Time is of the essence if the international community does not want to fail the people of the Central African Republic (CAR), top United Nations officials warned today, as they urged collective action to stop the killing and save the country from its current nightmare.
"The crisis that continues to unfold in the Central African Republic poses a test for the entire international community," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks to the Security Council, as he outlined a set of measures to address the greatest risks facing the country.
"The situation in the country has been on the agenda of the Security Council for many years now. But today's emergency is of another, more disturbing magnitude. It is a calamity with a strong claim on the conscience of humankind," said the United Nations chief.
He noted that over the past year, CAR has witnessed, in quick succession, the violent overthrow of the Government, the collapse of State institutions and a descent into lawlessness and sectarian brutality. The crisis has already claimed thousands of lives, uprooted almost one million people and left more than 2.5 million people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.
The conflict erupted when mainly Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks in December 2012 and has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones as mainly Christian militias known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) have taken up arms.
With whole populations being moved, Mr. Ban said "a creeping de facto partition of the country" is setting in, with Muslims in one part and Christians in another. "This separation is laying the seeds of conflict and instability for years, maybe generations, to come."
The UN's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, who wrapped up a visit to CAR today, said she was "shocked" by burned homes and people so scared by violence that they sleep in the bush at night. She noted that tensions between communities are high, and stressed the need for more troops on the ground to provide security and protection across the country.
Echoing the call for security and protection was Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), who also witnessed the desperate conditions facing the people of CAR as he travelled with Ms. Amos.
Prior to the current crisis, the country was already struggling with its AIDS response. Since the violence began, two-thirds of people living with HIV on treatment have fled their homes and are no longer able to access the medicines and care they need.
The African Union and France have deployed troops to CAR to help stem the violence, and Mr. Ban voiced his gratitude to them for saving many lives and providing protection where they can.
"However, given the scale and geographic breadth of the violence, the security requirements far exceed the capabilities of the number of international troops now deployed," he stated. "In places where there are no international forces, the choice for far too many civilians is to flee or be killed.
"The human family must not shy away from what is happening today in the Central African Republic, or from our responsibilities - both yours and mine - under the United Nations Charter," he stressed. "Events in the CAR have implications across the region, and summon us to defend universal values as well. This complex security, humanitarian, human rights and political crisis demands a comprehensive and integrated response."
The Secretary-General is expected to report soon to the Security Council on the outlines of a future UN peacekeeping operation with a robust mandate to protect civilians and promote stability in CAR. However, he noted, the deployment of a peacekeeping operation, if authorized, will take months.
"The people of the Central African Republic do not have months to wait. The international community must act decisively now to prevent any further worsening of the situation and to respond to the dire needs of the country's people."
Therefore, he proposed a six-point initiative to address the greatest risks being faced by the people of CAR, beginning with a call for the rapid reinforcement of the AU and French troops now on the ground with additional deployments of at least 3,000 more troops and police.
He also proposed that all international forces in CAR be brought under a single coordinated command, and that the mission of these forces be focused on the most urgent priorities. These include containing the violence, protecting civilians, preventing further displacements, and creating a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In addition, the African troops that join this force should be provided with logistic and financial support.
Further, Mr. Ban called for rapid, tangible support to the Government of CAR, led by Acting Head of State Catherine Samba-Panza, to help it establish a minimum capacity to function. "This support should include the financial assistance necessary to get police back on the streets, judges back in the courtrooms, and prison guards back on the job," he stated.
In addition, he called for the acceleration of a political and reconciliation process to prevent a "further fraying of the communal bonds," as well as for urgent funding for humanitarian aid, which is currently insufficient to address the crisis.
"We know what is happening in the Central African Republic. We know why it is different from previous outbreaks of violence. We know why it matters to all of us and what we must do," said Mr. Ban.
"Knowledge is not all we have. Through collective action, as envisaged by the United Nations Charter, we have the power to stop the killing and save the Central African Republic from its current nightmare."