The Forgotten Crisis in the Central African Republic

When I travelled to CAR earlier this year, I expected chaos, but not the sheer human suffering endured by the people I met. More needs to be done to stop the violence

Share
Related Topics

With the world’s attention focused on Syria, another human rights catastrophe unfolds unnoticed, in a forgotten corner of the world called Central African Republic (CAR). A ruthless rebel coalition called the Seleka has engaged in the arbitrary and rampant murder of civilians, including women, children and the elderly. Countless people there, particularly in rural areas, have fled their homes and are camped out in the bush, living in constant fear of attack by Seleka fighters.

Little known outside France, its former coloniser, CAR has been bedeviled by the twin curses of poverty and misrule. Its former strongman president, François Bozizé, who took power in a coup in 2003, was overthrown by the Seleka in March this year. Emerging from the remote and impoverished northeast, the Seleka, or “alliance” in the national language, has engaged in widespread abuses.

When I travelled to CAR earlier this year, I expected chaos, but not the sheer human suffering endured by the people I met. Villagers, hidden in bushes, would speak to me only after I gently convinced them that I was not part of the Seleka. When I finally earned their trust, they told me about the looting of their homes, the terrifying attacks they endured, their hunger and sickness.

One victim told me how he had to flee the village with his sick father. He tried to care for his ailing father in the bush, but hopelessly watched him die, because the local clinic had been looted by Seleka fighters and the roads were too dangerous for travel.

Another man described how the Seleka rounded up five men from his village, tied them up, and then gunned them down. A local official, he said, “went door to door in the village to ask people to leave their homes and come to a meeting to talk with the Seleka. The first few left their homes, five of them, and were grouped under a tree…their arms were attached to each other. They were then shot down one by one.”

During the Seleka’s assault on the Boy-Rabe neighbourhood of Bangui, the capital, in April, I spoke with fleeing victims who told more tragic tales: a man who frantically called his son to warn him not to go outside, only to hear a few hours later that he’d been killed; another man who watched as his wife and infant were murdered in front of him on his doorstep; a resident who watched his neighbour shot down after he tried to hide women fleeing the shooting; and parents who were forced to the floor at gunpoint while their daughter was raped by a Seleka fighter. 

Human Rights Watch’s new report, 'I Can Still Smell the Dead: The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic' details these killings between March and June, both in Bangui and in the provinces, and confirms the deliberate destruction of more than 1,000 homes.

Since Human Rights Watch left CAR in June, the situation has worsened. From July to September we have received credible reports of Seleka attacks on civilians throughout the country. The humanitarian situation teeters on the verge of disaster, with growing numbers of internally displaced people and refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries. Transitional president and Seleka leader Michel Djotodia announced the dissolution of the rebel coalition earlier this month, but it remains unclear what will happen with its armed fighters.

When I was in CAR, many of the people I spoke to showed signs of deep trauma, and begged both for assistance and the world’s attention. Aid workers are trying to address basic needs, but are themselves targeted. On 7 September, two employees of the French charity ACTED were killed. Media reports implicate Seleka fighters in the deaths.

This July, Lynne Featherstone, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for international development, announced that the UK would give £5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Humanitarian Air Service, to enable them to continue to deliver critical support to CAR. This is a good first step and deserves recognition.

But more needs to be done to stop the violence. The UK should help the African Union peacekeeping mission in CAR ensure civilian protection by providing much-needed and requested logistical and financial support. Through its seat on the UN Security Council, the UK should push for targeted sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses, including Seleka leaders. Finally, the UK should support efforts to bring to account, including by the International Criminal Court, perpetrators of human rights crimes in the country, both past and present.

The phrase I heard most often in CAR was “don’t forget us.” I doubt I’ll be able to, given the terrible things I saw. Central Africans urgently need humanitarian assistance, security, and justice. If only more people could find them on a map.

Lewis Mudge is a researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Science Technician

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Preston: A school in Preston require a S...

SECONDARY SUPPORT

£65 - £75 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Due to the high dema...

Tutor required for Level 3 Workskills

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Eduction are...

Day In a Page

Read Next
NO ballots are stacked on a table during the Scottish independence referendum count at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh  

Scottish referendum: Some divorces are meant to happen – this one wasn’t

Dotti Irving
 

To see how the establishment operates, you really needed to be at this week’s launch party for Andrew Marr’s new book

John Walsh
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week