Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues

Time to Break the Silence:  Shining a Light on the Conflict in the Central African Republic

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Jillian Bokey

International human rights violations are the modern-day plague—wiping out hundreds of thousands of people in short periods of time and the international community is facing so many of these plagues today.  Unfortunately, a large portion of the world is unaware of the atrocities taking place every day across the globe.  The most well known violations are taking place in Ukraine and Syria—it seems that there is new coverage every day on Ukraine.  Every once in a while the media catches us up on Syria, where a civil war has taken the lives of well over 100,000 people and displaced millions.[1]  Recently, barrel bombs were dropped on a school, killing young children, two men were crucified in the streets, and the use of sarin and other poisonous gases has become more and more regular.[2]  It is the politically charged actions that get the most attention in the media.  But what about the rest of the world?

Ukraine and Syria are not the only places with human rights issues; they plague the entire world.  This post seeks to shed a little light on the crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR)—a place we never hear about and a people entrenched in havoc and tragedy.  It is important that we break the silence on the crisis and give a voice to the people that desperately need help. 

Image Source: BBC News

Brief Introduction of the Role of Human Rights in International Law 

I think it is fair to say that when people think of international law, they probably think about a couple of different topics:  war, terrorism, foreign policy and relations, and human rights.  Of course I make this statement without having conducted any poll or survey.  Human rights have become an extremely relevant and important topic in modern international law.[3]  The atrocities that took place during World War II prompted a change in international law—a change that brought human rights concerns to the forefront, starting with the creation of UN.[4]  The UN Charter included the importance of fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of each human person and the equal rights of men and women.[5]  Numerous conventions centering on human rights quickly followed, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.[6]  Rights and responsibilities recognized under human rights law include the right to self-determination, the right to equality and nondiscrimination, the right to life, the right to not be enslaved or forced labor, the right to not be tortured or ill-treated, the right to fairness in the criminal process and the administration of justice, the right to not be detained or imprisoned, the right to privacy, the right to travel, the right to seek asylum and refugee status, the right to citizenship or nationality, the right of protection for family, the right to own property, freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, the right to participate politically and vote, and many more.[7]  The recognition of fundamental human rights has had a dramatic effect on the treatment of peoples and public opinion across the globe.

Ignorance in the Media

It is unfortunate that media outlets, specifically those in the United States, do not share the stories of human rights violations.  Only those that are “popular” are shared with the American public.  That is a problem.  The United States, along with the international community, has a responsibility to stand for and respect fundamental human rights, to be the voice for others that cannot share their own stories, to be the people that somehow find a way to give others hope in their own future even if they are located in another country.  It is important that a conversation about these global human rights violations is started and shared throughout the world in order to educate our global society about the injustices taking place in and outside of the places we all live.  Picking and choosing the topics of discussion on human rights violations is just perpetuating an ignorance and false impression about the status of the people of our world.

Christian anti-balaka attack the property of Muslim civilians in an effort to destroy everything in their commumity

Image Source: The Telegraph 

Starting a Conversation about the Crisis in the Central African Republic

The current conflict in CAR can be traced back to the coup in 2003 that removed then President Ange-Félix Patassé from office.[8]  François Bozizé, the army’s chief of staff, formed a relationship with Chad’s President Déby, and seized control of CAR, remaining in power for the next eight years with the help of Déby and the Chadian troops.[9]  When Bozizé began to change the dynamic of the business relationship, and sought connections with South Africa, Déby began to encourage a coalition of Muslim rebels—The Seleka—from CAR to take over the country.[10]  The Seleka was comprised of factions of different organizations.[11]  The Seleka’s campaign to overthrow the government and President Bozizé started in December of 2012, stating that they sought to “liberate the country and bring peace and security to the people.”[12]  Violence ensued, resulting in the Seleka taking control of the capital of CAR, Bangui, and fifteen of the sixteen CAR provinces.[13]  One of the leaders of the Seleka appointed himself as interim president.[14]  The Seleka members have destroyed rural villages, looted all over CAR, have raped women and girls, have deliberately killed numerous women, children, and elderly individuals, deliberately destroyed homes, destroyed and stole food and seed stocks creating a massive food shortage, and have left residents to fend for themselves without clean water or shelter.[15]  The Seleka do not seem to be the only guilty party as there are reports of major human rights abuses taking place under the Bozizé government.[16]  The abuses by the Seleka forces prompted Christian militias to organize counterattacks and defenses—the groups are known as anti-balaka fighters.[17]  They too have committed abuses, but against the Muslim population.[18]  The anti-balaka fighters attack those they believe are supporting the rebel coalition.[19]  The use of child soldiers has been a widespread issue as well.[20]

Soldiers drag the lifeless body of a suspected Seleka rebel after he was killed. (Jerome Delay/AP)

Image Source: The Washington Post 

Some of the accounts of violence are shockingly brutal.  Human Rights Watch tells of a story of how one Muslim woman was forced to watch the anti-balaka fighters slit the throat of her three-year old son, two other young boys, and an adult relative.[21]  The organization also recounted the story of an adult man who witnessed anti-balaka fighters slitting the throats of 13 of his loved ones.[22]  Seleka fighters sought revenge by ravaging a Christian village killing numerous people and destroying homes.[23]  Although this sounds like a religious conflict, pitting Christians against Muslims, the violence is, at the root of it, economic and political. CAR ranks at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index (ranked 180 out of 187).[24] 

Although the Seleka are no longer in power and a transitional government has been put into place, violence continues and the forced enlistment of child soldiers has not ceased.[25]  International efforts are woefully inadequate in addressing the issues, and the international community has not been keeping up with the crisis, even with troops on the ground.[26]  HRW calls upon the United Nations to deploy a full-scale peacekeeping effort in the region in order to provide protection to the civilians and provide aid to the displaced.[27]  The international community is slowly starting to be cognizant of the abuses, taking action one step at a time.  On May 13, 2014, President Obama ordered sanctions against five individuals tied to the violence and abuses and made way for the potential of future sanctions or penalties.[28]  In issuing the sanctions, President Obama noted that over 2.5 million people, which accounts for half of the population of CAR, need humanitarian assistance, and over 1 million are displaced.[29] 

Conclusion

The international community needs to do more to educate themselves on the status of the conflict in CAR.  Widespread atrocities, from killings to rape to the use of child soldiers are taking place daily.  The international community has a responsibility to act to help put an end to the human rights violations taking place in CAR.  The fighting between the anti-balaka fighters and the Seleka will not stop on its own—too much has happened for a ceasefire to be possible without international influence.  With over half the country in need of humanitarian assistance and a fifth of the country’s citizens already displaced, the time to act is now.  The more people that know about the conflict, the more support an international peacekeeping mission would receive, and the quicker that the millions of innocent CAR civilians can receive the aid, protection, and dignity that they so desperately need and deserve.

 

[1] Loveday Morris, 3 Grim Statistics from 3 Years of Conflict in Syria, Washington Post (Mar. 14, 2014 9:55am), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/03/14/3-grim-statistics-from-3-years-of-conflict-in-syria/

[2] Salma Abdelaziz, Death and Desecration in Syria:  Jihadist Group Crucified Bodies to Send Message, CNN (May 2, 2014 3:11pm), http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/01/world/meast/syria-bodies-crucifixions/; Holly Yand & Saad Abedine, 25 Children Killed in Elementary School Bombing, Syrian Activists Say, CNN (April 30, 2014 7:47am), http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/30/world/meast/syria-civil-war/index.html?hpt=imi_c2; Claims of New Poison Gas Attack in Syria, BBC News (Apr. 12, 2014 11:15am), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27001737.

[3] Dinah Shelton, Remedies in International Human Rights Law 1 (2nd ed. 2005).

[4] Dinah Shelton, Remedies in International Human Rights Law 104 (2nd ed. 2005).

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 105.

[7] David Weissbrodt & Connie de la Vega, International Human Rights Law:  An Introduction 30-119 (2007).

[8] Human Rights Watch, “I Can Still Smell the Dead”:  The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic, p. 29 (Sept. 2013).

[9] Graeme Wood, Hell is an Understatement:  A report from the bloody, crumbling Central African Republic, New Republic (Apr. 30, 2014), http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117519/central-african-republic-conflict-africas-bloodiest-fight.

[10] Id.

[11] Human Rights Watch, “I Can Still Smell the Dead”:  The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic, p. 29 (Sept. 2013).

[12] Id. at 5.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. 

[15] Id. at 5-6.

[16] Id. at 7.

[17] Human Rights Watch, “They Came to Kill”:  Escalating Atrocities in the Central African Republic, p. 1 (Dec. 10, 2013), http://www.hrw.org/reports/2013/12/18/they-came-kill.

[18] Id.

[19] Human Rights Watch, Central African Republic: A Country In Turmoil, One Year On, Security, Aid, Justice Remain Essential (Mar. 23, 2014), http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/23/central-african-republic-country-turmoil.

[20] Obama Orders Sanctions Against 5 Over Central African Republic Violence, Wall Street Journal (May 14, 2014 12:18am), http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304081804579560532520785604.

[21] Human Rights Watch, “They Came to Kill”:  Escalating Atrocities in the Central African Republic, p. 5 (Dec. 10, 2013), http://www.hrw.org/reports/2013/12/18/they-came-kill.

[22] Id.

[23] Id. at 6.

[24] Jim Wallis, Don’t Blame the Central African Republic Conflict on Religion, Time (Apr. 9, 2014), http://time.com/55813/dont-blame-the-central-african-republic-conflict-on-religion/.

[25] Obama Orders Sanctions Against 5 Over Central African Republic Violence, Wall Street Journal (May 14, 2014 12:18am), http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304081804579560532520785604.

[26] Human Rights Watch, Central African Republic: A Country In Turmoil, One Year On, Security, Aid, Justice Remain Essential (Mar. 23, 2014), http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/23/central-african-republic-country-turmoil.

[27] Id.

[28] Obama Orders Sanctions Against 5 Over Central African Republic Violence, Wall Street Journal (May 14, 2014 12:18am), http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304081804579560532520785604.

[29] Id.

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Author: Ius Gentium

Ius Gentium is a legal forum for the University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows to write on and discuss international and comparative legal issues.

One thought on “Time to Break the Silence:  Shining a Light on the Conflict in the Central African Republic

  1. Interesting and brilliant write-up Jillian Bokey.
    It is so unfortunate what happens in the world we live in, man inhumanity to man. Thank you so much for shedding light on this heart wrenching disaster and particularly the continent I am from where natural resources meant for the betterment of the populace has led to avarice and blood shed all in a bit to gain political power and accrue wealth.
    I totally agree with you that there is a need for peacekeeping mission and I would like to add, prosecution of those who perpetrate these menace.

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