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Why the Central African Republic Could Be the Next Rwanda

Violence between Muslims and Christians could easily escalate to a scale not seen since 1994.

By: /
12 February, 2014
By: Kyle Matthews
Executive director, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies

Most people would probably have a lot of difficulty identifying the Central African Republic on a map. That might all be about to change though as the country is mired in a downward spiral of sectarian violence. One of Africa’s poorest nations, earlier atrocities committed by the Muslim-majority Seleka rebels has pitted the Christian majority against the Muslim minority. The idea of peaceful coexistence has been shattered between these two groups.

In response, humanitarian organizations are beginning to ring alarm bells warning that the country is heading down a path that has the potential to transform into a blood bath of a scale not seen since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The Executive Director of Doctors without Borders Canada, having just returned from the Central African Republic on an emergency humanitarian mission, believes the international community and national governments could be doing more before it is too late. “Many of history’s greatest inter-communal humanitarian atrocities were known and often publicized in advance. There are chilling parallels here for anyone taking notice,” he argued.

Marcus Bleasdale, a world renowned photographer who is not a stranger to war zones made similar comments in a recent interview with National Geographic. “But it’s the most violent and hateful environment I’ve ever documented in 16 years. And I’ve covered every conflict in Africa over that time, but I’ve never documented anything this bad.” he explained.

How bad are things on the ground? Earlier this week the International Criminal Court announced it would open a case to begin investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity alleged to have taken place in the country. Just yesterday, The United Nations’ envoy to the country, General Babacar Gaye, condemned the assassination of the local politician Jean-Emmanuel Ndjaroua, who had spoken out against the human rights abuses committed by militia groups in the country. Even political leaders are no longer safe.

Despite the presence of French and African troops, most of the Muslim minority in the capital city of Bangui have fled north, seeking protection in the northern part of the country and neighbouring Chad.

While people tend to vote with their feet because of well-founded fears of violence, Canada and other countries need to support France and the United Nations in containing the violence. The situation could worsen. The reputable organization Human Rights Watch reported that peacekeepers from Chad, who are in the Central African Republic as part of the African Union force, have been supporting the movement of the Seleka rebels north of the capital. What are they doing?

Even more frightening is that jihadists, including those affiliated with Nigeria’s Boko Haram or Somalia’s al Shabaab, might travel to the Central African Republic to fill the security vacuum, rendering the environment more hostile to aid workers and making life difficult for civilians.

Inaction is not a good policy option. Western countries, Canada included, should take this crisis much more seriously.

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