UN High Level Representatives: Urgent Action Necessary to Restore Peace in Central African Republic
21 December 2013 – Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Adama Dieng, the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide and Nancee Oku Bright, representing the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict call on the authorities of the Central African Republic, local communities and the international community to take urgent measures to prevent the country from plunging into a full-scale sectarian conflict and to protect the civilian population, particularly women and children from on-going atrocities.
Against the background of the 5 December attack on the capital, and the subsequent wave of retaliatory acts targeting the civilian population, leaving several hundred dead, the three UN representatives visited Bangui and Bossangoa to assess the security, human rights and humanitarian situation, which has plagued CAR since the end of 2012. In Bangui, they met with the Head of the Transition, the Prime Minister as well as the Transitional National Council, the diplomatic community, religious leaders, civil society, women’s forum, internally displaced persons, victims of human rights violations, the humanitarian community and United Nations officials working in the country.
Clashes between armed elements, mainly ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka, have disrupted social cohesion and are sowing seeds of hatred in CAR. The UN representatives expressed alarm at numerous reports of deliberate attacks and retaliatory acts against the civilian population, mainly on the basis of religion.
“Given the serious nature of continuing violations in an environment of complete impunity, CAR is on the brink of descending into atrocity crimes. The worst case scenario can only be stopped if urgent measures are taken to stop the violence and those responsible are held accountable,” said Mr. Dieng.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the country’s children are killed, mutilated, subjected to sexual violence and recruited by armed groups. The conflict has forced them to abandon their homes, in some cases separated from their families. Their schools have been looted, teachers targeted, and classrooms occupied by armed groups. UNICEF estimates that 2.3 million children are affected by the crisis, including thousands who have been recruited or re-recruited by armed groups.
“There is no excuse for failing the children of the Central African Republic. I welcome the engagement of the international community to deploy forces, support the African Union Mission, and provide humanitarian assistance, but the needs are enormous. We need to urgently protect children from harm, reunite former child soldiers with their families, strengthen monitoring and reporting on grave child rights violations and provide them with safe access to humanitarian assistance and education,” said Leila Zerrougui.
During a meeting with the three UN representatives, Michel Djotodia, the head of the transition agreed to allow unimpeded and regular access to all cantonment sites in the country so that children found in the ranks of the ex-Seleka can be handed over to UNICEF and reunited with their families.
“Releasing children is an essential step,” said Leila Zerrougui “I call on the international community to assist CAR authorities to implement a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process tailored to the specific needs of children.”
The Special Representative stressed the need to develop and agree on clear modalities for the separation and handover of all children associated with armed groups to UNICEF and BINUCA.
With widespread insecurity having forced hundreds of thousands into displacement, the UN system is increasing its efforts together with NGO partners to provide life-saving support to internally displaced persons across the country, as well as refugees from Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) living in CAR, and to those who have fled to the DRC and Cameroon.
“Conflict and displacement have heightened the vulnerability of women and children to sexual violence. I am deeply concerned that in this highly volatile environment, rape, forced marriage, mutilations, and other egregious acts of sexual violence against women and children continue to be reported”, said Nancee Oku Bright. “Just one year ago, in December 2012, during a visit to CAR by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, agreements were signed between the United Nations and the national authorities to address conflict-related sexual violence in CAR. These commitments remain even more critical today. All parties to the conflict must cease these violations, while humanitarian partners must also ensure accessibility to crucial medical support and services for survivors of sexual violence.”
Today’s priority is to immediately halt the violence through the disarmament of all parties to conflict, create a secure environment and make progress on the transition. Ms. Zerrougui, Mr. Dieng and Ms. Bright stressed that to bring peace and stability back in the country, it is essential to strengthen the capacity and resources of BINUCA and the UN system as a whole to ensure an adequate and efficient crisis response. The justice system must be restored so perpetrators of grave human rights violations are held accountable.