Imagine that at the start of last year a group of armed men ravaged your community, killing your family and destroying your town. And picture that once they reached the capital of your country, this group installed their leader with the support of even more armed men. Now imagine that a year later, after they lost power, you witnessed some of those same men don the uniform of peacekeepers, as world leaders informed you that these men would now be responsible for your protection.
It sounds like a nightmare, but according to the draft findings of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI), it is exactly what has taken place in the Central African Republic. And if the report is right, it means the one operation that Central Africans should be able to trust in the midst of the horror unfolding around them has had its neutrality fundamentally compromised.
The COI report, expected to be released this week, finds that Chadian officers who operated as part of the Séléka movement — a predominantly Muslim coalition of militias responsible for atrocities against Central Africans before, during, and after its leader, Michel Djotodia seized the CAR presidency last year — returned to CAR as peacekeepers after Djotodia was forced to step down.
The Chadian officers went back to CAR as part of an African Union-led peacekeeping operation, the International Mission for Support to the Central African Republic (MISCA). The mission was deployed under the auspices of the United Nations in December, following more than a year of political and sectarian violence that began with the Séléka’s brutal campaign to remove President François Bozizé from power in late 2012.
The Séléka installed Djotodia as president in March 2013, making him the first Muslim to lead the predominantly Christian nation. But under pressure from the international community that September, Djotodia tried to disband the militias. Soon after, Christian self-defense “anti-Balaka” (meaning “anti-machete” in the local Sango and Mandja languages) groups, which had formed to defend against Séléka attacks on their communities, began a campaign of revenge attacks against Muslims. At the height of the sectarian clashes in early December, an estimated 300 people were killed in just two days. By the end of 2013 nearly one million Central Africans had been displaced.
In an attempt to stanch the violence, the U.N. Security Council tasked MISCA with intervening to contribute to “the protection of civilians and the restoration of security and public order.”Segments of the Central African population Central Africans were vocally skeptical of the plan. In late December, less than a month after the Security Council’s authorization, scores of people crowded into the streets of the capital to protest the deployment, accusing the Chadian peacekeepers of siding with the Séléka. The Chadians shot into the crowd, killing one of the protestors.
Then in late March, Chadian soldiers again fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians, this time killing around 30 people, according to findings by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.After publicity about the incident, the Chadian foreign ministry decided to withdraw its soldiers from the peacekeeping operation, stating that “Chad and Chadians have been targeted in a gratuitous and malicious campaign.” But the problems with MISCA go deeper than the Chadian peacekeepers that were once part of the Séléka.
In March, Congolese peacekeepers from MISCA took 11 people from a home north of the capital Bangui after a Congolese peacekeeper was killed in the area. The group, including four women, have not been heard from since. “The African Union needs to say what happened to the group that was detained and taken by the Congolese peacekeepers,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “The peacekeepers are there to protect the civilian population, not to abuse them.” Yet as much as allegations against the MISCA peacekeepers are an African Union problem, they are also a United Nations problem. You can read the rest of the article at Foreign Policy.