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With the world’s eyes on South Africa, the devolving crisis happening 5,000 kilometres north in Central African Republic has received relatively little attention.
Sen. Romeo Dallaire — who watched Rwanda descend into one of worst humanitarian crises of the 20th century while he was head of the UN peacekeeping force there in 1993 and 1994 — said the situation in CAR is being overshadowed at this time by the ceremonies and commemorations marking Nelson Mandela‘s passing, similar to how world leaders and media were focused on the celebration of Mandela’s inauguration nearly two decades ago.
“In ’94, I was in a country that was falling into implosion and genocide,” he told Global News. “We had the good news story of Nelson Mandela coming on. So, that sounded better and was less engaging of potential hard decisions, by politicians, by simply acknowledging the positive story.”
He said the world is once again turning a blind eye to an increasingly volatile situation.
WATCH: Sen. Romeo Dallaire, at a press conference Thursday, expresses grave concern about situation in Central African Republic.
Human rights groups have warned for months that what is happening in CAR could devolve into a genocide, as Muslim rebels — who made up the Selaka alliance that helped overthrow the Christian-led government in March of this year — carried out targeted attacks on Christian communities.
More than 415,000 people, or 10 per cent of the population, have been internally displaced and 68,000 more have fled to neighbouring countries.
Months of murder, maiming and destruction of villages prompted human rights groups and the United Nations’ Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, to warn the situation could worsen to the point of genocide.
Dallaire said the crisis in CAR may not be a genocide — it has now fallen into sectarian violence — but that shouldn’t matter.
“Some people will try to use the argument that if we use the term genocide that will call up people to respond,” he said. “I think when we talk about mass atrocities and massive abuse of human rights you’re in the same scale as genocide.”
RAW VIDEO: African peacekeepers fire into the air in Bangui to disperse a mob bent on hunting down and killing Muslims taking refuge in a church compound
Regardless, Dallaire said using the word genocide in association with CAR hasn’t done much to move the international community to act.
He said the measure that was put in place to prevent another Rwanda — the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) initiative agreed to by all UN members in 2005 — are not being adhered to.
Dallaire said it points to the international community not allowing the UN to function “effectively.”
“The way they structure UN missions, which are dedicated to a mandate within a country, there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to pull all of these forces together to respond to a crisis in another one,” he said pointing to UN missions currently in CAR’s neighbouring countries of Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Sudan’s Darfur region.
Jerome Bernard, associate spokesperson for the Secretary-General of United Nations, said the Security Council “definitely” did act by resolving last week to give the African Union and France a peacekeeping mandate in the CAR.
“They decided to authorize this African-led mission [International Support Mission in the Central African Republic or MISCA] supported by the French troops,” Bernard said Thursday. “And then they requested [to] the Secretary-General of the UN to work and evaluate the situation and report [to him] in three months.”
He said it’s too early to decide if a more formal peacekeeping mission could be formed.
“This is something that has to be decided in the future. We’re not there yet,” he said, adding it’s up to the Security Council to decide if MISCA could be transformed into a UN peacekeeping operation.
Bernard said questions about how and when a peacekeeping mission could be authorized should be referred to the Security Council’s member nations.
Dallaire told Global News he questions “what criteria the Security Council, and most importantly the Permanent 5, are using” to decide when a situation is bad enough to an intervention.
Dallaire said mass atrocities and massive abuses of human rights fall under R2P, even if the term genocide does not apply, and that should have led the world to act sooner.
“Going from mass killings to genocide is only a step, it’s a sort of redefinition of a catastrophic failure that’s ongoing,” he explained.
According to the United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted 65 years ago this week, an atrocity can be deemed a genocide when acts are committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Those acts include: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Dallaire is particularly concerned about the use of children by both Muslim rebels and Christian militias — known as “anti-balaka” or “anti-machete” — in the CAR crisis.
“You’ve got at least 6,000 child soldiers and that number is growing,” he said. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have both raised the warning flag about children being recruited into the conflict, with HRW’s Emergency Director Peter Bouckaert tweeting this photo on Wednesday.
— Peter Bouckaert (@bouckap) December 11, 2013
Dallaire explained that that does compare to Rwanda, “where they took a youth moment of the extremist party and ultimately turned it into a militia — the Interhamwe — which perpetrated most of the killings.”
“When a country is imploding and they go and use youths as principal weapons of war it becomes very difficult to control and you wind up with mass atrocities and potentially — potentially — genocide.”
RAW VIDEO: Christian mob destroys mosque in CAR capital
“The danger is that this polarization has taken place along religious lines, which has never really happened in the past and that people are self-arming themselves and carrying out back and forth attacks against each other,” said Kyle Matthews, the Senior Deputy Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.
“There always has been tensions between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority in Central African Republic, but it was only really in the start of this year when the ex-Selaka rebels started carrying out these atrocities against the Christians that this sectarian divide just kinda really exploded.”
An international intervention in the crisis has come as violence in the landlocked nation reached a dangerous new level.
France approved a 1,200-troop increase in the country, up from 400. The African Union has committed to sending 3,600 new soldiers to the country, in an attempt to bring stability to the country and disarm rebels and militias. The United Kingdom and United States have provided some logistical support to the French and AU deployments, respectively.
More than 500 people were killed late last week, when anti-balaka fighters clashed with Muslims in the capital Bangui just as first wave of French and troops headed to the country under a United Nations-backed mandate.
Since arriving in CAR, two French troops have been killed and video emerged of a seemingly unprepared African peacekeeping contingent opening fire and shooting one of their own soldiers.
But Agence France Presse reported Wednesday French military officers said soldiers had managed to disarm the many of the groups responsible for last week’s violence within the first 24 hours of arriving in Bangui.
Rather than Rwanda, Matthews compares the situation to Somalia in the 1990s or more recently Mali, where the governments were ousted and security spiralled out of control.
“If you look at people huddled around churches seeking protection, of people taking arms and hacking each other to death in the capital city, these are thing(s) that happened in Rwanda.
“We haven’t seen any of the killing take place at the rate that we saw in Rwanda,” he said.
He said the Seleka rebel alliance leader and self-imposed Interim President Michel Djotodia “has no control whatsoever,” since overthrowing former President Francois Bozize in March. Djotodia even admitted in a recent interview that he only controlled his soldiers. “The men I can’t control are not my men,” he told Al Jazeera.
“There might be someone on paper, but in reality the government is not functioning and law and order has completely been taken into the hands of individual citizens who are arming themselves to the teeth,” Matthews said.
© 2013 Shaw Media