In recent months, the Central African Republic (CAR) has appointed a new transitional government, started a fragile peace process, and seen the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement. In addition, on September 15, a U.N. peacekeeping operation will officially deploy, and the U.S. embassy in Bangui will resume operations for the first time in almost two years. Unfortunately, the prospects for peace in CAR are diminished without sustained international support and action in four key areas: planning for elections scheduled for next year; accountability for the perpetrators of atrocities; the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of armed combatants; and local reconciliation initiatives.
During a visit to CAR in July, the Enough Project found that relentless violence from a myriad of dispersed armed groups, combined with a lack of focus on and resources for each of these four areas, has led to a policy drift that could threaten recent achievements and make peace harder to attain. These four areas of focus do not cover all urgent tasks necessary to allow Central Africans to return to their homes in safety. They are focused on areas of activity that could derail the peace process without policy focus and sufficient international support.
CAR’s presidential and legislative elections, which had been scheduled for February 2015, were recently pushed back to later in the year because of persistent violence across the country and a delay in preparations. Security, protection, logistical support for planning, and public outreach strategies are all lacking, yet urgently needed in order to lay the groundwork for an electoral process that the Central African people can consider credible. A poorly run election held on an unrealistic timeline could exacerbate violence and lead to greater mistrust in government institutions. CAR’s election could be an important step to effective and credible governance, if it is run well under the right conditions.
Over the course of the most recent armed conflict, armed actors from diverse groups have committed widespread atrocities against civilians. Evidence shows that many of these atrocities may amount to grave war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, and possibly all three. Efforts to end impunity and bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice are critical to CAR’s peace process in order to establish a record of what happened, restore dignity to victims, and send a message that CAR’s new authorities and the international community will not tolerate grave crimes in CAR’s new phase of governance. Failing to address these crimes could allow for repeated violence and entrench existing gaps in trust between CAR’s citizens and its government.
Disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating armed combatants is a critical cornerstone of CAR’s peace process. Most of the DDR efforts to this point have been ad hoc and poorly coordinated and supported—with dangerous effects. The absence of an effective DDR program will leave thousands of fighters with their weapons as their only livelihood tool. It will also leave intact armed groups such as Séléka and Anti-Balaka that must be disbanded for sustainable peace to take hold.
Local dialogue and reconciliation efforts spearheaded by civil society are starting to take shape in Bangui and nearby towns. These initiatives have successfully helped resolve local disputes and improve understanding between conflicting groups, but they also face considerable challenges and need support to extend outside the capital. Local talks are easily buffeted by security conditions that cannot be guaranteed by signatories of a fragile peace agreement who do not control all of the forces that commit atrocities in CAR.
The peace process cannot succeed if the armed combatant groups are not constructively engaged. These groups have a significant capacity to undermine progress and could be significant spoilers. Enough found during its research in CAR that schisms and weak chains of command in the armed groups, particularly Séléka and Anti-Balaka, complicate political transition and threaten efforts to bring peace and security to the country.
A key aspect of engaging the armed groups is determining the economic drivers of the conflict and sources they use to fund their activities. The Enough Project will address these issues in future publications.
1. The U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) should prioritize civilian protection with logistical and technical resources necessary to deploy rapidly in response to incidents, particularly threats against internally displaced people and in enclaves where civilians are at a heightened risk of attack.
2. The U.S. government should ensure CAR’s national electoral authority has the security, institutional support, and expertise it needs from MINUSCA and the International Contact Group to plan for presidential and legislative elections. The U.S. government should lead the international community in supporting CAR’s national electoral authority in its independence and its determination of an appropriate timeline that does not result in premature elections. Such a timeline should be based on adequate safety and security for voters, candidates, and electoral officials and the achievement of key electoral planning benchmarks, such as the establishment of an electoral presence in all 16 provinces, a voter registry, and a legal framework for elections.
3. MINUSCA should support CAR's new special tribunal by assisting substantially with investigations, witness protection, and expertise on prosecutorial strategies and due process. Its support should be in furtherance of the ultimate goals of prosecuting the worst atrocity crimes, transferring evidence and information to the International Criminal Court where appropriate, and helping build lasting expertise within CAR's domestic justice system.
4. The U.S. should take a leadership role in the establishment and operations of the tribunal, as it has in previous ad-hoc tribunals, by contributing resources and legal experts to ensure cases remain independent and national jurists are effective in their efforts to investigate crimes, apprehend perpetrators, and carry out fair trials.
5. The U.S. government should lead the International Contact Group in ensuring Central African leaders and MINUSCA have the resources they need to develop an effective DDR plan as quickly as possible. The DDR plan should account for CAR’s diverse community needs, exclude amnesty for perpetrators of grave crimes, and offer reintegration projects that target marginalized youth in particular and integrate male and female ex-combatants with their local communities.
6. MINUSCA should help secure, coordinate, and support local reconciliation efforts already underway and scale efforts to reach remote areas outside of Bangui with the aim of transitioning to a more formal, nationwide reconciliation process when security and political agreements allow. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) should contribute resources and mediation teams to support locally-led processes that address small-scale divisions related to religion but also political association, gender, age, livelihoods, and natural resources.
Photo: Several hundred protesting merchants, one holding a placard using the french acronym of the country's name, hold a demonstration calling for peace as negotiators prepare for talks with rebels from the north, in downtown Bangui, Central African Republic Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)