(New York)- The international forces for Chad and the Central African Republic, authorized by the United Nations Security Council, should focus on protecting civilians affected by escalating violence in the region, Human Rights Watch said today. But it is crucial that the operation address the protection needs of those most affected by ongoing insecurity.

On September 25, the UN Security Council authorized resolution 1778, which provides for the deployment of a multi-dimensional international presence in eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic (CAR). The forces are comprised of a UN mission (MINURCAT), a Chadian police force trained by the UN, and a European Union military operation (EUFOR).

“An international deployment could help stabilize the region and allow people to return safely to their homes,” said Peter Takirambudde, director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “But it is crucial that the force provide protection to all of those at risk, not just to refugees and displaced persons.”

Security Council resolution 1778 focuses assistance on areas of eastern Chad and northeastern CAR where continued armed conflict, general lawlessness, and chronic instability – partly related to the conflict in the adjoining Darfur region of Sudan – have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.

The bulk of the international mission’s personnel would deploy to eastern Chad, with a small EUFOR presence in CAR’s volatile northeastern corner and a MINURCAT contingent based in Bangui, CAR’s capital.

In eastern Chad, where 230,000 refugees from Darfur live in camps run by the UN, at least 180,000 Chadians have been left homeless after attacks by armed groups, including “Janjaweed” militias from Darfur. In Chad, the EU-UN deployment is weighted heavily toward a presence around refugee camps and large displaced persons sites. In CAR, the international mission’s focus is on the north-east, although much of the worst violence against civilians has been in the northwestern part of the country bordering Chad.

Human Rights Watch called on the EU and UN to address the needs of the most vulnerable civilians: displaced persons who remain outside the large camps and civilians still living in their home communities.

“It is imperative that EU forces act to protect those civilians at greatest risk, wherever they may be,” said Takirambudde. “This will mean interpreting their mandate as broadly as possible.”

Arab groups, which have been displaced by the conflict in large numbers but tend not to congregate in large towns, could be left unprotected by a too-narrow deployment. Displacement patterns for Arabs differ from those of non-Arabs for cultural reasons, but also because, in many cases, Arabs have been displaced by government-sponsored violence, and consequently avoid large towns where government security forces – as well as humanitarian aid agencies – are based.

Arab civilians in southeastern Chad recently described to Human Rights Watch numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, beatings and rape in the wake of disarmament campaigns conducted by the Chadian army and government-backed paramilitary forces. EUFOR and MINURCAT will need to engage with the government to bring an end to such abuses. MINURCAT’s human rights unit will have important monitoring and reporting responsibilities in this regard, and support for a strengthened judiciary will also be crucial.

Chadian forces and allied paramilitaries also have been recruiting young men and boys from displaced persons camps in the area, including by force. Such recruitment activities have been reported at most of the large, well-organized camps in the Goz Beida area, including Gassiré, Gouroukoum, Habilé, and Koubigou. These sites are in urgent need of protection. However, Human Rights Watch is concerned that the police force that will be established by the Chadian government to maintain law and order in the camps under Resolution 1778 may not be up to the task.

“Chadian police already assigned to protect refugee camps have been implicated in forced recruitment, including of children,” said Takirambudde. “The Chadian police force, called for by the Security Council resolution, will need to be closely monitored.”

The EU deployment will likely involve between 3,000 and 4,000 troops, but the details of the force, including the rules of engagement, have yet to be approved by the EU Council of Ministers. France is likely to lead the operation and provide most of the troops. It has significant military assets and personnel deployed in bilateral assistance to the governments of Chad and the CAR, and has repeatedly intervened militarily on behalf of those governments.

EUFOR would operate for an initial 12-month period, and transition to a UN command would be assessed after six months.