Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Central African Republic Conflict Sparks Genocide Fears

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Update 4/10/2014: The U.N. Security Council has voted to send a force of 12,000 peacekeeping troops to combat the ongoing “ethno-religious cleansing.”

After a March 2013 state coup, the Central African Republic conflict (CAR) descended into ethnic and religious violence.

Tens of thousands have been killed, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), and more than 400,000 are fleeing from their homes, the UN reports. That’s almost 10% of the country’s total population of approximately 5 million.

Who’s involved?

The former French colony, which gained independence in 1960 but has seen a series of coups and rebellions since, suffered a serious setback in 2013, when a coalition of Muslim armed groups called the Seleka toppled the government. Around 50% of the CAR’s population is Christian, while 15% is Muslim, according to the CIA Factbook.

Seleka, which means “alliance” in the local language, said they were out to stop widespread human rights abuses by the existing government, such as summary executions, unlawful killings, beatings, house burnings, extortion and unlawful taxation, and the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, which HRW reported on in 2007.

However, after defeating the government army, the rebels committed massive human rights abuses themselves; killing, torturing, and raping civilians in a pillaging spree through Bangui, the capital of CAR.

In retaliation of these abuses, which continued after the coup, Christian militias called the anti-balaka (anti-machete in the local language) arose in September, committing indiscriminate attacks of vengeance, massacring, torturing and burning the homes Muslims.

The Seleka group has since lost much of its power, with some commanders fleeing to neighboring countries or the northern part of the country, according to HRW. However, the violence continues, as both Muslim and Christian militias target each other’s civilian populations.

What’s going to happen?

In November, the UN warned that the situation could descend into genocide.

The following month, an African-led UN peacekeeping mission was in place, consisting of about 5,500 troops, according to AFP. Supported by about 1,600 French troops, as well as 500 troops committed by the EU, the mission is authorized until Jan. 31 2015.

Some, such as emergency director of Human Rights Watch Peter Bouckaert, have criticized the peacekeepers for not doing enough to intervene in violence.

With the recent appointment of a new president, however, observers are hoping the country can pull back from the brink of disaster.

Ole Skaar