Civilians in Central African Republic (CAR) remain at risk of deadly violence and instability unless serious weaknesses in the United Nation’s peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, are urgently addressed, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.
With a new president to be elected in less than a week, Amnesty’s report Mandated to Protect, Equipped to Succeed? Strengthening Peacekeeping in Central African Republic analyzes how major gaps in personnel and equipment resulted in UN peacekeepers failure to prevent and contain a serious outbreak of violence in Bangui in September 2015 that led to the death of over 75 people, including many civilians.
The organization is calling for a major review of the apparent failure to protect civilians in September 2015, including of MINUSCA’s capacity to carry out its mandate, covering factors such as training, equipment, coordination and the number of operational uniformed and civilian personnel.
“MINUSCA's presence in CAR has saved many lives and prevented much bloodshed, but the extreme violence that erupted in Bangui in September 2015 exposed the mission’s weaknesses. However today, it still lacks the resources it needs to adequately protect civilians,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“Ensuring the peacekeeping force is well-equipped to prevent and contain large scale violence, as well as support the government in ensuring justice, must be an absolute priority to help end the cycle of conflict and injustice that has blighted CAR for so much of its history.”
On January 31, 2016 the French Minister of Defense announced that the majority of the country’s 900 troops present in CAR will be withdrawn by the end of the year, adding urgency to such a review.
September’s outbreak of violence
Despite the presence of 2,660 UN police and military personnel in Bangui, MINUSCA forces were unable to adequately contain violence that erupted there on September 26. At least 75 people, mostly civilians, were killed over a period of three days. Homes were destroyed, 42,000 others were displaced and at least a dozen women were raped in a single district on the first day alone.
One 18-year-old woman told Amnesty International how she was raped on September 26: “I went to the market for shopping… I heard gunfire. I ran back home but near the office of the local red cross, I was stopped by six… men wearing military uniforms…They put some cardboard on the ground. A young man and an old man raped me."
Amnesty International found that MINUSCA were unable to respond to some requests from medical personnel to help transfer casualties on September 27.
One medic told the organization: "We received 25 wounded, of whom 13 severely so, and we could not take them to the hospital with our vehicle because access was blocked due to insecurity. My staff called MINUSCA for help and MINUSCA said they couldn’t come…The day after we lost six of those severely injured.”
According to witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International, MINUSCA did not intervene in key areas of conflict until the second day of violence, and did not take action to take down roadblocks manned by armed groups until the third day.
Under-equipped to respond
While the weakness of the CAR state was regularly cited as an important factor hindering efforts to protect civilians, key experts interviewed also raised a series of concerns with MINUSCA’s capacity to respond to violence. They identified major gaps in training and equipment and an alleged lack of troops available to peacekeepers.
One senior MINUSCA source told Amnesty International: “When there’s gunfire, we can only send the guys in armored vehicles. But several of these are currently out of service.”
Experts also cited significant coordination problems between different parts of the peacekeeping force. Such problems led to 450 UN troops in Bangui being left unused during the opening days of violence.