To speak about the Central African Republic (CAR) is to speak of ever-increasing chaos and desperation. This track, which has formed the country’s reality since its independence from France in 1960, has taken the shape of several coups, corrupt democracies and humanitarian crises. Now, the shadow of genocide looms over its civilians.
Since 2003, when General François Bozizé became president of the country thanks to a coup against Ange-Félix Patassé, numerous corruption scandals besmirched the CAR’s government, while its power was likewise deteriorated by several insurrections, the last of which took place in December 2012. The worst, however, was yet to come, when the threats to Bozizé’s power finally took hold. In March 2013, an armed conflict erupted which appeared to be politically motivated: partisans of Bozizé on the one hand and partisans of the rebel leader of the Séléka coalition – Michel Djotodia, a Muslim – on the other became embroiled in a bloody conflict. The reason? Djotodia’s supporters accuse Bozizé of not upholding the Peace Agreement signed in Libreville on January 11, 2013.
The situation worsened to the extent that Bozizé fled from the CAR to Congo, and once there, asked France for help. French political leaders requested an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting to calm the worrying situation in the CAR. Meanwhile, Michel Djotodia took the political power and dissolved the Constitution. Since then, the CAR’s civilians have been living a hellish existence, where violence stems from religious and ethnic divides rather than political ones.
Since Djotodia’s rebellion, the “Antibalaka” Christian militias (balaka means “machete” in sango, the local language), and their Muslim counterparts (Muslims represent just the 15% of the CAR’s entire population) have become ensnared in a bloody conflict that it has taken heartbreaking headlines of newspapers front pages worldwide, which denounce massive executions, decapitations, arbitrary killings of civilians including children, pillages, sexual harassment, prosecutions and torture between Christians and Muslims.
Now more than ever, the humanitarian crisis in the CAR is imminent: there are 400.000 displaced people, entire Muslim neighbourhoods have been deserted, and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have warned that this may amount to a new case of genocide in Africa: Muslim murders are counted by the hundreds.
Despite France sending troops to the CAR in March 2013 and the UN Security Council approving a military intervention on December 5th of the same year (with the goal of decreasing the violence and protecting the civilians), the truth is that forced displacements of the Muslim minority and violence remain prevalent in the country, thus aggravating the humanitarian situation.
In the ranking of crimes against international humanitarian law, genocide is the most abominable of all violent acts against human beings. This crime is perpetrated for sociopolitical reasons and aims to annihilate an entire group of human beings. Some of its heinous instances are the Armenian genocide (1915-1918), and the Nazi holocaust during the World War II.
The word genocide derives from the Greek “genos”, which means race or tribe, and from the Latin word “cidere”, which means to kill. This term was first coined in 1944 by the Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, who used it in his book “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe”. It was Lemkin, furthermore, who proposed that the word genocide be recognised as crime of international law. His role within the UN was crucial in the drafting of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted on December 9, 1948, under UN Resolution A 260 (III).
Despite the fact that still today, countries such as Japan, Kenia or Niger have yet to ratify the Convention, the document is considered iuscogens, which means that it is a non-derogable provision of international law and furthermore, it is imposed on an erga omnes basis, which means that it is binding not only for countries which have signed, but for all countries.
Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: 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”. The same definition can also be found in article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The CAR case: Now what?
After months of armed conflict in which, according to data by Human Rights Watch, Muslims have become the main target, Djotodia resigned from power in January 2014, faced with the impossibility of halting the sectarian violence in the country. Subsequently, Catherine Samba-Panza, ex-mayor of Bangui, was elected to restore political power. This move, likely designed to bring peace and halt the imminent genocide, takes Smaba-Panza to be the most apt political leader for this task.
Samba-Panza now faces the task of calling national elections before year’s end, a most complicated job in the CAR’s conflict environment. She will not only have to halt the escalating violence with the help of France, the African Union, the European Union and the UN, but also bring to justice those who have perpetrated crimes against international law.
The CAR ratified the Rome Statute in 2001, a Treaty by which signatories commit to bring to justice those suspected of committing crimes against international law, while collaborating with the ICC in this regard. While the ICC complements existing national judicial systems, the good news is that the ICC Prosecutor has already received numerous complaints with direct accusations to the CAR government. The evidence, moreover, is overwhelming. Therefore, there is a glimmer of hope for a people looking to international stakeholders and international law not just for a proper response, but also for justice.
Cover photo: Rebels in Northern CAR [Source: hdptcar, via Wikimedia Commons]
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