Violence in the Central African Republic

Violence in the Central African Republic

Escalation of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic between the Seleka rebels and "anti-balaka" militias, possibly resulting in mass atrocities

Recent Developments

Since the outbreak of violence in 2013 in the Central African Republic (CAR), around six thousand people have been killed and a quarter of the population has been displaced, with more than four hundred thousand refugees and three hundred thousand internally displaced persons. Although mediation efforts supported by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) resulted in the signing of the Brazzaville Cease-fire Agreement in July 2014, parties on all sides of the conflict have violated the accord. 

In February 2016 Faustin Archange Touadéra, a former prime minister, was elected to the presidency after receiving nearly 63 percent of the votes in a runoff election. The election gives reason to be hopeful for the country’s future and many displaced citizens now plan to return home. However, there are still serious problems that need to be addressed. The conflict has wreaked havoc on the economy and left the country with about 60 percent of its population in poverty, a crippled private sector, and nearly half a million displaced people. Further complicating effective governance are the destabilizing effects of the Seleka and anti-balaka gang rebel factions that continue to control much of the country.

Background

Following decades of violence and instability since gaining independence, an insurgency in CAR led by the Seleka (or “alliance” in Sango)—a coalition of armed, primarily Muslim groups—has resulted in the severe deterioration of the country’s security infrastructure and heightened ethnic tensions. Seleka fighters launched an offensive against the CAR government in December 2012, and seized the capital city of Bangui and staged a coup in March 2013. In response to brutality by Seleka forces, “anti-balaka” (meaning invincible in Sango) coalitions of Christian fighters formed to carry out reprisal violence against Seleka fighters, adding a religious element to the violence that had previously been absent. 

In September 2013, anti-balaka forces began committing widespread revenge attacks against mostly Muslims civilians, displacing tens of thousands of people to Seleka-controlled areas in the north. Seleka forces were disbanded by the government shortly after revenge attacks began, but many ex-Seleka members started committing counterattacks, plunging CAR into a chaotic state of violence and ensuing a humanitarian crisis. 

Reports by human rights groups and UN agencies suggest that crimes committed by both ex-Seleka forces and anti-balaka groups amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Additionally, anti-balaka groups have deliberately and systematically targeted Muslims. Intra-Seleka fighting and involvement by foreign fighters from Chad and Sudan have also escalated the fighting.

Due to the scale of the crisis, the UN Security Council in April 2014 established a peacekeeping force that incorporated African Union and French forces that had been deployed to CAR previously. The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic was established with a strength of ten thousand troops and a mandate to protect civilians.

Concerns

The United States has long supported economic growth, strengthening the rule of law, and political stability in CAR, and it remains concerned about the high levels of violence and worsening humanitarian crisis. Further deterioration of the security environment will increase sectarian violence and continue to destabilize the region, posing challenges to ending the conflicts in neighboring South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

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