Central African Republic: addressing the protection crisis

Report
from ODI - Humanitarian Policy Group
Published on 20 Nov 2015 View Original

The Central African Republic (CAR) is in the midst of a protection crisis. The latest round of violence in the country has left thousands dead and several million displaced. Civilians have been systematically targeted and their property looted and destroyed. The government has no capacity to safeguard its people, who have instead looked to a range of non-state actors – armed groups, churches and mosques and peacekeeping and humanitarian organisations – for what little protection they can find.

This report looks at how people in CAR affected by the conflict see protection threats, how they mitigate them, and what they expect from those seeking to provide protection.

This has revealed, amongst other findings, how civilians look to armed groups for protection, more than peacekeepers; the important role that faith-based groups are playing in emergency mediation and rebuilding trust; and how the international community failed to respond quickly and adequately to the crisis, leading to a protection gap.

Introduction

The protection crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) highlights yet again the gap between norms and policies for the protection of civilians and the ongoing failure – by governments and by the instruments of the international community – to provide effective protection on the ground for civilians at acute risk (Jackson, 2014). The latest round of violence in the country has left thousands dead and several million displaced. Civilians have been systematically targeted and their property looted and destroyed. The government has no capacity to safeguard its people, who have instead looked to a range of non-state actors – armed groups, churches and mosques and peacekeeping and humanitarian organisations – for what little protection they can find. The failure of protection in CAR is fundamentally a consequence of a lack of compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) by parties to the conflict. This failure has been compounded by the near-complete inability of the state to fulfil its responsibilities to protect civilians on its territory, and the inadequate political, military and humanitarian response of the international community.

This HPG Working Paper is part of a larger research project looking at the discrepancy between normative developments in the protection of civilians and improvements in protection outcomes for civilians affected by conflict.1 It analyses how affected communities in CAR perceived protection threats, the strategies they used to mitigate them and their expectations of various actors in protection. The protection sector has adopted a community-based approach in its policy and practice, but it is unclear whether this has enabled protection actors to respond adequately to the perceptions and expectations of affected communities. The research includes the views and perceptions of humanitarian workers, experts and analysts on CAR, peacekeepers and political actors, including the political wing of the UN. It argues that at least part of the failure of protection can be attributed to the delay in triggering the full set of mechanisms and responses at the global level that could have contributed to the protection of civilians. In part too it stems from a failure to meet the perceptions and expectations of affected people, and support what they themselves were doing to enhance their own protection.

The analysis in this paper is based on a review of the literature on the crisis in CAR, as well as interviews with a wide range of actors involved in the response, at headquarters and in the country, including peacekeepers, humanitarian actors and UN staff; focus group discussions with affected communities in Bangui and Batangafo; and interviews with local actors, including community leaders and religious figures. The paper focuses on the second phase of the conflict, from December 2013, and the last interviews and focus group discussions were completed in March 2015. The second phase of the conflict was chosen because it coincided with a more robust response by humanitarian actors and peacekeeping forces. Key issues in the international response during the earlier phase of the conflict are analysed in a separate HPG Policy Brief (Barbelet, 2015).

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