U.N. Committee Ignores Ethnic Cleansing in Central African Republic
Leaked report baffles international law experts
Ethnic cleansing is a war crime, “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas,” according to a 1992 U.N. Security Council report.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the conflict in Central African Republic constitutes a perfect example of ethnic cleansing—and maybe even genocide.
But you would be wrong—at least according to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, tasked with “investigating reports of violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and abuses of human rights in the Central African Republic.”
The statement has baffled human rights and international law experts.
After all, the civil war in the Central African Republic has seen the slaughter and expulsion of tens of thousands of Muslims from the capital Bangui alone. This is well-documented.
Much of the religiously motivated violence occurred in plain view of international peacekeepers, journalists and human rights activists. There are videos on Youtube of long lines of cars and trucks, packed with Muslim refugees and guarded by Chadian soldiers, leaving Bangui while Christian onlookers jeer and cheer.
Amanda Taub, a lecturer on international law and human rights at Fordham University and editor of the Wronging Rights blog, has read the report. She told War is Boring that she can’t explain how the U.N. Commission of Inquiry arrived at its conclusion.
“The report’s legal analysis is extremely brief and dismisses the allegations of both genocide and ethnic cleansing in a single paragraph, without citing any case law or specific sources,” Taub said.
“They say that ‘the displacement of Muslims affected by whatever party so far is a matter of protection and the preservation of human life, not a matter of ethnic cleansing.’ But displacement of a particular group by threatening the lives of its members is basically just a description of the usual mechanics of ethnic cleansing.”
“Moreover,” she added, “that conclusion is hard to square with other parts of the report, such as the paragraph that says that ‘the MISCA and SANGARIS [peacekeeping] forces have been subject of attacks especially from the anti-Balaka militia, the majority of whom seem keen to carry out an ethnic cleansing in CAR by driving out the population—or worse, by killing them—which would amount to genocide.”
There may be an argument that what’s happening in the Central African Republic doesn’t amount to genocide, because violence in the country has so far aimed more at displacing certain groups, rather than exterminating them.
But Taub said that denying the existence of an ethnic cleansing campaign is pretty much out of question at this point, even by the report’s own admissions.
“If the anti-Balaka fighters expressed their intent to commit ethnic cleansing by ‘driving out the population,’ and then proceeded to do just that, what does the commission need to see in order to conclude that ethnic cleansing is taking place?” Taub asked. “Engraved invitations?”
Such glaring errors of judgement of course raise suspicion that the commission sugar-coated its conclusions for political reasons.
There is historical precedence for this. The U.N., along with every major Western government, staunchly refused to use the word “genocide” in relation to events in Rwanda in 1994, fearing it might then be compelled to intervene in a conflict that the world body initially interpreted as “tribal.”
In the case of the dumbfounding Central African Republic report, political motives could play a role. But Taub said that “this report is so slight that it’s hard to read much into it—other than the fact that the commission’s output has been disappointingly low.”
The report is just 23 pages long. Only four pages actually document violence and abuse. In comparison, a similar report on Darfur from 10 years ago contained 171 pages and provided considerable analysis and evidence of atrocities, Taub said.
There are indications that the Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, chaired by the Cameroonian lawyer and former Deputy Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Bernard Acho Muna, just screwed up.
For example, the commission conducted its research only in Bangui and never even tried to observe the rest of the country or refugees in neighboring states.
Without a doubt, the report in its current form represents a terrible waste of resources at best and, at worst, a setback in addressing the conflict. What it fortunately doesn’t represent is a carte blanche for perpetrators. “The International Criminal Court has already opened a preliminary investigation into the CAR conflict,” Taub pointed out. “There is no reason why that would be directly affected by the report.”
“Central African Republic is an ICC member state,” she added. “So the prosecutor can take up the situation under her own authority without needing a Security Council referral. The ICC has its own investigators, and I think it’s quite unlikely that they will rely on this report.”
Given the scale of the violence, Taub said she thinks that there is a very good chance that key perpetrators in the conflict will one day be tried in the International Criminal Court. But if that day comes, it certainly won’t be because of work of the Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic.