The Central African Republic’s Death Spiral

The numbers are astounding.

37,000 displaced people are camping in an area of just five hectares reports Maurice Azonnankpo, a UNHCR protection officer in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). These thousands are among the many seeking refuge from the violence – rape, torture and mutilation – as well as looting that has rankled the nation and is only, according to Amnesty International, continuing to spiral out of control. The organization says it is “deeply concerned” about the about the enormous level of of grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law

In addition, nearly 400,000 people are thought to be seeking refuge in the CAR’s dense bush and forest, where it ranges from difficult to nearly impossible for humanitarian organizations to access for vital aid and protection. Another 60,000 are said to have fled to neighboring countries.

An Emergency Food Security Assessment, conducted jointly by the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and the government of CAR reports that 1.1 million people – about 30 percent of the total population of 4.6 million  – are unable to meet their daily food needs on a consistent basis or require food assistance in order to survive.

In total, “Over half of the population of this country are in need of humanitarian assistance,” said John Ging, director of operations for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “But the number one issue today is protection, and the atrocities that are being committed against the civilian population are indescribable.”

The brutal violence in the CAR has escalated since early December 2012 when Seleka, a coalition of several armed groups, whose name means “alliance,” launched an offensive against the government of former President François Bozizé.

CAR’s newly installed self-declared president, Michel Djotodia is a former Seleka leader. The group took control of the government in March 2013 and has purposefully targeted civilians, with fighting increasing as the number of displaced grew.  The armed conflict includes those from adjacent nations Chad and Sudan.

Almost all of the Seleka (90%) are Muslims, a small minority in the CAR that has suffered discrimination from the country’s Christian majority. They joined to overthrow the Bozizé’s government who is accused of having not brought necessary and promised development to the north of the country. It’s important to note that an article in the Guardianby Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalaing of Bangui, who is president of Caritas, a Catholic mission in the CAR, reminds that this chaos is not simply a case of Christian versus Muslim.

Though rights groups have named Seleka as the main perpetrators, both sides have committed horrible crimes against humanity, and it has gotten to the point that there is a very valid fear that this conflict may slide into a full genocide. “My feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other which means that if we don’t act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring,” warned OCHA’s Ging.