government of Chad has formally requested that the mandate for the peacekeeping mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) not be renewed when it comes to an end in March. But the peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINURCAT, provides much needed security for refugees and humanitarian aid workers in eastern Chad and northeastern CAR, regions which suffer from rampant insecurity and violence.
In these camps, the burden of finding food and other necessities for survival falls on the shoulders of women. They must regularly leave the relative security of the camps to fetch water, travel to village markets, tend vegetable plots, and gather wood for the fire and straw for the livestock. Once outside the camps, the risk of rape, sexual assault and harassment becomes even higher. Perpetrators of the violence are rarely brought to justice and Amnesty found that even when those responsible could be identified, Chadian authorities did not follow-up with the cases. Many women who have been raped are shunned or left by their husbands, and young girls who are victims find it difficult to marry.