The Central African Republic (CAR) is a large and sparsely populated state that had a limited government presence even before the current crisis. The absence of effective state security institutions and the continued targeting of civilians by former Séléka factions and Anti-Balaka militias put the people of CAR at high risk for further mass atrocities.
To address the insecurity in CAR, the UN authorized a peacekeeping operation of 12,000 personnel (military, police, and civilians), known by its acronym MINUSCA, which it began to deploy in September 2014. Previously, an African Union international stabilization force (MISCA) was tasked with protecting civilians and disarming armed groups. The French government deployed an additional 20,000 troops from December 2013 to October 2016 and the European Union dispatched another 1,000 from April 2014 to March 2015 to bolster the security situation.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) called on all actors to “stop attacking civilians and committing crimes” or run the risk of ICC prosecution. Subsequently, the chief prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into these crimes in February 2014 and that September it concluded there is justification for proceeding with an investigation, which remains ongoing.
Throughout the current conflict, both Séléka and Anti-Balaka fighters have used violence against civilians as a tactic of war, emboldened by lack of accountability for such crimes. The ICC only has the capacity to try a small number of high-level commanders, leaving the national judicial system to investigate and prosecute the majority of perpetrators. At the Bangui Forum—a May 2015 convening of political actors, civil society representatives, some armed actors, and stakeholders from other sectors of society—participants agreed on the need for justice and national reconciliation. In June 2015, the transitional government approved the creation of a Special Criminal Court, a hybrid body within the Central African judicial system comprised of both national and international staff. The body requires support from the international community and the new government has been slow to operationalize the court.
In addition to authorizing MISCA and MINUSCA, the UN Security Council ook the following actions between 2013-2016 to respond to the atrocities being committed in CAR:
- Established an arms embargo, a panel of experts, and a sanctions committee
- Inaugurated a commission of inquiry to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and abuses of human rights, as well as to monitor “hate propaganda” in an effort to limit its impact and deter would-be perpetrators, according to the inquiry chairperson
- Repeatedly called for increased human rights monitoring capacity
- Is considering travel bans and asset freezes for leaders and perpetrators of the violence
- Issued multiple statements from the secretary-general, the special adviser on the prevention of genocide, and other high-level UN officials on the severity of the situation
During the same period, the US has attempted to mitigate violence by:
- Confirming a new Ambassador and resuming operations at the US embassy in Bangui to assist in coordinating international responses to the crisis; the embassy had been shuttered due to security concerns at the start of the conflict
- Sending senior US officials on multiple visits to CAR to meet with local political and religious leaders as well as with officials from the UN
- Working with UN partners to impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities contributing to the violence
- Encouraging media to disseminate messages from religious leaders urging peace and reconciliation
- Recording, translating, and playing on local radio a statement by former President Obama urging an end to the violence
- Developing Voice of America programs featuring religious leaders from the US and the Central African Republic who support ending the atrocities
- Supporting the creation of a network of local community and interfaith religious leaders for promoting peace and reconciliation efforts
- Providing logistical and technical support for countries committing troops to MISCA
- Contributing over $404 million in humanitarian assistance from the start of the crisis through the end of 2016