A top official of the U.N. children’s fund said stronger peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts are needed in Central African Republic. The country has been wracked by inter-communal violence since December, pitting Muslim and Christian armed groups against each other.
UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Operations Ted Chaiban said children’s lives are at constant risk in CAR.
“Virtually, no children are still attending school. Children have witnessed violence. They’ve been subject to violence. We have evidence that all of the parties involved in the conflict are recruiting children as child soldiers. And there truly is a psychological impact on these children – to see the violence – to be displaced – to feel that profound sense of insecurity – when they’re supposed to be in school, when they’re supposed to be in their own communities with their families.”
Chaiban recently returned to the U.S. from C.A.R. after visiting the capital Bangui, as well as rural areas of the country.
“It’s basically a country where, for all intents and purposes, government has ceased to function. There is a government of technocrats trying to do its best, but government institutions at local and district level are no longer functioning the way they should,” he said.
There have been two interim governments since President Francois Bozize was ousted by Seleka rebels, including one headed by former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia. The current government is headed by Catherine Samba-Panza. She’s admitted the government’s inability to get much done.
“Salaries are no longer being paid. The economy is at a standstill and the situation is extremely tense,” said Chaiban.
In December, mostly Christian anti-balaka groups began revenge attacks against ex-Seleka rebels, who had been targeting their communities. Civilians have borne the worst of the violence.
UNICEF and its partners are trying to re-start basic services, such as education, health and water. Chaiban said one major objective is to protect kids from preventable diseases.
“Vaccinating them against measles and polio: We’ve been able to reach over a half-million children last year – 150,000 children this year, so there’s that sense that services are back again; Play activities through child-friendly spaces. It’s very important that children get a sense that there are normal activities going on around them -- that they’re doing the things that they should be doing in terms of being in school – in terms of playing with each other,” he said.
Recently, the group Human Rights Watch revealed evidence of civilian massacres in CAR. The victims included young children.
The UNICEF emergency operations director said there are attempts to have Muslims and Christians work together again to survive. Muslim communities may be pastoralists, while Christians are farmers. Also, Muslims are heavily involved in trade, bringing goods into the country.
Chaiban has some recommendations to end the violence and rebuild CAR.
“Firstly,” he said, “there needs to be a more robust mission on the ground. The Security Council is looking at a U.N. mission – both a political and a peacekeeping mission with the ability and the resources we hope to be able to work on a number of fronts: re-establishing state infrastructure, work on elections, work on reconciliation, work on justice and basic things like having a police force.”
He said the second step is “an acceleration of humanitarian activities.” However, the UNICEF official added a lot more resources are needed to do that.
The U.N. refugee agency estimated there are about 640,000 displaced people within the CAR. Since December, more than 80,000 have fled to Cameroon, DRC and Chad.