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Religious leaders’ quest for peace in the Central African Republic

The security situation in the Central African Republic’s (CAR) capital, Bangui, continues to deteriorate since the large-scale killings of civilians in December 2013 and January 2014.

These killings mainly resulted from clashes between the anti-Balaka, Christian self-defence militias, and the ex-Séléka, a largely Muslim coalition of rebel groups who overthrew former CAR President François Bozizé in a coup in March 2013.

A high number of people have been killed in CAR since the conflict began, while about 650,000 people have been internally displaced and some 220,000 forced to seek refuge abroad, according to UN reports.

On 27 March 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland, the UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay met with Pastor Nicolas Guerekoyamene-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance of CAR and Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Islamic Council in CAR. The meeting’s purpose was to discuss the human rights situation in CAR and the role religious communities can play in the future reconciliation process.

Guerekoyamene-Gbangou and Layama spent the last few weeks outside their country informing Governments on the grim situation in CAR and seeking support from the international community to deploy a strong UN peacekeeping mission in the country. Before this mission, the two religious leaders, along with Mgr Dieudonné Zapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui, travelled throughout CAR to meet with their respective religious communities promoting peace, mutual respect, tolerance and trust. They have called on the CAR authorities and the international community to end these atrocities.

During the meeting with Pillay, Guerekoyamene-Gbangou and Layama both stressed the need to place justice at the heart of the reconciliation process, which is contrary to the past processes that contributed to a culture of impunity by granting blank amnesties. Layama shared his concern over the level of atrocities perpetrated by the anti-Balaka and the ex-Séléka groups. He stated that the country has been taken hostage and highlighted the role played by former President Bozizé and his regime in the prevailing situation in CAR.

Since the UN Human Rights Chief’s recent mission to CAR in March, the security situation has further deteriorated in Bangui, with at least 60 people killed since March 22.

The UN Human Rights Chief recommended that Guerekoyamene-Gbangou and Layama provide their full support to the work of the International Commission of Inquiry on CAR, which is a powerful instrument in the strategy to combat impunity. In order to put an end to the persistent violence in the country, Pillay said that she will continue to advocate for the deployment of a strong peacekeeping operation by the United Nations.

Pillay also added that there is no single model to replicate regarding the reconciliation process. She noted that each country should consider transitional justice mechanisms adapted to its own context. Based on best practices in several countries, Pillay said that her Office is ready to assist CAR in this area of expertise. She also highlighted the importance of engaging all sectors of the population, including victims of human rights violations, in this reconciliation process.

10 April 2014

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