Central African Republic: killings in the time of transition
Peace eludes a nation in a rocky political transition
For a few weeks earlier this year, no one needed an alarm clock to wake up in Bangui. The sound of gunfire, sometimes sustained and heavy, was a morning ritual in the Central African Republic’s capital city. To most people here, identifying where the shots came from was a survival skill.
Worse still, since early December 2013, Christians, but more so members of the Muslim minority, risk their lives each time they venture out of their now segregated neighbourhoods—a troubling sign of a deepening religious divide. Killings happen daily. On occasion, cheering crowds have participated in chilling acts of lynching, only to return to normal life thereafter, as if nothing had happened.
On 5 February, not far from downtown Bangui, soldiers from the regular army lynched a suspected militia combatant. It did not seem to matter to them that journalists were filming the scene. “It is as if the whole country has lost its senses,” Gen. Babacar Gaye, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the country, noted at a press conference a day after the incident. “We have experienced instability before, but nothing like this,” Julien Bela, the editor of Centrafrique Matin, a daily, remarked.
Indeed, since March 2013, violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has reached unprecedented levels. Killings, acts of looting and other violations of human rights have increased as a political transition that started in January 2012 has progressed. By February 2014, a growing number of analysts and officials, including from the UN, were expressing serious concerns over the degree of human rights violations and had taken to describing the situation in chilling terms.
Since early 2013, thousands of Muslims (they represent around 15% of CAR’s over 4 million inhabitants) have been forced out of the country, in a mass exodus reminiscent of some of humanity’s darkest hours. On 20 February, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon submitted a six-point plan to the Security Council, urging the world to act now. “Today’s emergency is of another, more disturbing magnitude,” he told the 15-member body. “It’s a calamity with a strong claim on the conscience of humankind.”
1mn the number of people who have fled their homes to live in camps since the conflict in CAR erupted
A World Food Programme cargo plane arrives at the airport in Bangui where a camp for internally displaced persons has been set up.