Monday, November 25, 2013

The G Word

As news of the nuclear deal with Iran, continued crises in the Philippines and Syria, and other prominent stories continue to flood media outlets, a story is growing in the Central African Republic. The UN and officials in France are warning of a possible genocide in the coming days as violence has escalated. Reports of children being massacred, used as child soldiers, and left alone because of the murders of their parents are beginning to come to light. National security does not rest on the security of the Central African Republic, but as the leader of the free world, the United States must acknowledge and address issues of genocide.

In 1994, 100 days of massacre in Rwanda was largely ignored by the international community. Rather than using the "g-word," officials in the UN and Washington preferred to refer to this genocide as "ethnic tension" or a "civil war." The reluctance to label the Rwandan case as genocide stems largely from failures in Somalia. Clinton and other high level officials in D.C. chose to refrain from taking action, hemming and hawing while thousands of Rwandans were slaughtered. There were reasons for inaction, of course, but in light of what we know now, inaction in future genocide is unacceptable.

The case in the Central African Republic (CAR) erupted in March when Seleka Muslim rebels overthrew the government. What followed was months of violence, including widespread use of child soldiers, massacres of civilians, and other atrocities. Reports say that over 6,000 children are currently being used in the violence as child soldiers. Sectarian violence between Christians (who makes up 50% of the population) and Muslims (only 15% of the population) has only increased since the overthrow. Although Christians did not provoke the violence, they have taken up arms in vigilante groups, increasing the volatility of the crisis.While Seleka Muslims have taken control of the government, over 400,000 people have been displaced, seeking refuge in the jungles. This has led to widespread malaria outbreaks. Basically, the CAR is in crisis, and no one is talking about it.

France has argued for an increase in French troops. Currently, there are 400 on the ground, mostly defending airports and French assets in the capital. Those in the UN are pushing for forces from the African Union to intervene. The U.S. has pledged $40 million to those security forces. African Union forces may prove to be the peacekeeping body needed to establish some relief from the violence, but as we know from history, simply sending some forces may not be enough. In Rwanda, UN troops were grossly underfunded and under-supplied. The lack of supplies rendered them somewhat impotent, other than being able to secure a few safe zones for civilians to seek shelter.

Samantha Powers, US Ambassador to the UN, has said that the situation in CAR is "the worst crisis most people have never heard of." A lot of this seems very familiar. As the story continues to unfold, I wonder if the U.S. will focus more on this crisis, or if it will be put on the back burner. While children are thrown to crocodiles and mothers are murdered in front of their children, we as Americans may continue to focus on our own issues. I argue that as long as we continue to ignore mass atrocities, we as a "superpower" will not hold moral standing. We lost a lot of ground after Rwanda, and then again during the War on Terror. Championing the rights of civilians and children in these cases of violence can increase our moral standing in the world, while arguably doing what we should have done in 1994.

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