Central African Republic crisis to be scrutinised by UN security council

Internal displacement, vulnerability of children and women, and worsening security situation to be focus of briefing

The UN security council is to meet on Wednesday to discuss the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Central African Republic (CAR). More than 200,000 people have fled their homes after rebels seized the capital, Bangui, in March.

The council will receive a briefing on the situation from Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, the recently appointed UN special representative and head of the UN integrated peacebuilding office in the CAR. He will be joined by Valerie Amos, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, and Ivan Šimonović, assistant secretary-general for human rights.

The briefing and consultations on the CAR, the first since May, follow the African Union's authorisation of the deployment of a new peacekeeping force. The African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic will consist of 3,652 people, including 2,475 military personnel and 1,025 police.

It will be mandated to protect civilians and restore public order, stabilise the security situation, reform the defence and security sector, and facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid.

In the runup to the council's meeting in New York, Save the Children said more than 100,000 displaced children were at risk of sexual abuse, disease, and recruitment into armed groups. The charity has launched its first emergency response to the CAR.

The latest crisis follows a series of attacks in December by the Séléka rebel coalition. A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels re-entered Bangui in March, forcing President François Bozizé to flee and plunging the country into anarchy. Michel Djotodia, a Soviet-trained civil servant turned rebel leader, who took power from Bozizé, has promised to relinquish authority after elections scheduled for 2016.

The humanitarian crisis is the latest bout of instability to rock the former French colony, which – though it has large deposits of minerals, including gold and diamonds – is one of the world's poorest countries, ranking 180th of 186 in the UN human development index.

However, the CAR attracts little attention. Médecins Sans Frontières recently asked whether the country had been abandoned by the international community. Funding remains a problem for UN humanitarian agencies and their partners, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. With $62m (£40m) received so far, the $195m humanitarian appeal for the CAR is only 32% funded; 23% was carried over from last year.

The situation in the north, where the Séléka uprising began, is particularly grim, with reports of murder and rape. Women are said to have been killed for refusing to have sex or surrender their food. Men have been summarily executed, tortured or have disappeared, say observers. Children have been recruited and, according to witnesses, feature prominently in the armed gangs.

"Thousands of children's lives are at risk. Families are running out of food and many are still hiding in the bush, afraid to return home. When they are not direct victims of violence, children have often witnessed their homes and schools being looted and their parents threatened or beaten," said Maria Wangechi, Save the Children's CAR director.

UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees, says the CAR has an estimated 206,000 internally displaced people, while nearly 63,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring countries since December. About 40,500 people have fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while another 13,000 have gone to Chad.

"UNHCR is again calling on the CAR government to do more to ensure the safety of people and their property across the country, to avert further displacement and suffering," its spokesman, Adrian Edwards, said in Geneva on Tuesday.

He noted that night attacks in Bangui have become increasingly common. Several aid workers say they have been threatened, robbed and injured.

"In rural areas, widespread fear is reported among the civilian population, who are responding in some cases by organising vigilante groups," Edwards said.

The World Health Organisation said that without an improvement in health services, children and women were at risk of contracting communicable diseases, and also expressed concern about a possible resurgence of malnutrition among under fives.

"Children and their families need urgent humanitarian assistance," said Wangechi. "It is imperative that the international community allocates adequate resources and funding to a humanitarian crisis that in many respects has been largely ignored, and that continues to escalate."


Mark Tran

The GuardianTramp

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