Serious Intervention needed in Central African Republic as Ethnic Cleansing Continues

The religious make-up of the CAR: 

  • Christians- 50%
  • Muslims- 15%
  • Indigenous beliefs- 35%

As has been discussed by my fellow classmates in previous posts, violence has significantly increased in the Central African Republic since the country’s first Muslim leader, Michel Djotodia, acquired power in March 2013, aided by  the Muslim Seleka rebel group.

Many Christians blame the Seleka rebel group of committing atrocities against the majority population over the past 11 months Djotodia was in office. This has resulted in retaliation tactics by Christian anti-balaka militias, who have been targeting Muslim neighborhoods.

Last month Djotodia resigned in hopes of quelling the fighting. Yet despite Catherine Samba-Panza  being sworn in as interim leader, the attacks from both the Seleka group and Anti-balaka militias has continued.

According to West African analyst Paul Melly, “Paris has been trying to stir international engagement since September, when President Francois Hollande put the CAR at the centre of his address to the United Nations.” 

This brings up an important question: is France’s intervention enough? Since 1948, genocide has been recognized as an international crime, however, little had been done by many international actors in practice which supported the 1948 Genocide Convention. (As a mere ratifier, the U.S. holds no voice when it comes to the Genocide Convention.) Prior to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda,  there was a universally accepted principle not to engage in armed humanitarian intervention.

Just like Rwanda in 1994, it appears the Central African Republic in 2014 unquestionably has hundreds of people who can be saved through modest applications of foreign force.

In December, the UN Security Council deployed peacekeepers as violence escalated, which included 5,500 African Union and 1,600 French troops. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked France to consider sending additional troops because the international response to the crisis did “not yet match the gravity of the situation.” France is slated to add 400 more troops, bringing the total to 2,000 “after French defense minister Jean-Yves le Drian admitted Paris had underestimated the level of violence and hatred in the Central African Republic.” According to Secretary-General Ban, the situation could require a UN force of up to 9,000 troops and 1,700 police, a statement which was made back in November.

Why haven’t more countries stepped up to prevent further ethnic cleansing? What is the threshold; when does it become too much? What number needs to be reached in order to breech international law and label the violence in the CAR as genocide, requiring international intervention? The lessons learned from Rwanda demonstrated the genocide could have easily been stopped mere weeks into the slaughter.


At the end of January, the UN Security Council approved EU force intervention which would send approximately 500 to 600 troops to the conflict ridden country, but such a small commitment looks more like a perfunctory action than a willingness to resolve tensions. It is also unclear what countries will be contributing troops.

Political or developmental constitutionality could be an option, and as the European Union happens to be the CAR’s main donor, they have the highest potential to place conditions on their aid. However, doing so predominately hurts the citizens who need donor aid the most. According to Thomas Carothers in Democracy Assistance: Political vs. Developmental, the developmental approach, largely exhibited by Europe, “favors democracy aid that pursues incremental, long-term change in a wide range of political and socioeconomic sectors, frequently emphasizing governance and the building of a well-functioning state.”  Moreover, intervention at an earlier stage will prevent extensive reconstruction of the state and thus, more aid, if violence continues at its current pace.

It is clear that the CAR government does not have a handle on the situation. Although 250 CAR military personnel were a part of the disarmament drive which included French and African peacekeepers in the attempted capture of militia leader Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, “[t]ens of thousands of Muslims have fled as Christian militias have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks,” further demonstrating  the government’s inability to contain the situation.  

If the international community does not want history to repeat itself by avoiding another Rwanda, France cannot be the only country stepping up to the plate to ease tensions. 

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3 Responses to Serious Intervention needed in Central African Republic as Ethnic Cleansing Continues

  1. kenneycj says:

    I agree with your post, there has clearly been a failure on the part of the international community to aid France in its intervention in the CAR effectively. However, I think it’s necessary to be cautious when trying to label the situation as a genocide as it can detract from the use of the phrase in other contexts. I don’t think that numbers necessarily play into the definition of genocide; I think that the distinction between genocide and mass killing lies in intentionality on the part of perpetrators – i.e. that they intend to destroy in whole or part an entire community or population. Though, despite the label, there are clearly unnecessary atrocities and killings occurring in the CAR that the international community could certainly be doing more to prevent.

  2. sorensond says:

    Another interesting facet to this is that in some cases at least, state security forces are committing violence against civilians in the state. I wonder how the French and other international actors will handle violence from the state against civilians.

  3. amandacatalina says:

    I agree that there is room for improvement in regard to the international community’s intervention in CAR. However, to what degree is the violence ethnically based? Would this situation really count as ethnic cleansing or genocide? A majority of the violence is based on religious affiliation, which in my opinion, is being utilized for greater political gain.

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