A medical aid group says global efforts to protect civilians in Central African Republic have been an “utter failure.” Doctors Without Borders is calling on the international community to mobilize immediately to stop atrocities.
Civilians in CAR are regularly targeted by both sides in the conflict. Armed groups – known as anti-balaka – launched revenge attacks late last year against Seleka rebels. The rebels’ offensive in 2013 led to the ouster of President Francois Bozize and the brief presidency of Michel Djotodia, the former Seleka leader.
The Seleka are mostly Muslim, while the anti-balaka have been described as mix of Christians and those practicing traditional religion. The violence has displaced about one million people and slowed humanitarian efforts.
Doctors Without Borders – also known by the French acronym MSF – held a briefing Tuesday to describe the situation in the country.
MSF International President Dr. Joanne Liu recently returned from CAR. She said, “I’ve never seen throughout the last few years such [a] high level of violence. There is violence on a daily basis happening on civilian[s] and there is an acute lack of protection for civilians.”
She said MSF patients are in constant danger.
“The reality is, right now, if we are absent from our hospital[s], our patient[s] are in danger. This is something that is really unusual from what I’ve seen over the last few years.”
The medical group is working in 16 locations in CAR with a staff of more than 2,200.
“Over the last few months, as of December 5th, we have treated more than 3,600 wounded in our facilities,” said Liu.
She visited the town of Bozoum and found a number of injured Muslim civilians in hiding.
Liu said, “We drove into the neighborhood and found lined up in the backyard 17 people with injuries. Some of them had sustained machete injuries -- others had sustained gunshot wounds and other[s] had grenade injuries. And basically they were waiting in silence, not moaning, not saying anything -- just waiting to be rescued. And it was clear to me that if I was not doing everything I could to save their lives they would not have moved and tried to save their lives.”
She said she’s seen many similar situations -- wounded and scared people often huddling near a mosque or church.
“Right now,” she said, “a lot of them have decided to flee the country. So there’s been some organized massive exodus toward neighboring countries, either Chad or Cameroon. As of today we count close to 100,000 people who have left the country. They have to pick between living with the fear of dying tomorrow or fleeing for their [lives] and most of them have picked their [lives].”
Liu said that MSF had tried long before the current crisis to get the international community to pay more attention to Central African Republic. The country, she said, faced many serious health concerns.
The MSF International President added that peacekeeping troops are not always effective in preventing violence against civilians. The group said the international community must do more.
The U.N. has approved expanding the African Union force in CAR to 6,000. The French have 1,600 soldiers there, and the EU is expected to send about 1,000 in the coming weeks.
Liu said despite the insecurity, the ability of MSF to work in many locations shows that increasing humanitarian assistance is feasible. She says international mobilization is “needed now – not in one month, not in six months.” She says, “A massive catastrophe is unfolding in full view of international leaders.”