Lead photo: The National Forum of Bangui during the report on ‘Justice and Reconciliation’ in the capital of the Central African Republic on 9 May 2015.
The history of the Central African Republic (CAR) has been riddled with conflict since it was first established in 1960, but the past few years have been particularly upsetting. In December of 2012, fighting between the Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups began causing catastrophe. Towns were burned to the ground. Men were either recruited to fight or were killed. Women were raped, taken as slaves, or slaughtered with their children.
To complicate matters, there truly was never a good or bad side to begin with. The CAR was a poor country at the start and as seen in every major conflict, upheaval occurred when people felt they weren’t treated fairly. Unfortunately, a few bad people started propagating hate that sparked killing and pillaging. Now there is no way to ‘take back’ what has been done. The scale of the situation has spread and over a million lives have been affected in both the CAR and surrounding countries.
While there has been some international response and the storm has seemingly calmed, rebel groups are continuing to fight for power. Some areas are still controlled by armed militias leaving many who need humanitarian assistance unreachable. More than 6,000 lives have been lost since 2012 and the number continues to rise due to violence and humanitarian crises. As long as these groups continue to terrorize the countryside, innocent people will suffer.
Recently, the CAR has been in the news for a positive reason. The Special Criminal Court was created by the interim president Catherine Samba-Panza to investigate the crimes committed against the people since 2003. The goal of this court is to combine national and international efforts to strengthen the integrity of the judicial system in convicting the worst criminals. These are men who not only did unspeakable things to innocent people, but also recruited and taught others to do the same.
The government of the CAR is trying to do the right things and have taken steps toward peace, but they can only do so much at this point. Resources are desperately needed to fund initiatives and enforce laws, and it will take an international alliance to make everything work. The Special Criminal Court could bring justice and peace to the country, and ultimately be an overdue example to the rest of the world for change. With so many countries experiencing disaster, the example is desperately needed.
Despite the good news, it is vitally important for everyone to remember that the Central African Republic is still a country in crisis. Some progress is good, but that doesn’t mean everything is stable. Most recent figures state that more than 500,000 people are still without homes.
What is most staggering is the total impact this unrest has caused the people of the CAR. Food, water, sanitation, adequate shelter, and health care are virtually non-existent for most. Education is considered a secondary priority until basic needs are met. The emotional toll is immeasurable with families torn apart, children orphaned, and many left traumatized from what they have seen.
The situation in the CAR is complicated, but we cannot give up. Humanitarian assistance is vital at this stage to get the country to a stable point, but long-term solutions need to be developed. The government needs to be fully established and capable of enforcing order. Peaceful conflict resolution is needed to calm tensions within the nation. Most importantly, the people need to be given basic human rights. The CAR has never been in a good position, but that doesn’t mean we can walk away from the life that is there. We must give hope to the people of the Central African Republic.
Sarah Haney is a mom, blogger, activist. and founder of the World as One Project.