NEWS. - Last week, the nightmare started once again in Central African Republic, reminding us of the previous killings of 2013 and 2014 that drove over 400’000 Muslims out of the country. The conflict killed thousands of people, displaced around 380’000 and sent 464000 people fleeing, according to the UN. A similar situation is taking place again since 26 September 2015, with over 40 people killed, hundreds of people injured and over 40’000 who have to flee their homes to displacements sites. This recent event reminds everyone how volatile the situation in the country is and how quickly it can spiral into an extreme chaos.
The situation recently took a turn for the worst, with the killing of a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver, which initiated the recent chaos in Bangui and started to threaten the fragile peace process initiated since last year. Residents claimed that the body of the taxi driver was discovered near a mosque in Bangui. The man was mutilated and killed due to his religious beliefs. The few Muslims who remained in the capital reacted quickly to this attack by assaulting Christian neighborhoods shortly after. This turned into revenge killings all around Bangui, with the retaliation of Christian militias, leaving at least 42 people dead. Even though UN peacekeepers were stationed in Bangui, they were unfortunately not able to stop the violence from happening.
Over the past year and with recent events unfolding in Bangui, civilians are suffering from the recurrent violence: ten thousand people have been displaced and try to survive in displacements camps with little access to humanitarian aid. Moreover hundreds of people have died, while others have seen their house being burned down to the ground.
The religion divide remains a major issue in the country
The religion divide has remained a struggle in the country since the 2013-2014 conflict. The rival militias signed a ceasefire deal in July 2014 and agreed to lay down the arms in the capital, but elsewhere in the country, outbreak of violence continued throughout the year. Therefore these attacks don’t necessarily come as a surprise, since fighting between the Muslim Seleka rebels and the predominately Christian anti-balaka fighters has continued over the last year, in the towns of Bambari, Bouca, Batangafo, and Kaga Bandoro. French troops and African Union peacekeepers were deployed in the country in 2013, but they struggle to contain violence in towns surrounding the capital.
But now, the fear of conflict due to religious division between Christian and Muslim groups, is not only taking over towns surrounding the capital. It is also haunting Bangui once again: "We fear that the violence that we're seeing in Bangui is a return to the dark days of late 2013 and 2014, when thousands were killed and tens of thousands had to flee their homes," U.N. refugee agency spokesman Leo Dobbs claims. The last outbreak of violence illustrates that inter-communal tensions are still extremely high.
The upcoming elections
Despite the ceasefire signed in 2014, the situation continues to be tense. Even before the killing of the Muslim taxi driver, people were constantly on edge due to the presidential elections scheduled for 18 October, in order to replace interim leader Catherine Samba-Panza. The upcoming elections are bringing fuel to the fire. Since 2014, the interim government has had to oversee the transition to peace and has not been able to efficiently solve this ongoing crisis. Samba-Panza, only the third female president in Africa, raised great hope, but her administration hasn’t managed to put an end to the anti-government protests. The difficult issue that the government is facing is the fragmentation of militia groups in many different factions which makes it even harder to negotiate and eventually come to an agreement. Catherine Samba-Panza said last week that due to the violent events happening all over Bangui, the 18 October elections are likely to be postponed once again.
Establishing a Special Criminal Court
To be able to efficiently stop the violence towards civilians, it is crucial to hold accountable people committing human rights violations. Since June 2015, the country has established a Special Criminal Court in order to prosecute international crimes. This initiative is going in the right direction, but this court is still urgently in need of financial and technical support to be able to function properly. The Special Criminal Court is a glimpse of hope in this endless fight against impunity, a chronic issue in Central African Republic. But until this Court is indeed actively prosecuting people responsible for these crimes, the likelihood of more deaths happening in the country is inevitable.
ALFRED, Charlotte (2015). A Murder Unleashes Chaos in the Central African Republic. September 30th 2015. IN: The Huffington Post (Online). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/central-african-republic-crisis_560be776e4b0af3706dea788 Accessed on October 6th 2015.
MUDGE, Lewis (2015). Dispatches: Chaos Returns to Bangui. October 2nd, 2015. IN: HRW (Online). http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/02/dispatches-chaos-returns-bangui Accessed on October 6th 2015.
New York Times (2015). Dozens Killed in Clashes in Central African Republic. September 29th 2015. IN: NY Times (Online) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/world/africa/central-african-repubic-bangui-violence.html?_r=0 Accessed on October 6th 2015.