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In CAR, Exodus and Communities Left Vulnerable by France, Sangaris

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 22 -- In the Central African Republic session on the UN Security Council on January 22, the UN's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng said "some interlocutors alleged that peacekeepers, in some instances, are perceived to side either with anti-Balaka or ex-Seleka elements."

   Inner City Press asked Dieng about France and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay's January 20 testimony that "the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces appears to have left Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks."

  Dieng replied that there were killings after the first French disarmament, and "we raised it with the Sangaris," the French force. See UN Video here, from 0:36. But, one wonders, is that accountability? Will this question be answered by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's new Commissioners on CAR, Jorge Castańeda of Mexico, Fatimata M’Baye of Mauritania and Bernard Acho Muna of Cameroon?

  The moderator said one more question could be asked. After a lull, Inner City Press asked about those having to flee the country. The UN's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura replied that this is having a regional impact, naming Chad, Sudan and the Congo. She might have added Cameroon and even Senegal. One wanted to ask her about the findings, yet to be disclosed, on rape allegations against UN peacekeepers in Mali.

 Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Kyung-wha Kang came over and provided additional information, that the the International Organization for Migration is in the lead, at times using airplanes. One wanted to ask her about MSF's critique of the UN in CAR: has it been met? Is the UN really putting Rights Up Front?

  The UN's Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui also briefed the Council, noting 23 children released on January 17. One wanted to ask her for an update on Chad, part of the UN force in Mali while still on the UN's child soldier recruiters' list. Maybe next time.

  Finally Jordan's Prince Zeid emerged; Inner City Press on CAR asked him of the proposed 500 Moroccan guards, and about the mornings presentation on drones by UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous. Prince Zeid said the forthcoming CAR resolution would address the former, and to ask Ladsous about the drones. We'll see.

    On January 14, Pillay's office said it "received credible testimonies of collusion between some Chadian FOMAC elements and ex-Séléka forces."

   At that day's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press sought to pursue this and its implications. From the UN's transcript:

Spokesperson Nesirky: Matthew, last question please? Keep it short.

Inner City Press: I'm sure you've seen the report by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) about human rights abuses in Central African Republic and what I wanted to ask you is that, they say that the disarming, that the French disarming of some left Muslim communities subject to attack and that Chadian FOMAC (Multinational Force of Central Africa) peacekeepers credibly colluded with ex-Séléka forces that they’re accusing of human rights violations. So, I wanted to know how it works. Given that the Chad Army is also a peacekeeper in the UN force in Mali, does, what happens in the Secretariat or DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) on a finding such as this, that peacekeepers in one country may have colluded with human rights abusers? What’s the next step?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, let's just be clear. This was a team that was deployed, four people who were deployed, to the Central African Republic from the twelfth to twenty-fourth of December. And what they have produced today, and what Ms. Navi Pillay’s office has been talking about today, and she herself has been talking about preliminary findings that describe a cycle of widespread human rights violations and reprisals. And Ms. Pillay has made clear she will give a fuller account of the team’s findings during a special session called by the Human Rights Council, and that’s due to take place in Geneva on 20 January. So, I think I’d rather wait until that and see

  Well, on January 20 Pillay dropped the word "credible." From her statement: "The mission also heard witness accounts alleging the involvement of some FOMAC/ MISCA soldiers in the killing of Christian civilians, which should be further investigated."

  By dropping the word credible and calling for investigations -- note that UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous has allowed Chad to do its own investigation, and then not make public any result -- the can is kicked down the road, so that the UN and France can continue to use Chadian "peacekeepers" in Mali. Rights Up Front?

   That France's military operation in Central African Republic left Muslims to be killed by Christian anti-balaka militia was noted eeven by the UN Human Rights team that recently visited the country.

   But a dubious wire service quotes the European Union's usually sharp humanitarian chief Kristalina Georgieva that the problem in CAR is "the complicated relations between Chad and Central African Republic."

  That "complication" surely exists. But consider this detailed video report of France and the anti-balaka, here. What does the EU have to say to that? Are these "Rights Up Front," as the UN dubbed its post Sri Lanka failure plan which it now claims to apply to CAR? Disarming one community to be killed by another?

  After the UN's envoy to the Central African Republic Babacar Gaye was asked on January 13 by Inner City Press about Chadian "peacekeepers" and undue influence on CAR from outside, i.e. from France, the UN simply edited it out of its summary. 

 Video here, from Minute 12:06; compare to UN's sanitized summary, here.

  Now on January 14 the UN's own Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that its "mission received multiple reports that the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces left some Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks."

 This might be called the polar opposite of "Responsibility to Protect" -- the affirmative putting of civilians at risk, on religious lines.

  The OHCHR also notes that "witnesses consistently reported that ex-Séléka, wearing the armbands of Chadian FOMAC peacekeepers, went from house to house searching for anti-Balaka, and shot and killed civilians. The team also said it received credible testimonies of collusion between some Chadian FOMAC elements and ex-Séléka forces."

  The UN Human Rights Council takes up CAR on January 20. Will these UN reports of France and FOMAC be addressed?

  On January 13, Gaye said that the problem was the Chadian component of the Seleka rebels; he acknowledged that there was an intention to assign the troops from Chad outside of Bangui. But he said for now they remain there, patrolling with the Sangaris forces of France, both countries' colonist.

  Of Bozize, he said that Michel Djotodia blames human rights violations -- be to discussed in Geneva January 20 -- on Bozize followers, but said Bozize's name had not come up in the talks in Chad. (The UN had refused, when Inner City Press asked, to even confirm that Gaye and his UN mission had any role in the talks in Chad).

  Now that Michel Djotodia has resigned, after that two-day meeting held in Chad, confirmed along with the disproportionate role of Chad and France in CAR is another point.

  The UN has been marginalized even in the Central African Republic. This UN has allowed itself to become, often, a mere fig leaf for big powers, here the former colonial rulers.

   When Inner City Press on January 8 asked UN spokesperson Farhan Haq of any UN role or presence at the next day's meeting in Chad at which France says the country's leadership will be determined, Haq would not directly answer. Video here from Minute 18:50; UN transcript:

Inner City Press: On the Central African Republic, Mr. [Laurent] Fabius and a Defense Minister are both quoted as saying that it will be determined tomorrow at a meeting held in Chad whether the current interim or temporary Prime Minister remains in power, that it will be decided by regional countries. And I wanted to know, given, you know, the UN’s mission and role in the Central African Republic, is the UN attending that meeting? Do they have any… what’s their presence there and what would they say to those who say that there should be more involvement in Central African people in deciding, you know, who the leader is, rather than the neighbouring countries or France?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t speculate on what the meeting has to accomplish. We’ll actually see what the outcome of the meeting is once it takes place. At this stage, it’s speculative to see what the meeting entails for the leadership of the Central African Republic.

Inner City Press: Is Babacar Gaye going? I just want to know that before it takes place.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll try to monitor the meeting as best we can. I don’t have any details to give you right now, but once the meeting happens, we’ll let you know.

 Now what? On January 6 some noted that UN Department of Political Affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman avoided directly answering on France's lack of impartiality in its intervention in its former colony. 

   Feltman seemed to focus on the UN's role on humanitarian issues -- even on that, the UN has been subject to scathing criticism from Doctors Without Borders -- while leaving the finding of a political solution to others.

    Reuters quotes three French officials, two named and one unnamed, opining about who should lead CAR, including, "Djotodia and us, it's not a love story. The quicker he goes, the better things will be. We are making do with him and holding him back."

   And yet Reuters, now the colonial news wire, did not mention FrancAfrique or this colonial relationship, whether such picking of leaders from outside like France did with Ahmad al Jarba in Syria, is appropriate. This is, to some, "the international community."

  Back on January 6 as the Central African Republic consultations of the UN Security Council stretched past 6 pm, Permanent Representatives then even Deputy Permanent Representatives left, even as new Council member Lithuania spoke.

One departing diplomat told Inner City Press that US Ambassador Samantha Power "gave a moving speech" but "it's not longer a time for speeches but action."

Inner City Press asked the diplomat if the sentiment is to move to a UN peacekeeping mission, or stay with MISCA (in which component contingents have fought each other) and the French SANGARIS force, accused of disarming the Seleka but not anti-balaka militia.

  The answer was UNclear. The briefer was the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, whose statement during the open meeting said "this is the first case for the Secretary General's new Rights Upfront agenda." That was the UN's belated reaction to its own systemic failure during the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Sri Lanka in 2009.

  But last month Doctors Without Borders pilloried the UN for not protecting civilians, even inside its own compounds, and for not deploying despite requests to Yaloke and Bouca. UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told Inner City Press she was "disappointed" by MSF's letter. What would Feltman say?

  When finally Feltman emerged, Inner City Press asked him about reports of France disarming the Seleka, not the predominantly Christian anti-balaka. Feltman replied that a "non-discriminatory way" is required, all most be disarmed. He said more coordination is needed between the UN, France's Sangaris, and MISCA.

 Moments later, Inner City Press asked Jordan's Permanent Representative Prince Zeid, the president of the Security Council for January, about perceived (im)partiality. He responded that the situation is complex, as African members pointed out, and that he and other new Council members had material to work through. We'll see.


 

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