In what the UN Humanitarian Office (OCHA) has called the worst level of displacement in the Central African Republic since civil war broke out in 2013, a cumulative 440,000 civilians had been forcibly displaced by the end of April due to renewed conflict in the country. Officials from OCHA have estimated that an additional 100,000 people could be displaced by the end of May, a number that becomes ever more likely as militia violence continues to spread to several prominent cities in the country.
On 18 May, the UN Deputy Special Representative in the Central African Republic, Diane Corner, reported that at least one armed militia group in the country had access to heavy weapons, such as mortars and grenade launchers, as well as “more sophisticated military tactics,” and that the groups were using these weapons during increasingly frequent attacks. The groups have targeted several towns in the past two weeks using enhanced equipment, including Bria, Bangassou, and Alindao, inflicting incredible damage on civilians. In what Social Affairs Minister Virginie Baikoua called a “catastrophe,” the recent militia attacks and looting in the town of Bria resulted in more than 41,400 of the city's 47,500 residents fleeing to the nearest UN base for shelter, equaling almost 90 percent of the city's population.
The renewed sectarian and ethnic-based violence in the country has resulted in a reported 300 deaths since only 8 May, including those of at least six UN peacekeeping officials. According to Corner, the majority of those deaths occurred during the recent attack on the UN mission in Bangassou, where anti-Balaka fighters “pinned down” peacekeepers before directly targeting Muslim civilians in the city.
The situation prompted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to release a statement on 16 May condemning the attack on Bangassou and others, noting with particular alarm that violence was spreading into previously peaceful regions of the CAR.
As such, Ms. Baikoua joined the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, Najat Rochdi, in expressing their mutual unease with the renewed violence, declaring that civilians have been “paying the highest cost” during the recent attacks. Earlier this month, Ms. Baikoua and Ms. Rochdi jointly praised regional humanitarian agencies for stepping in to assist the several thousands of displaced and injured civilians desperately in need of aid due to the attacks, but also acknowledged that it would be difficult to maintain such a tremendous response while the conflict continued. For the foreseeable future, civilians inside and near these violent regions remain at great risk.
This blog post was originally written for the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect "RtoP Weekly" for week 22-26 May. Access the Coalition's listserv archive here.