There are currently 16 UN Peacekeeping missions deploying about 97,000 Blue Helmets around the world. We may soon have a 17th: The Central African Republic.
CAR has been a slow burn crisis for the better part of a year, since a rebel movement known as the Saleka took up arms against longtime CAR strongman Francois Bozize, eventually overthrowing him in March. The state was weak to begin with–CAR is a chronically “bottom billion” country with numerous health and development challenges. But after the rebels took over even the semblance of state services eroded nearly completely. It became increasingly difficult for humanitarian agencies to operate. In the meantime, over 200,000 people have been displaced and 1.2 million cut off from basic services. (The total population is just 4.5 million). There have been outbreak of diseases like measles which is otherwise preventable so long as there is a basic health infrastructure in place.
Over the last few weeks violence and human rights violations have become increasingly common and the violence between rebel supports and opponents increasingly vicious. Last month, Human Rights Watch published a 79 page report “‘I Can Still Smell the Dead’: The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic,” which “details the deliberate killing of civilians – including women, children, and the elderly – between March and June 2013 and confirms the deliberate destruction of more than 1,000 homes, both in the capital, Bangui, and in the provinces.” Dozens of people have been killed in clashes this week in the north west of the country, the region from which the ousted president derives most of his support. There is a general feeling that things are getting worse, hence the discussion of a potential new UN Peacekeeping mission.
The French, which are the former colonial masters, are very much leading the charge at the Security Council. There is currently a small African Union-led peacekeeping mission in the country and France wants Ban Ki Moon to explore options to back up the AU Mission, known as MISCA, with broader UN support. France will likely offer a resolution at the Security Council tomorrow to give Ban Ki Moon 30 days to come up with a plan. In the meantime, France wants to threaten leaders in CAR with sanctions and other punitive measures should these human rights abuses continue.
If a mission does get off the ground it will be a fairly difficult one for the simple fact that right now there is no real peace to keep. Also, the current “government” is mostly responsible for this mess, so they might not necessarily be a willing partner to a join AU-UN mission unless the international community takes serious steps to compel cooperation. Still, with a P-5 country like France taking the political lead at the Security Council it is almost certain that CAR will soon get a joint-AU UN mission. The key question is how quickly this mission can get off the ground, and whether it will be fast enough to forestall a deeper descent into chaos in CAR.