CAR Ceasefire-Hope and Caution
Armed groups in the Central African Republic have reached a ceasefire deal intended to end the violence that has engulfed the country since March 2013. The 10-part agreement was signed on July 23 in Brazzaville, capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo, under the guidance of Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, International Mediator on the crisis in CAR.
The July 23 agreement calls on armed groups to repatriate foreign mercenaries within their ranks and drop the idea of partitioning the country. Calls for partition, supported by Seleka’s political leaders, was abandoned after intense pressure in Brazzaville. The ceasefire document also calls for combatants to return to their barracks, “subject to mobilization of necessary resources.” There is no mention of disarmament, but it provides for public consultations across the country, and the organization of a national reconciliation forum. Negotiations are underway for a new government to include representatives of anti-Balaka and Seleka. Reuters reported last Tuesday that the Prime Minister and his cabinet had resigned as requested.
Archbishop Nzapalainga said the signatories are pledging that, ”from now, we will no longer attack and kill. The real issue for us is the question of the culture or education for peace,” and he wisely noted that, “If, in a fighter’s head, he is convinced that he wants to give peace a chance, he will lay down the weapons. He will undertake another activity to earn a living. Therefore, it is important that we disarm our hearts, our minds, so that we can fit into this dynamic of peace.”
Coinciding with this ceasefire agreement, Open Doors International analyst Dennis Pastoor summarized and analyzed Amnesty International’s July report that attempted to document the “reign of impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations and abuses” in the CAR.
Pastoor says the report, Time for Accountability, builds on extensive fieldwork, and echoes UN Chief Ban Ki Moon’s declaration that both sides are committing war crimes. It acknowledges the complex nature of the conflict, and shows that it’s not possible to identify a single group as the main culprit. Instead, the report gives the names of people on both sides of the conflict who bear responsibility for the atrocities.
Time for Accountability basically mentions four responsible agents for the violence in CAR.
- The absence of a functioning judicial system, combined with a generalized lack of political will, explained in part by fear of reprisal, to address the human rights abuses.
- The anti-Balaka-These rebels have been responsible for “widespread attacks against Muslims.” Some self-identify as Christians, though AI is clear that it is not a Christian organization, and AI also notes strong animist identity in the group and ties with ousted president Fran�ois Bozize. It also notes that Christian leaders have clearly distanced themselves from the group, and that some Christians have also suffered at the hands of the anti-Balaka when they were considered too close to the mainly-Muslim Seleka.
- Seleka-Officially dissolved in January 2014, Seleka is responsible for many human rights violations since its uprising in December 2012 and during its takeover of power in Bangui, and it continues to be “very powerful” in the northeastern part of the country. Since December 2012, Seleka forces have been responsible for very serious human rights violations against Christians. Unfortunately, the report’s chapter about the violence caused by Seleka is much shorter and less extensive than the chapter about the violence caused by the anti-Balaka.
- Chadian troops-Troops from Chad’s national army are part of the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, known as MISCA. AI found Chadian troops responsible for human rights violations, but the report does not sufficiently stress the difficulty of distinguishing between the Chadian MISCA, the Chadian National Army and independent Chadian citizens who have joined the Seleka. Reports from the field indicate that local Muslims of migrant Chadian origin were siding with Seleka, and the Chadian troops belonging to MISCA were at times more loyal to their tribal links than to their peacekeeping mission.
Although Pastoor finds the report to be quite balanced, he notes three important omissions.
- It fails to recognize that the violence against Muslims, though by no means justifiable, comes after Christians have been confronted with enormous brutality from Seleka that has often been attributed erroneously to the Muslim population in general. This has led to the outrage of many Christians. Since Muslims dominate commerce, many young Christians find themselves with little hope for the future. With no democratic institutions to channel social discontent and virtually no economic opportunities, the violence caused by Seleka triggered a vicious circle of retribution and resentment.
- In addressing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bangui and the western region of CAR, the report minimizes the near-genocide by Seleka of non-Muslims in the pre-December 2013 period, and neglects the thousands of non-Muslims victims of Seleka atrocities during its previous 12-month reign of terror in the interior of CAR. The reader is especially misdirected when the Amnesty report identifies December 2013 as “the peak of the crisis.”
- The report’s geographical focus is on Bangui and the western areas of the CAR, where most of the anti-Balaka violence is occurring. However, out of sight of the international community, Seleka elements continue to commit crimes against Christianity with impunity.
Pastoor concludes that by emphasizing the anti-Balaka violence in Bangui and the west of CAR, the report reveals only part of the picture. Aside from this important caveat, Time for Accountability is a welcome step in the right direction. It is clear, however, that more research is needed about the violence currently going on away from the eyes of the international community, particularly in northern areas of CAR where Seleka is still active. The report is well-documented and reasonably objective, certainly more so than previous reports by Amnisty, Human Rights Watch and others which have almost exclusively focused on the violence committed by anti-Balaka rebels against Muslims, while failing to even mention the violence by the Seleka against CAR’s Christian population.
Father, Christ is the Prince of Peace, and we thank You that He has provided for us to enter into peace with You; that we might be one with You. And here on this earth, we are one with You in suffering as well as in glory, so we pray today for Christians in the Central African Republic; that this political ceasefire might bring about an end to violence and the establishing of a government of justice. We pray for Christians who suffer economically; that You would provide food and shelter and hope. We also pray that the many people on both sides of the conflict who are estranged from You, who need to place their hope in the shedding of blood, not of war, but of Christ who died that we might live. We pray that Your Church there would stand in godly truth and righteousness as a beacon of hope in the midst of darkness. In the name of Jesus, whose light of hope we reflect to a world of despair, Amen.
Source: World Watch Monitor