US sends ambassador to turn tide of violence in the Central African Republic

Displaced persons camp.
Displaced persons camp.

The specter of genocide and the public shaming of the UN have helped mobilize some international action in the Central African Republic crisis.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power arrived in the capital city of Bangui yesterday as a show of US support and with the hope of bringing an end to the violence that spun out of an ongoing political crisis. She met with people affected by and involved in the present violence.

Power announced that the US would provide an additional $15 million in humanitarian support for the Central African Republic (CAR). The former journalist who critically covered atrocities in Rwanda and Kosovo, said immediate action was needed to save lives. She evoked lessons from the recent past as evidence that the world cannot wait.

“Somalia taught us what can happen in a failed state, and Rwanda showed us what could occur in a deeply divided one,” Power said. “The people of the Central African Republic are in profound danger and we all have a responsibility to help them move away from the abyss.”

Power further evoked past lessons in a press call ahead of her unannounced trip to the CAR. A proponent of international interventions to end mass atrocities, Power now has the opportunity to lead a US response to a worsening crisis. What she will be able to accomplish during the visit is unknown.

People wait at Red Cross clinic.
People wait at Red Cross clinic.

“Far less clear was whether the growing but still limited American role would help put an end to the crisis, or whether a full-fledged United Nations peacekeeping force would have to be deployed to quell a conflict that has gripped the nation for months,” wrote Someni Sengupta in the New York Times.

The French are leading a military effort in its former colony to try and reduce fighting and restore order. A March ouster of CAR leader Gen. François Bozizé has seen the country fall apart in the last few months.

Fighting between rival Christian and Muslim militias, affiliations based loosely along religious lines, has escalated over the past two months. Roughly 500 people have died since December 5 and reports indicate that thousands were killed before then. The UN estimates there are also 614,000 displaced from their homes throughout the country.

This led France to warn that the CAR is “on the verge of genocide,” in late September. Since its involvement in the CAR, France continues to call on the international community to provide more support in order to end the violence.

“The potential for further mass violence is shockingly high,” said Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, calling on the UN to dispatch peacekeepers.

The UN has performed poorly in the CAR, thus far, said the French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) in an open letter last week. The group described the appalling humanitarian situation it’s staff witnessed and the lack of action undertaken by the UN.

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EU

According the analysis by MSF, the minimum standards for an emergency response are not even being met. Despite knowing and admitting its shortcomings, says the letter, the UN has done little to improve the situation on the ground.

“MSF deplores the appalling performance of UN humanitarian agencies and reminds them of their responsibility to mobilise and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action, advocate for the rights of people in need, and facilitate sustainable solutions to the current crisis,” says the letter.

An emergency team was dispatched to the CAR by the UN refugee agency, on Wednesday.  The humanitarian situation and security problem are only the short term needs in the country. Increased rhetoric and action point towards a greater international interest in assuring that a bigger crisis is averted.

The arrival of Power in the CAR is a big deal for the United States, she is the highest ranking US official to ever visit the country. Despite not being a strategic interest for the US, the involvement may be evidence of the ambassador’s ability to lobby for action on humanitarian grounds.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.