The crisis unfolding in the Central African Republic may end up being the most under-reported story of the year. An outbreak of mass violence has led to the deaths of over 500 people and displacement of over 200,000 in just the past three weeks. [See United to End Genocide’s Fact Sheet on CAR here.]
In fact, with the violence taking on Christian versus Muslim hues, several voices in the international community have warned that the country may be “on the verge of genocide”.
Lawmakers are starting to understand the urgency of the crisis. And this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took on the topic of one of the poorest and arguably least familiar countries in a Hearing on the Central African Republic (CAR) on Tuesday, December 17.
At the Hearing, Senators Coons (D-DE), Flake (R-AZ), and Cardin (D-MD) took turns asking a panel of government officials and outside experts about the nature of the crisis and the adequacy of the response.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States is deeply concerned by the sectarian nature of the violence in CAR and emphasized ongoing high-level attention and work with international partners. This included support of UN Security Council action to establish an arms embargo, a Sanctions Committee, a Panel of Experts, and authorization of a Commission of Inquiry. She also credited the interagency Atrocities Prevention Board set up in 2012 with providing direction for the U.S. response to the crisis and the impetus behind a personal message to the people of the Central African Republic which has been widely spread by local radio.
Still, as International Crisis Group’s Mark Schneider and Lisabeth List of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) pointed out the international response to the violence in the Central African Republic has been “woefully slow” and the UN humanitarian response of United Nation’s agencies “wholly inadequate”.
While 1,600 French troops have been deployed and a few thousand African Union troops are being deployed with $100 million in assistance from the United States, those deployments are not moving fast enough and preparations for a longer term and more robust UN peacekeeping operation are lacking. As MSF pointed out in a scathing letter, UN humanitarian efforts still lack personnel with emergency experience and the willingness to deploy to the places where people are most vulnerable.
The way forward is to establish security in the capital of Bangui, the heart of most of the violence in recent weeks, then to establish humanitarian corridors to other hard hit places.
With a tenth of the population displaced and quarter estimated as in danger of going hungry, humanitarian efforts must also be stepped up in the immediate term. These efforts must be supported by longer term work toward a sustainable political transition, inter-religious peace building, and economic development.