A Turbulent Week at the UN

Human Rights Committee Report on the Vatican

This week two UN reports appeared high in the headlines. They dealt specifically with the plight of children. Neither offered any good news, but it is essential that these issues are kept in the mainstream so action to prevent them can be top of the agenda. The first report[1] followed an investigation into the Catholic Church’s handling of Child sex abuse. The report was damning and has elicited a strong rebuke from the Vatican. The UN panel accused the Vatican of “not acknowledging the extent of the crimes committed”, nor have they, in the panel’s view, “taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children.” The panel reiterated a charge against the Vatican, which has been made numerous times before, that it has for decades put its own reputation and interests above those of children who have suffered while under the church’s care.  Pope Francis was the only member of the Vatican leadership who garnered any sort of positive feedback from the panel who described him as “progressive”. The Vatican responded to the report, the first in 14 years, claiming it had been “unfair” and had “distorted” the facts by failing to include the child protection measures that had been implemented by the Holy See.

 Secretary-General Report on Children and Armed Conflict in Syria

The second report[2] was based on UN investigations into the treatment of Syrian children during the country’s three year old civil war. It found that children in Syria are not safe from combatants on either side of the conflict. The report estimated that at least 10,000 children have been killed and “grave violations…had been carried out by all parties to the conflict”. Widespread reports of torture, sexual abuse, incarceration in government institutions and recruitment of child soldiers by the opposition, paint a starkly grim picture of the day to day lives of the most vulnerable in Syria.

UN Mission in South Sudan

In an effort to provide some grains of positivity from this update of the week at the United Nations, I came across some positive news (hidden amongst the awful news) from South Sudan. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous commended as a huge success the UN’s decision to allow 85,000 civilians onto 10 peacekeeping bases around the country, to shelter them from vicious fighting. Ladsous commented that had the action not been taken, “it would have been many thousands or tens of thousands of civilians who would have been killed. I think it shows a great example of what we do.”[3] The UNMISS focuses on three pillars, the protection of civilians, human rights and the creation of an environment in which the humanitarian actors can do their work.

Situation still anarchic in CAR

Since my last post on the Central African Republic, the Muslim Seleka Rebels have disbanded after the coup leader Michel Djotodia, stood down under strong international pressure. He was replaced by Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza. Sectarian fighting between the ‘former’ Muslim Seleka Rebels and the majority Christian militia anti-Balaka has worsened despite the presence of nearly 7,000 African Union and French troops. Reports coming from Human Rights Watch today, detail the instability of the situation. A man, accused of being a former Seleka member, was lynched by members of the CAR armed forces. The callous murder was made all the more ominous as it took place moments after the Interim President’s motorcade had left the area having re-introduced the army as the stabilizing force in the country[4]. The Central African Republic Armed Forces (FACA) faded into the background following the coup last March. It was hoped that its re-emergence today backed by Interim President Samba-Panza, would bring some level of stability. This incident casts huge doubt over that plan.

Post by UNAC-Vancouver website writer Barry Hynes.

Crisis in the Central African Republic

unacto1“The worst crisis most people have never heard of” – Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN.

As a community of people who share an interest in peace and humanity, and realize the importance of working together to ensure the world acts to help the most vulnerable, we all need to be, at the very least, aware of what is happening in the Central African Republic (CAR).

This landlocked country situated, as its not very imaginative name suggests, in the center of the African continent has been a victim of its geography and its colonial history for many decades. A former French colony, it became fully independent in 1960. Its independence has been marred by corruption and military rule. Added to this, its unstable regional neighborhood includes Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the DRC and the Republic of Congo. This country has always been battling against the odds.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.20.27 AMIn 2007, an alliance was formed under the name Séléka (‘Union’), which was made up of three rebel groups. In April of that year, President François Bozize, who himself had ousted the former president from power in 2003, negotiated an accord with Seleka, resulting in them joining the CAR army.

In 2012, a turbulent situation began deteriorating rapidly. The Séléka rebels, angry that promised peace accords were not being followed, began to take up arms, separate from the army. They gained control of much of the north and midlands of the country. In March of this year, the rebels led by Michel Djotodia, overthrew Bozize and took power in the capital city of Bangui. The country, home to nearly 4.5 million people has experienced the worst levels of brutality and lawlessness mainly along religious and ethnic lines ever since.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.21.34 AMSlowly, and not a moment too soon, we are seeing signs that the first substantial action to be taken by the international community could be imminent. The Security Council convened an emergency meeting last Monday to discuss the situation on the ground. They are currently considering an arms embargo and a travel ban on certain troublesome individuals[1]. France has 450 troops stationed in the country and has promised to raise this to a thousand troops in an effort to bring some stability and back up African Union troops[2].

Journalists who have stayed on in the country despite serious security concerns are reporting stories which the world simply cannot ignore. David Smith of the UK Guardian, reporting from Bosangoa in the northwest, describes “a massacre of the innocents” with common scenes of “unspeakable horrors” being carried out by militia and mercenaries[3]. Thousands of civilians have been murdered, mass rape and torture is becoming routine, villages are being razed and children are being forced to fight. Diseases such as malaria are rampant.

France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabuis, warned last week that CAR is on the “verge of genocide”[4]. The world stands yet again on the eve of another Rwanda. In six months’ time, I truly hope we don’t hear another politician usher the infamous last words ‘never again, can this be allowed to happen’.

Some stories, too grotesque for this article, show the sheer evil we are capable of and we must not allow willful blindness to soothe our conscious