Tag Archives: Central African Republic

Survivors of Sex Abuse Say UN Neglected Them

Several survivors who were sexually abused by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to be neglected by the UN, an investigative team has found. Three years after cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces in CAR became public, a Swedish film team located a number of survivors who have said that the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) promised support never arrived.

“The exposure isn’t that these atrocities were committed against the kids, but that they were then promised support and just vanished,” Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign Paula Donovan told IPS. The organization first documented the cases of sexual abuse by French peacekeeping troops in 2015, causing public outrage.

Children between the ages of 8 and 15, who were living in a refugee camp at the time, reported that they were forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for food and other goods. Fourteen French soldiers reportedly were suspected of being involved.

After speaking to UNICEF representative in CAR who said that the children are cared for and followed up with, investigative reporter Karin Mattisson and her team spoke to children who said otherwise. One such survivor is Martha who became pregnant and contracted HIV by a peacekeeping soldier when she was 14-years-old.

“Initially, UNICEF said that they would make sure that the soldier was imprisoned and take care of the mother and baby to help us. But then, nothing, no one came to visit. It was left to us to take care of the child,” her friend said. Martha said that all they received was a “present” of money equivalent to US$15, a bag of rice, milk and sugar. Meanwhile, the peacekeeper was sent home and it is uncertain if any punitive action was taken.

Two boys, who were also sexually abused and provided testimony to the UN’s initial investigation, similarly claimed that they did not receive any help. “We are trying to get it together on our own. We pick up water for people, we wash cars—that is how we have lived since then.”

In response to the allegations, UNICEF spokesperson Najwa Mekki told IPS that the agency has provided assistance to children whose cases they are aware of and that they have scaled up their reporting procedures, victim assistance, and staff capacity since 2015.

“We are following up on the children identified in the Swedish TV programme, providing assistance when appropriate, and will continue to give the necessary support to any victim of sexual exploitation and abuse who comes forward or is brought to our attention,” she told IPS.

Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, who is also involved in the Code Blue Campaign, noted that UN bureaucracy often stands in the way of action by preventing clear and concise information on such cases to travel up the chain of command.

“Finally when it reaches the Secretary General, [information] is already absolutely diluted,” he told IPS. And without complete evidence, any investigation becomes a “sham inquiry,” Chowdhury added.

Despite steps taken by the UN to address the scandal in 2015, including the creation of a review panel which characterized the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse as a “gross institutional failure,” little to no punitive action has been taken.

Most recently in January, a French investigation into the cases closed without anyone being charged. Senior UN officials accused of abuse of authority for suppressing information rather than reporting cases have also remained largely untouched, Donovan said, adding that the initial “gross institutional failure” has only continued.

“Justice is being delayed and it is being denied,” Chowdhury told IPS.

Donovan also pointed to the problematic use of “UN insiders” in addressing the issue due to concerns of their own legacy and reputation.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Picture credit: Fred Dufour/Getty Images.

Where is Central African Republic?

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a country with lot of land, few people, and a little physical infrastructure, located within a cluster of states with a history of prolonged conflicts: Chad, Sudan South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  CAR has become shorthand for “failed postcolonial African state,” basically the prototype of a country in permanent crisis.

But as Yale anthropologist Louisa Lombard argues in her new book, State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic, the CAR never failed in a spectacular fashion, like Somalia for instance; it rather became durably “fragile.”  And problematically, restoring the state to a Weberian model has been the goal of everyone in CAR, especially the international community’s interveners who “hold tightly to that state ideal, like an element of religious dogma.”

Although the state is still important, and has become an object of immense hope in its ideal form, Lombard argues that “[its] yearning… is in fact an obstacle to one’s flourishing.” Aid and international development programs are still channeled through the state. But the rigidity of state ideals as a basis for policy makes it impossible to build upon initiatives that could lead to a better functioning polity in CAR. Central Africans’ nostalgia about the state evokes a time when it distributed status, in the form of jobs and salaries.

Lombard calls for a need to take seriously the challenges of dignity and status in one of the poorest places on earth, because ultimately, that is what the state delivered when it was functional.  That is what Central Africans yearn for in a state, as “[their] conceptions of work [is] a matter of earning a salary more than of producing something or laboring,” Lombard claims.

As the Central African state is not a territory in the political sense, in CAR, mobility is power. The state being non-territorialized and privatized, power becomes very strongly linked with mobility – who can move and who cannot. Therefore, “[i]f one’s goal is to understand the country’s politics, one must not assume that mastering that territory and the people in it is the primary objective of any actor, state or otherwise.”

While fixity is important in state building, being able to move is far more important in CAR, where many of the elites have two passports, and build second homes in Cotonou, Douala, Dakar, or Paris. Mobility within CAR is also impeded by one’s identity, in the sense that, thanks to its colonial history, religion is a marker of nationality, wherein the official states codes are Southern/Christian, while Islam and the North translate to foreign, dangerous, and imperialist. Even some Muslims in the northeast changed their names to Christian ones to make it easier to move around, convinced that in the eyes of many southerners, a Muslim can never be a real Central African.

Continue reading on Africa is a country

By Oumar Bar

Central African Republic: Lifesaving assistance desperately needed

Humanitarian funding to respond to the crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been woefully low: less than one third of a requested US$532 million has been raised so far this year, says the international NGO Action contre la Faim. The funding gap is increasingly concerning in a country where insecurity is high and humanitarian needs are immense.

On 17 November, the European Union and the Government of CAR will host a conference in Brussels, bringing together donors to discuss the recovery of the poverty and conflict-ridden country. While the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Action Against Hunger (ACF) welcome the effort, we urge the international community not to ignore the continuing need for critical lifesaving humanitarian assistance, while simultaneously addressing recovery efforts where possible. Both lifesaving assistance and recovery efforts are essential in the current context.

Some 2.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance1, that is half of the country’s population. An estimated 2 million people are food insecure compared with 1.2 million people in 2015.

 “While we need to help CAR on the road to recovery, humanitarian needs remain immense,” warned NRC’s Country Director in CAR, Maureen Magee.

Now, a few weeks before the launch of the Humanitarian Response Plan, a record low commitment to fund lifesaving assistance is imminent.

“The international community must commit to ensure critical humanitarian assistance, while also investing in more long-term development. Both types of funding need to be articulated. From experiences elsewhere, we have seen that a sudden and premature shift from lifesaving assistance to recovery efforts has had a negative impact on the humanitarian situation,” said Arnaud Lavergne, ACF’s Country Director in CAR.

“The endemic poverty and structural underdevelopment are part of the drivers of the conflict. We do need roads, bridges and other development efforts to help the country stabilize and recover, but it’s not a case of one or the other,” said Magee.

Stories we have been told by displaced people living in the capital Bangui echo these sentiments. They are not yet ready to return home and are still frightened by the security situation.

“I’m a carpenter, so it won’t be too hard to rebuild our house which was destroyed in December 2013. But with the insecurity, it is not possible right now,” said Raphael, a father of seven children living in one of Bangui’s displacement sites.

An upsurge of violence in several provinces in the Central African Republic has led to increased insecurity for civilians, notably in the current hotspots in Batangafo, Bocaranga, Bambari and Sibut. In Kaga-Bandoro, in Nana-Gribizi province, one site for displaced people was set on fire, forcing more than 12,000 people to flee yet again.

Humanitarian organisations are also directly affected by the violence, making it difficult to reach people in need. Since 2014, 458 aid workers have been targeted by violence and 20 have been killed. Violent incidents in September and October 2016, and threats to the lives and safety of aid workers, has led to the temporary relocation of relief staff. The houses of humanitarian workers have been burnt down and offices have been looted.

“Civilians, among them aid workers, must be protected, and people in need must have safe access to necessary humanitarian support. Only by ending the acute humanitarian suffering and insecurity will the country be able to move forward,” said Magee.

Key facts and figures about the humanitarian situation in Central African Republic:

An estimated 2.3 million people are in needs of humanitarian assistance and protection. That’s half of the population of 4.6 million people.

As of October 2016, over 385,000 people are displaced within the country, and another 466,000 have fled to neighbouring countries3.

Around 600 children under 5 are treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) per month only in Bangui4, a number that does not seem to go down.

Humanitarian needs continue to surpass available resources. US$532 million is urgently required to cover the humanitarian needs in the Central African Republic in 2016. 11 months into the year, only 32 per cent of the funds have been raised.

CAR rates second last in terms of development in the UN’s development index (187 out of 188 countries).

Source: Action contre la Faim

Picture Credit: Federico Scoppa/Getty Images

Exclusive. Op-Ed: We can help the people of CAR unleash their immense untapped potential

Brussels – On 17 November, the International conference for the Central African Republic will take place in Brussels, organised jointly by the European Union and the Central African Government. Afronline.org, in partnership with African media partners, publishes a joint op-ed by Faustin-Archange Touadéra (President of the Central African Republic), Federica Mogherini (High Representative of the European Union for Foreign and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission), Jan Eliasson (Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations) and Makhtar Diop (Vice-President of the World Bank).

Three years ago the Central African Republic was on the brink of collapse. But today, the country has changed course. The people of the Central African Republic have chosen to turn the page through free and democratic elections. The international community has accompanied each step of the transition, so that the crisis can be overcome for good. There is now hope for the country to embark on a journey to recovery and renewal.

The main factor for this emerging success is the Central Africans themselves, their desire for peace, prosperity and security. But the international community also has a fundamental role to play. Total reconstruction needs are estimated at $1.5 billion over the next three years. At the Brussels Conference for CAR, on November 17th, we will commit together to keeping the Central African Republic at the core of the international agenda, to supporting an ambitious plan for peace and growth, and to advance the reforms the country needs in the years to come.

The challenges ahead are immense. Recent tensions have shown that the road towards national reconciliation and reconstruction will still be fraught with obstacles. The security situation, while improving, remains fragile because of attempts by spoilers to incite violence. It is getting harder for humanitarian agencies to reach some 2.3 million people who remain in need – that is, half of the country’s population. More than 380,000 men, women and children are internally displaced: attacks against camps where they are sheltering, as well as attacks against humanitarian partners, have added to a dire situation.

To break the cycle of fragility, the country needs long-term investments. Peace, social cohesion and national unity can only be achieved through long-term development. For this reason the Central African Republic, along with its international partners, has engaged in an unprecedented collective effort to chart a sustainable way forward for the country.

A five-year national plan for recovery and peace-building – prepared by the government together with the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank, in consultation with the population – will be presented at the Brussels conference. This roadmap can help materialise the hopes and aspirations of the Central Africans: from peace and security to economic recovery; from improving the country’s infrastructure to the provision of essential services, such as health, sanitation and education. The programme foresees a strategy for disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and repatriation; a much needed security and justice sector reform; and a strategy for the return of displaced people.

The international community can and must support the government in the implementation of the plan. Over the last three years we have already demonstrated that together we are stronger. A UN peacekeeping mission followed an African Union-led regional force in 2014: ever since it has been protecting civilians, providing security and strengthening the national authorities. The World Bank is helping to improve public finances management, providing employment to vulnerable communities, and restoring basic services and infrastructure. The European Union has deployed the full range of its foreign policy tools, with three military missions and as the largest international provider of relief assistance.

And together we are all ready to do even more in the years ahead. In Brussels we will ask our international partners to do their part and also invest in the future of CAR. We now have a far-reaching, forward-looking agenda owned by the government and the people of the Central African Republic. The return of investment will be beneficial not only to the country, but to the entire region – which is now affected by volatility and has been hosting approximately half a million refugees.

The Central African Republic can be a land of opportunities. This is not simply about the country’s natural resources, or its strategic position as a hub for regional connectivity. The people of the Central African Republic want to get back to their lives and rebuild their country. The priests, the imams and the community leaders are playing a vital role in the process of national reconciliation. Sixty per cent of the country’s population is under the age of 25: there is incredible energy and desire for regeneration, but they need jobs and economic opportunities to embrace the future.

On November 17th, in Brussels, we can help the people of the Central African Republic finally unleash their immense untapped potential.

Faustin-Archange Touadéra, President of the Central African Republic
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission
Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations
Makhtar Diop, Vice-President of the World Bank

Picture credit: European Commission

© Le Confident (Central African Republic), Le Pays (Burkina Faso), Sud Quotidien (Senegal), Les Echos (Mali), Le Nouveau Républicain (Niger), Mutations (Cameroon), L’Autre Quotidien (Benin), Infos Grands Lacs, VITA/Vita International/Afronline (Italy).

Stories of Hope from a Cameroon Refugee Camp

Stories of Hope from a Cameroon Refugee Camp 0

To the world they are known as “refugees”. Nameless, faceless, all the same. But each of them have a different story to tell, of their lives, who they lost, and how they got here. Fleeing from the devastating conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), today they are rebuilding their lives, one day at a time, in a camp in Cameroon. UN Women supports economic and social rehabilitation to some 6,250 vulnerable women and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence there. These are some of their stories.

Continue reading on IPS Africa

share this

Congo: Jean-Pierre Bemba has served his time. Now let him serve his people

Jean-Pierre Bemba was vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2003 to 2006. 

He is the popular political leader of the Congo’s Equateur Province in the country’s northwest, an area the size of France.  Between 1998 and 2002, the DRC was in a state of civil war, with several African countries involved militarily in support of the government or in support of various rebel movements.  During this period, Jean-Pierre Bemba was President of the MLC party (Movement for the Liberation of the Congo). His party also had an armed wing of several thousand fighters who supported the government against various rebel movements.

The fighting in the DRC stopped in 2002, leading to a negotiated new constitution, and a transitional government from 2003 to 2006. During this period, Bemba was one of four transitional vice-presidents under the transitional president, Joseph Kabila.  The first postwar democratic election was held in 2006, with Bemba obtaining the most votes in the first round, before losing to Kabila in the second round with 42% of the vote.

Before this though in 2002-2003, with a ceasefire in place in the DRC, Bemba decided to send his militia to neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) in support of President Ange-Félix Patassé who was facing a number of armed rebellions. Patassé had previously helped Bemba organise his armed force in the DRC.  The civil war in the CAR was particularly nasty in the actions committed against civilian populations by the different armed factions, including Bemba’s.

In view of crimes allegedly committed by his militia in the CAR, Jean-Pierre Bemba was indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for “crimes against humanity” in 2008. The indictment said that Bemba’s militia engaged in pillaging, rape and other crimes against civilians, including cannibalism. The prosecution document did not accuse Bemba of inciting his fighters to commit crimes against civilians. However, the prosecution accused him of failing to engage in proper supervision in order to prevent the crimes allegedly committed by his men.

After eight years of deliberations, the Court convicted Bemba of war crimes and crimes against humanity this March.  In July, the court handed down a sentence of 18 years in prison, eight of which have already been served. His defence has decided to appeal.

I have read documents produced by both the prosecution and the defence. As a former military officer, I believe that the commander of troops is responsible for everything his soldiers do, or fail to do. But in the case of Bemba, I believe there are mitigating circumstances. The most important being that for much of the time his troops were in the CAR, he was in South Africa engaged in negotiations for the political transition and elections in the DRC.

It is not my place to argue about Bemba’s guilt or innocence. However, I firmly believe that the nature of the offence should not be the cause of a long prison sentence as in the cases of Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor and Chad’s former president Hissène Habré, both of whom actively encouraged atrocities against civilian populations. Bemba’s main offence was apparently neglect.

Bemba has already served eight years in prison during the long period of the trial.  Given the nature of accusations against him, I believe those eight years are sufficient and that he should be sentenced to time already served.

Continue reading on African Arguments

by Herman J.Cohen

Photo Credits: African Arguments

Centra African Republic: cameroonian peackeepers under MINUSCA investigation

In Central African Republic, confirmed allegations of corruption, illegal market trading in food and conflict minerals, and sexual assault by the Cameroonian contingent of MINUSCA forces in Nana-Bakassa region. Following the investigation report of Le Confident, Afronline’s media partner, speaking to Radio France Internationale, a MINUSCA spokesperson stated that they would open an investigation.

Sources have confirmed another scandal involving the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), known as MINUSCA. This time it is illegal trading in food, alcohol, conflict minerals and blood diamonds.

Originally flagged by deputy Roland Achille Bangué-Betangaye of the Nana-Bakassa region, in the north of CAR, reports confirm that the Cameroonian contingent of MINUSCA forces are engaging in illegal market trading of UN foodstuffs, also in Bangui, the capital.

“They have their own permanent marketplace on the street of residence of the ex-CAR president. They sell us food rations at a low price,” stated a local source to the national newspaper Le Confident, media partner of Afronline. Engaging in illegal trade of rations goes against the UN peacekeeping mandate under which MINUSCA forces operate. Present on the ground to bring peace and stability to the region, they are instead engaging in unfair economic competition with the people they are there to protect.

“There are many MINUSCA contingents and French troops of the Operation Sangaris that engage in illegal transactions in the different areas of CAR where they are based. They are selling primary materials, like salt, sugar and soap. Even water”, said the director of Le Confident, Momet Mathurin, speaking to Afronline.

MINUSCA forces are also the primary buyers of gold and diamonds in the country. In a bid to halt the trade in ‘conflict diamonds’ CAR was suspended from the Kimberley Process in 2013. According to Global Witness, “the country’s diamonds—targeted by both sides of the conflict—should no longer be reaching international markets following CAR’s suspension from the Kimberley Process. But evidence shows they are. An estimated 140, 000 carats of diamonds, worth US$24 million, have been smuggled out of the country since the suspension according a recent report by the UN Panel of Experts on CAR.”

This is not the first time the UN peacekeeping forces have been involved in scandals in CAR. Reports of sexual assault and human rights abuses involving peacekeepers date back to 2013. “They always say that they will open investigations, but there are never any results. We have cited the cases of sexual violence, and they always say ‘we will open investigations’, but we have never seen the results of the investigations. It isn’t normal,” continued Mathurin.

Following the investigation report of Le Confident, speaking on air to Radio France Internationale, the MINUSCA spokesperson stated that they were informed of the illegal trafficking in Nana-Bakassa region, and would open an investigation on Cameroonian UN peacekeepers into the now confirmed allegations.

By Kimberley Evans (Afronline.org)

Time for tough action to stop sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers

“Gentlemen, there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers”, said Napoleon Bonaparte to his military staff after they complained that the poor quality of soldiers was inhibiting success on the battlefield.

We as former Army officers, totally believe in the sage words of Napoleon.

In the face some vile and sickening allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation among United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, puts to question the moral integrity of some people who are commissioned to be protectors, but who end up abusing the trust bestowed on them. Thus tarnishing the reputation of the entire UN.

UN peacekeeping missions perform a crucial service in resolving conflicts, saving lives, building peace, restoring and rebuilding broken states. Their humanitarian services have been meritorious on all counts.

However, incidents where troops seconded to the UN by member states under its command become sexual predators to the helpless civilians under their care have continued to present a cyclical challenge to the United Nations.

The Secretary General of the UN, Mr Ban Ki-moon recently called the rogue peacekeepers “a cancer in our system.” He added that, “a failure to pursue criminal accountability for sexual crimes is tantamount to impunity”.

According to recent reports from UN, allegations of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers rose by from 52 in 2014 to 69 last year. There are currently 16 peacekeeping missions worldwide, out of which 10 were subject to allegations last year.

The allegations involve military personnel, international police, other staff and volunteers. Sadly, there does not seem to be much reason for optimism that most of these allegations will ever be investigated and concluded with any degree of closure. This can be illustrated by the case of the Central African Republic, where there has been only one criminal charge filed in the 42 cases of sexual abuse or exploitation that have been officially registered in the mission.

UN rules forbid sexual relations with any persons under 18 and strongly discourage relations with beneficiaries of assistance.

In a December 2015 report responding to latest claims of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, the UN recommended investigations to identify weaknesses in enforcement and mandated that a component on sexual exploitation and abuse be included in training for peacekeepers. It also called for harsher penalties for the peacekeeping units to which the abusers belong.

In 2015, the post of Special Coordinator on improving the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse was established. Mr Ban named Ms Jane Holl Lute, a US military veteran with wide-ranging UN experience, to coordinate efforts to curb the scourge.

The report also asked member states to provide a fair investigation process for both staff and military personnel, to provide better reporting mechanisms for victims and staff, and to take action on those in positions of responsibility who turn a blind eye or cover up.

For the first time, the organization also introduced a “name-and-shame” policy for countries whose soldiers are accused of transgression.

Still, structural weakness mean that the slow pace of investigations into abuses is set to continue. Under UN rules, it is up to the country that contributes the peacekeepers to investigate and prosecute any soldier accused of misconduct while serving under the UN flag. In many cases, those governments conduct only half-hearted investigations and only a smattering of convictions has been documented.

It is time to raise the scales of preventive and punitive measures. An unequivocal message needs to be sent to every member state and troop contributing countries that only personnel who see the protection of human rights as their mission will continue to serve as UN peacekeepers.

For starters, those that are accused of sexual misconduct must face the full force of justice in the mission area. The military chain of command should set up court proceedings without delay and award punishments comparable to the gravity of offences committed. Commanders at all levels must be held responsible for the discipline of their troops. A message of “zero tolerance” be clear and unambiguous.

Continue reading on IPS News

by Lt-General (retired) Daniel Opande and Major (retired) Siddharth Chatterjee

Photo Credits: UN Photo/Cristopher Herwig

Central African Republic: Radio Ndeke Luka in New Partnership with Arte

Arte is giving a voice to Central Africans through reports by Radio Ndeke Luka, a Fondation Hirondelle media in Bangui and illustrations by Central African cartoonist Didier Kassaï. The idea sprang from a meeting between Arte Reporting and Fondation Hirondelle, both active in the Central African Republic. Arte has reported regularly on the events that have rocked the country in the past few years.

Arte wants to maintain the link in 2016 by painting the portrait of a country under reconstruction: “At the end of 2015, the Central African Republic chose a new President and a new Parliament. Our aim is to follow the “new Central African Republic” with a twice monthly feature.”

Fondation Hirondelle created Radio Ndeke Luka (RNL) in 2000 and has been supporting it ever since. Today it is the most popular and most listened to radio station in the country. RNL has continued reporting throughout the whole period of war and transition (2013-2015), including the 2015-2016 election process. Its team has served the listeners, people all across the country, risking their own security to produce non-partisan news and information.

Every two weeks, two programmes to follow on Arte’s website, in the series “Live from Bangui”:

– Bangui Diary (chronique de Bangui): “Sweet Bangui” (Bangui la coquette), the cartoon story of Samira, a Muslim woman, and Poutcha, a Catholic man… the first episode of a story about two young people from Bangui that we will be able to follow for a year!

– And reports on the life of Central Africans broadcast on Radio Ndeke Luka and illustrated by Didier Kassaï. A first report by Bienvenu Gbelo on overcrowded motorbike taxis is already on line.

In 2016, Arte has chosen to continue reporting on the daily lives of Central Africans, in collaboration with Radio Ndeke Luka and cartoonist Didier Kassaï.

Source: Fondation Hirondelle