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

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'