The past year has been nothing short of catastrophic for the Central African Republic. The Seleka, a predominantly Muslim rebel group whose name means “alliance,” were forced out of power in December 2013. They had taken power only 10 months before, and their rule was a bloody one. But the new year ushered in no relief from the violence.
It was a year of gruesome revenge killings. The Seleka quickly re-established a military base in Bambari, a city in the center of the country, from where they sought to control eastern and northern areas. The “anti-balaka,” a predominantly Christian group harboring hatred towards Muslims, fought back bitterly. By the end of 2014, thousands of civilians had been killed by both sides and more than 800,000 people displaced from their homes. About half, most of them Muslim, took refuge across the borders in neighboring countries. Over several research missions, Human Rights Watch documented the bloodshed examined in this extensive multimedia feature, “The Unravelling.”
In January 2014, a transitional government, led by the interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, was appointed but it has struggled to establish security. A ceasefire agreement signed by the warring factions in July has been widely ignored.
In April, the United Nations Security Council authorized a peacekeeping mission, known by its acronym MINUSCA, to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access. It took over from the African Union (AU) on September 15, integrating 4,800 AU troops into its mission, and began deploying additional troops. About 8,500 of the force’s potential 11,800 have now deployed. Approximately 2,000 French peacekeepers, authorized by the Security Council in late 2013, remained in the country.
Have the peacekeepers stabilized the Central African Republic? Not yet. They have disarmed many fighters, allowed civilians to take shelter on their peacekeeping bases, and provided protection to displaced people still living in fear of retribution. But many violent incidents have also taken place a short distance from a peacekeeping base.
The hard work of rebuilding the country, one of Africa’s very poorest, is only just beginning. About the best that can be said of 2014 in the Central African Republic is that it could have been worse. But it is difficult, and not at all pleasant, to imagine how.
Read the First Issue of the Human Rights Watch Magazine - Human: Unseen War