The True Victims of War in the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) is home to a variety of ethnic and religious groups, primarily as a consequence of the arbitrary borders drawn by European colonizers during the “Scramble for Africa” from 1881 to 1914 (Ochab). Most notably, Christians and Muslims are heavily divided within the country, each supporting separate political groups (France 24). Since 2012, tensions have escalated dramatically in the CAR due to changing religious demographics within the country’s population (Ochab).Colonized by the French in the 1880s until gaining independence under President David Dacko in 1960, the country faced numerous challenges in its history (BBC). Obtaining representation in the French parliament and later fighting for self-governance was only the beginning of the struggles the nation would have to face (BBC). This period marked the beginning of a singular-party election system, which existed until 1991 when bans on multiparty elections were finally lifted (BBC). Tensions between Muslim and Christian groups continued to increase until 2012 when the Muslim-dominant terror group Seleka began to control territories in the northern region of the country (Ochab). Soon after, President Bozize was ousted from power at the beginning of 2013 by Michel Djotodia, the leader of the rebel group, despite a signed peace agreement between the groups (Ochab). Djotodia’s leadership marked the beginning of an extremely violent period in which political opponents were detained against their will, physically and sexually abused, executed, then labeled as “disappeared”: simply gone without a trace (Ochab). Following the appalled reactions of the international community when these atrocities surfaced to light, Djotodia was forced to dissolve his Seleka group, most of which formed smaller groups of their own, continuing to commit horrific crimes of politically charged intimidation (BBC). However, the ex-Seleka groups were met by Christian opposition - the anti-balaka - thus launching the country into a state of turmoil and religious warfare (Ochab).
Since the beginning of the 2013 religious conflict, there have been over 575,000 refugees displaced from the CAR, escaping to nearby Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (CFR). According to reports by the United Nations’ Sexual Violence and Conflict Department, thousands have been killed in this ongoing conflict (OHCHR). The report specifically highlights the nature of these crimes as being gender-based and sexually violent, with victims being predominantly women and young girls, and the perpetrators of these crimes coming from a variety of ethno-religious groups and most often being a part of national security forces or rebel groups (OHCHR). The high-ranking status of the perpetrators has caused crimes to be underreported, making it difficult to estimate the number of people affected, and it is most certainly higher than the number of cases the UN has been able to report (OHCHR). Even with this underreporting, the statistics established by the Department of Sexual Violence and Conflict are shocking; victims have been found to be anywhere between the ages of five to over sixty, with the majority of cases being gang rapes exceeding over 20 perpetrators per victim (OHCHR). Attackers almost exclusively target those of opposing political views, religion, or ethnic groups, and commit these crimes in highly public locations or in front of the victim’s family in order to instill fear throughout communities (OHCHR). Most tragically, officials with the sole duty of protecting the people of the CAR from such crimes have repeatedly been listed as perpetrators, depicting how flawed the political and legal systems are (OHCHR).
Conflict is something that takes many forms: political, social, religious, ethnic, violent, sexual, etc. Most often, one “type” of conflict will inevitably lead to other injustices, such as can be seen in the CAR. Here, long-standing religious differences have not only caused political instability, but also a violent war waged by a variety of sub-religious groups in a sort of guerilla warfare, which appears to loom over every context of one’s life. It is also important to see that those at the center of the conflict, the leaders of opposing political groups, are often not the ones most affected by these crimes. It is unfortunately those that have no means of defense that become high-risk victims and face inhuman atrocities within situations over which they have no control.
“Central African Republic: Mapping Human Rights Violations 2003-2015.” OHCHR | Freedom of Religion: UN Expert Hails Albania, but Notes New Challenges and Unresolved Issues from the Past, www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/CARProjetMapping2003-2015.aspx.
“Central African Republic Profile - Timeline.” BBC News, BBC, 1 Aug. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13150044.
France 24. “The Observers Direct - The People Seeking Peace after Conflict in the Central African Republic.” France 24, France 24, 11 Feb. 2019, www.france24.com/en/observers-direct/20190202-central-african-republic-peace-conflict-religion-reconciliation.
“Global Conflict Tracker.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, www.cfr.org/interactives/global-conflict-tracker#!/conflict/violence-in-the-central-african-republic.
Ochab, Ewelina U. “The Religious War In The Central African Republic Continues.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 May 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2018/05/09/the-religious-war-in-central-african-republic-continues/#1abde2b63c0d.