The European Union (EU)’s deployment of up to 1,000 troops must only be the beginning of the international community’s renewed response to the violence and ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic (CAR), Amnesty International said as a key EU-Africa Summit opened in Brussels today.
For months now, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity, being perpetrated in the CAR have demanded a swift and robust response. The EU military operation, EUFOR RCA, is expected to deploy soon and is intended as a “bridging mission” to support the existing 8,000 African Union and French troops until a full-fledged UN peacekeeping force can deploy later this year.
“The Central African Republic is gripped by a human rights and humanitarian crisis of historic proportions. By failing to respond more robustly and urgently, the international community has shown a callous disregard for the country’s embattled civilians, abandoning them in their moment of need,” said Christian Mukosa, Central Africa Researcher at Amnesty International.
“The full deployment of EUFOR RCA will be crucial to laying the foundations for the future UN peacekeeping mission; we only hope that the delays over the past couple of months will not jeopardize the international community’s effort to protect civilians in all parts of the Central African Republic.
“The African Union must also give significant financial, logistical and political support to their troops in CAR and ensure that protection of human rights is at the heart of the mission.”
The UN Secretary-General has proposed a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force for CAR, but it cannot deploy until September 2014.
As a stop-gap measure, on 10 February 2014, the EU promised the rapid deployment of up to 1,000 EUFOR soldiers as well as military equipment and supplies to CAR to assist existing international forces on the ground. Nearly two months later, the EUFOR RCA force is still being assembled to gradually reach full capacity.
Meanwhile, the 8,000 African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) and French troops already in CAR have struggled to protect civilians effectively, particularly Muslims, who have been fleeing the country en masse in fear of their lives. At the end of March, MISCA peacekeepers have themselves come under repeated attack from the anti-balaka militias they have failed to disarm, pointing to a further serious deterioration in security.
According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 60 people were killed in the capital Bangui from 22 March to 1 April. Two of the most serious incidents – a grenade attack at a Christian funeral on 27 March and Chadian soldiers opening fire on civilians two days later – killed dozens of civilians and wounded several others. In the wake of these attacks, the CAR transitional government has called for the UN to lead an independent investigation to bring those responsible to justice.
Amnesty International calls on the African Union (AU) to launch an investigation into any allegations MISCA troops were involved in human rights violations.
As recently as last week, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, again stated that the EU “intends to take its part in … efforts to bring back stability and security in Bangui and the rest of the [Central African Republic]”.
“The EU must act urgently to bring stability to the Central African Republic; now that the EUFOR RCA mission has been launched, there is no time to lose to ensure it is robust and well-resourced so it can immediately assist the existing peacekeeping troops on the ground,” said Christian Mukosa.
“This must be matched by AU and EU efforts to ensure much-needed financial and logistical support reaches the African-led MISCA mission so they can live up to their mandate of protecting civilians in all parts of the country until the UN peacekeeping mission deploys.”
Since the escalation of violence in CAR in December 2013, Amnesty International experts have made three separate trips to the country as well as to refugee camps in neighbouring Chad. The organization continues to monitor the situation in the country on a daily basis.
Extrajudicial killings, torture, looting and other atrocities are perpetrated against civilians on a daily basis. Ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim population has forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries, where they are now facing another humanitarian catastrophe due to dire living conditions.
Established in February 2014 by the European Council and authorized by UN Security Council resolution 2134 (2014), EUFOR RCA (which uses the French acronym for CAR) is an EU military operation aimed at contributing to a secure environment in Bangui, the capital of the CAR, and functioning as a limited "bridging mission" of six months with a view to handing over to African forces and an eventual UN peacekeeping mission. The force explicitly aims to contribute to international efforts to protect the populations most at risk, and to create the conditions for providing humanitarian aid.
The Council of the European Union issued a statement on 1 April 2014 announcing that the EUFOR RCA mission had been launched and would deploy rapidly, comprising up to 1,000 troops at a cost of €25.9 million for the preparatory phase.
The EU-Africa Summit being held in Brussels on 2-3 April includes a separate mini-summit on the crisis in the Central African Republic, due to take place early on 2 April. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to take part in addition to leaders of EU and African states.