Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, Remarks at Member States Briefing on the Central African Republic
New York, New York 19 March 2018
Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for joining us for this briefing on the Central African Republic and I am delighted to be joined on the podium by H.E. Ms. Ambroisine Kpongo, the Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations.
I am very pleased to be here to discuss the situation in the Central African Republic following my mission to the country last month, and I wish to express my appreciation to the Government and to the people of the Central African Republic for their warm welcome and support throughout my visit.
The situation in the Central African Republic has further deteriorated since the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Central African Republic, Najat Rochdi, briefed you in November last year. Two years after the democratic elections, conflict is escalating. Violence is fast spreading across the country, creating new emergencies while urgent and critical needs that existed before are deepening further.
The number of people displaced within and outside the Central African Republic has reached record high levels. Currently more than 690,000 people have been internally displaced – which is an increase since last year of 72 per cent. Over 546,000 people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries – that is more than 20 per cent more than last year. Insecurity and recurrent displacement led to a 58 per cent decline in crop production, as well as increased food prices and rising malnutrition levels. 1.1 million people are moderately or severely food insecure, and in 2018, an estimated 37,000 children under 5 years will suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Less than half of all children are fully immunized and 1.7 million people are without access to safe water, 800,000 of which are children.
With the upsurge in violence, the recruitment and use of children by armed groups increased by 50 per cent between 2016 and 2017 and, due to insecurity, approximately one in four children is out of school. These figures are even more striking when considering that the total population in the country is less than 5 million, and we estimate that 2.5 million people – more than half of the country’s population – need humanitarian assistance.
During my mission, I met with Government officials, United Nations agencies, the leadership of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), NGO partners, religious leaders and the diplomatic community. I met with internally displaced persons in Paoua, in northwestern Central African Republic, and in the PK5 neighbourhood in the capital, Bangui. I also met with returnees in Bangui’s Bimbo neighbourhood.
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of violence. Women, men, boys and girls are severely affected by the crisis. Too often they are uprooted and forced to flee from their homes because of the presence of armed groups and criminal gangs. Mothers I talked to who have been displaced and are in return sites in Bangui and Paoua were shaken, and I was really shaken listening to the stories that they recounted to me of the violence they experienced while fleeing their homes. They also reminded me how their communities urgently require security, food, water, education and jobs to prevent the youth from joining armed groups.
Armed clashes are affecting towns and villages which were relatively calm and where communities have previously lived peacefully side by side. Countless women, girls, boys and men have been raped. The number of children taken by armed groups has increased in the past year. Cases of torture and inhumane treatment, including enslavement and sexual exploitation of minorities, have not stopped since the conflict erupted.
The latest escalation of violence has come at a time when the Government and the people of the Central African Republic were recovering from years of instability. However, several officials I met in Bangui expressed their optimism about the outlook for the country, and the satisfaction for the work done so far in starting to re-deploy – or in some cases such as Birao, in the North of CAR, deploying for the first time – civil servants such as the prefects. I am firmly convinced that the donor community should increase its investments in those areas of the country that have been successfully stabilized.
At the same time, it is also critical to provide a realistic account on the different realities and challenges faced by the population living outside Bangui. For instance, in Paoua, a relatively small town in the northwestern part of the country, close to the country’s borders with Chad and Cameroon, I witnessed first-hand how once relatively stable areas can rapidly relapse into conflict. This bordering area had been identified as a priority area for initiating recovery and development programmes when, last December, violence erupted, brutally displacing over 65,000 people and generating new dire humanitarian needs.
While the State bears the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians, both humanitarian actors and peacekeepers in the Central African Republic continue to prioritize protection in their respective work. And as mentioned before, with MINUSCA’s support, significant progress has been made in bolstering the State presence in the interior of the country. Measures such as building the capacity of local government administrative officials have helped in improving the situation. Despite these developments, people continue to depend heavily on humanitarian organizations’ support because essential social services remain scarce in many parts of the country. Throughout my conversations with various interlocutors, there was a broad consensus that more needs to be done to protect civilians.
I am also concerned that armed groups increasingly instrumentalize religious or ethnic affiliations to manipulate communities to fight each other and incite them to violence. Civilians are targeted because they are artificially described as belonging to an opposing group. Various spoilers of the peace process have fueled this violence by supporting militias or making inflammatory statements. This must stop immediately.
One such example is Bangassou, where some 1,500 internally displaced people from minority groups continue to be trapped and threatened by armed groups. They have been living in the Catholic Church premises since May 2017 when anti-Balaka elements attacked and destroyed Tokoyo, their neighbourhood of origin. Prevailing insecurity and occupation by their assailants of their area of origin prevents them from returning home, while no solution has been found to relocate them to a safer area. These 1,500 IDPs continue to live in fear in what has become another enclave under MINUSCA’s protection. We should commend MINUSCA’s significant efforts to protect civilians when violence erupts, improve security and promote the conditions for the return of IDPs.
As I could see and hear in Paoua, the presence and violent activities of armed groups continue to be a deterrent forcing civilians to remain displaced for long periods of time. It is concerning that entire areas of the Central African Republic have been emptied of communities who had lived there for generations and now strive to maintain family ties, although the social fabric of their towns and villages has been torn apart.
Insecurity also restricts humanitarian access and undermines the response to the most vulnerable. The Central African Republic is one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian actors to operate in. In 2017, 14 humanitarian workers lost their lives – a 43 per cent increase from the previous year. In the first two months of 2018 alone, six education workers and four health practitioners were killed. In the past year, violence against aid workers has often led to temporary suspensions of humanitarian activities, leaving vulnerable men, women and children without required life-saving assistance.
I therefore reiterate the call I made in the Central African Republic to all parties, and those who have influence in the region and beyond, to respect and ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers and to facilitate humanitarian access. All parties to the conflict must comply with International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law obligations.
Despite the challenges I have mentioned, there is room for hope. The international community, the authorities and the population of the Central African Republic have a strong commitment for the restoration of stability in the country. The people of the Central African Republic want peace, justice and reconciliation. They want to return safely to their homes and rebuild their lives. They want to contribute to the development of their country.
Humanitarian workers continue to stay and to deliver despite persistent insecurity. I met with international NGOs and local NGOs, and I was really impressed and inspired by their dedication and their courage to put their lives on the line to provide humanitarian assistance and protection day by day.
In 2017, 637,000 people received emergency food assistance, 1.4 million people received clean water assistance, while 447,000 IDPs and affected comminutes received aid in sanitation. 27,000 severely acutely malnourished children under the age of five received nutrition support. Over 5,000 households received shelter, non-food items or cash transfers and 22,000 households in IDP sites received access to basic services. As humanitarians continue to save lives and alleviate suffering, it is critical that development actors step up their efforts to address the root causes of the crisis. This will help put an end to the vicious cycle of violence and support the authorities in providing basic social services.
Yet, serious underfunding continues to hamper the work of aid organizations. This year, the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for the Central African Republic, requires almost US$516 million, but so far only 2 percent has been received. Last year, the HRP – in the whole year – received only 39 per cent of its $497 million requirement.
I want to take this opportunity to thank our esteemed donors for their continued support, which allowed the humanitarian community to meet the needs of 1.3 million people in 2017, despite the security and financial constraints I mentioned. And I call on your continuous support to prevent a further deterioration. We cannot afford to neglect the crisis in the Central African Republic any longer, or the price to pay will be much higher than the investments already made.
Thank you very much, and I would now like to give the floor to Her Excellency the Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations.