CAR: Full deployment of UN peacekeepers urgently needed to protect civilian lives

The new United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) must be urgently brought up to full capacity to enable it to ensure the protection of a civilian population vulnerable to serious human rights violations, said Amnesty International today as the mission deploys.

As the UN peacekeeping mission takes over authority from African Union (AU) peacekeepers, Amnesty International is concerned that the initial deployment – only around 65 percent of its full strength – will struggle to fulfil its expanded mandate that includes the protection of civilians and stabilization and securitization of the country.

“The switch from AU to UN peacekeepers must be more than a cosmetic change: the swapping green berets for blue helmets. Instead it must serve as a fresh start for the peacekeeping operation in CAR,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Campaigns Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“Whilst we welcome the new peacekeeping mission, we are concerned that it will only be able to effectively protect civilians from the threat of physical violence once the full peacekeeping force has been deployed across the country.”

The Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) which has taken over authority from the African Union-led International Support Mission (MISCA), has a duty to protect civilians from the threat of physical violence, including specific protection of women and children affected by the ongoing armed conflict. In order to fulfil this duty, MINUSCA must show the population of CAR that its presence can make a tangible difference on the ground.

The initial MINUSCA deployment comprises approximately 7,600 peacekeepers Amnesty International is calling on the UN to bring MINUSCA its agreed full capacity of around 12,000 troops and police at the earliest possible opportunity. The organization is also calling for the prompt deployment of all other essential staff including human rights monitors.

“The gap between the number of peacekeepers promised and the number deployed must be urgently filled. Only once the full force is on the ground, undertaking patrols and protecting CAR’s civilian population, can MINUSCA properly fulfil its protection mandate,” said Stephen Cockburn.

Amnesty International has documented a catalogue of serious human rights violations, including unlawful killings, committed by some MISCA troops.

The organization is calling for the UN to ensure that peacekeepers suspected of committing human rights violations in CAR when serving in MISCA are not allowed to be part of MINUSCA. Instead they must be investigated and where there is sufficient evidence, held to account.

“All alleged incidents involving AU troops must be investigated and the flawed vetting system currently in place must be improved to ensure that there is no place in the UN mission for peacekeepers suspected of committing human rights violations,” said Stephen Cockburn.

Following an incident in Bangui on 29 March 2014 in which around 30 civilians were killed and hundreds of others wounded by Chadian peacekeepers, Chad unilaterally withdrew its troops from MISCA the following month. On 24 March 2014 MISCA’s Congolese (Brazzaville) contingent were implicated in the enforced disappearance of at least 11 persons. To Amnesty International’s knowledge, no MISCA peacekeepers have been prosecuted for any human rights violations.

“It is essential that proper screening processes are in place to ensure that troops and police suspected of serious human rights violations do not become part of MINUSCA,” said Stephen Cockburn.

“The UN must ensure that its own policy on human rights vetting of UN personnel applies at all times and that soldiers, police and civilian staff have clean human rights records in their countries and abroad.”