A senior United Nations human rights official today urged the international community not to forget the people of the Central African Republic (CAR), where State institutions remain "close to collapse" and security is "virtually non-existent."
Violence erupted this past December in CAR - which has been marked by decades of instability and fighting - when the Séléka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks. A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels again seized the capital, Bangui, in March, forcing President François Bozizé to flee.
"The relatively inclusive transitional government which has been set up remains very weak. While the situation in Bangui has slightly improved, the State simply does not exist outside of the capital and there is no rule of law," Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic said at the end of a four-day visit to the country.
The recent fighting has further eroded even the most basic services in the country and exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation that UN humanitarian officials have said affects the entire population of 4.6 million people, half of whom are children.
"Beyond Bangui, there is no police, no justice system and no social services. Security is virtually non-existent and people live in constant fear," said Mr. Šimonovic.
He added that he was particularly alarmed by the high number of Séléka members in the streets who do not receive any salary and set up check points, asking for money or just looting houses.
"The extent of the looting and destruction I witnessed is shocking. When I visited Bambari's courtroom, I only found an empty room with broken doors, no windows and a thick layer of remnants of archives and registries covering the floor," he said in a news release.
"State institutions, including justice, in the Central African Republic look today exactly like this courtroom," said Mr. Šimonovic. "How will this country hold fair elections if all its archives and civil registries are being destroyed?"
He said the country has reached an "unprecedented" level of violence and destruction since the Séléka coalition forces from the north launched their offensive last December.
While noting that the total number of victims remains unknown, Mr. Šimonovic visited a site of a likely mass grave in Bambari - the third biggest town in the country - that still has to be investigated. Members of the local community said that victims were summarily executed but could not confirm the identity of perpetrators. He also voiced concern about the high rate of sexual violence in CAR.
"The chaotic situation in the country is affecting all aspects of people's daily lives," he said. "State schools have remained closed since December 2012 and less than 20 per cent of medical facilities are operational." Afraid of killings and rapes, many people continue to hide in the bush, living on roots.
"Rapidly spreading malaria and other diseases, high maternal mortality and malnutrition are likely to kill many more than the conflict related violence itself," Mr. Šimonovic warned. "In some areas, less than 20 per cent of the crops have been planted and severe food shortages can be expected for early 2014."
He said he is extremely concerned by the lack of attention given to the humanitarian and human rights situation in CAR, both by the media and the international community.
"The conflict in the Central African Republic should not remain forgotten for three main reasons: conflict will continue to impose suffering on large numbers of people, it will deepen the religious and ethnic divide, and it may destabilise the wider region," he warned.
"Restoring security is essential to bring some normalcy back throughout the whole country, avoid further deepening the ethnic and religious divide and facilitate national reconciliation."
The Assistant Secretary-General added that disarmament, integration and joint training of a limited number of vetted elements of both former security forces and Séléka, excluding perpetrators of human rights violations, is the way forward. However, it does not resolve the problem of the current security vacuum," he noted.
A key step to restoring security, he said, is to urgently reinforce the regional African troops already on the ground with "a larger and more diversified international force under the logistical umbrella of the United Nations."
He also stressed the importance of transitional justice and accountability for the rebuilding and stability of the country, stating that perpetrators of human rights violations should not remain unpunished.