Victim says CAR needs justice before there can be reconciliation

News Stories, 4 April 2014

© UNHCR/D.Alachi
Marie-Hélène had to collect pieces of her murdered father's body to bury him but still tells people not to take justice into their own hands.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, April 4 (UNHCR) Although Marie-Hélène* has directly experienced the horror and brutality of the conflict in Central African Republic, she is seeking justice rather than revenge.

The violence in Central African Republic has been marked since last December by its scale and ferocity as well as a new development attacks based on religion that has been tearing apart the social fabric of the country.

António Guterres told the UN Security Council last month that the "brutality and inhumanity" he heard about in the Central African Republic in February had caused him the most anguish of any trip in his eight years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Marie-Hélène worked as a hospital nurse in Bossangoa, a town straddling the Ouham River some 300 kilometres north of Bangui. It was a place where Christians and Muslims had lived happily side-by-side for generations.

A mother of nine, she lived with her children and parents in Baton village, 10 kms from Bossangoa. Her father was a priest who was kept busy on Sundays by the large congregation attending mass.

Like others, they worried when the Seleka, a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition, captured the capital Bangui in March 2013 but they never really thought the conflict would come to them. It did. Last September Seleka forces attacked their village.

Marie-Helene and her family fled to the archbishop's residence in Bossangoa, where more than 10,000 scared Christians remain. On October 6, a Sunday, the family decided to return to Baton because their father was determined not to miss mass. While the family sat in a mango orchard, the old priest went to the church and rang the bell to summon his congregation. Instead, the Seleka turned up

"We saw a car of Seleka getting closer and closer to the chapel. Several armed men entered and we heard the gunfire," said Marie-Hélène. She and her brothers were only able to enter the chapel after the Seleka left the next day. Marie-Hélène collected her father's body, piece by piece, before burying him in his chapel.

Marie-Hélène heard rumors in Bossangoa that she and her family were wanted, so they fled. "We went to Bossembele by bus. From Bossembele to Boali, we walked, and then we took a taxi that drove us to the capital. It took us 10 days before we arrived to the airport site where we felt safe."

Marie-Hélène is now active in the displaced community, constantly doing visits for UNHCR's partner Premiere Urgence as an outreach facilitator, referring vulnerable people such as women victims of sexual violence and abandoned children to aid organizations. She tries to ensure needy people get health care.

Alongside these activities, she tries to promote peace in her own way: "It is retaliatory violence and unfortunately people are taking law into their own hand. I always tell my brothers and members of my community to be patient, and never use violence to get justice."

More than 2,000 people have died in fighting between Seleka and anti-Balaka fighters since December. The weakness of the state and the non-existent criminal justice system in the Central Africa Republic have exacerbated the situation. Even if police arrest a criminal, there is no structure to prosecute the person. Courts and prisons are not functioning.

This prevents people from pursuing crimes such as murder via the justice system, prompting them to seek justice outside. It is tearing apart the society. Alongside establishing security, support to rebuilding the justice system will be invaluable in healing Central Africans' wounds.

"How can I reconcile when my father's cold-blooded assassination was not acknowledged. How do you want me to reconcile when in front of me I have armed men?" she said. "We want justice."

Renewed inter-communal violence late in March has triggered fresh displacement. The number of internally displaced people in CAR has risen to 637,000, including 207,000 in Bangui, and some 317,000 refugees are in neighbouring countries.

"I will never go back to Bossangoa. I cannot. I am so afraid of being in front of my father's assassins one day," said Marie-Hélène. "Too many horrors took place. We need to turn the page."

*Identity is withheld for security reasons

By Dalia Al Achi in Bangui, Central African Republic

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Central African Republic: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Silent Success

Despite being chased from their homes in the Central African Republic and losing their livelihoods, Mbororo refugees have survived by embracing a new way of life in neighbouring Cameroon.

The Mbororo, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders from Central African Republic, started fleeing their villages in waves in 2005, citing insecurity as well as relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

They arrived in the East and Adamaoua provinces of Cameroon with nothing. Though impoverished, the host community welcomed the new arrivals and shared their scant resources. Despite this generosity, many refugees died of starvation or untreated illness.

Help arrived in 2007, when UNHCR and partner agencies began registering refugees, distributing food, digging and rehabilitating wells as well as building and supplying medical clinics and schools, which benefit refugees and the local community and promote harmony between them. The Mbororo were eager to learn a new trade and set up farming cooperatives. Though success didn't come immediately, many now make a living from their crops.

Mbororo refugees continue to arrive in Central African Republic - an average of 50 per month. The long-term goal is to increase refugees' self-reliance and reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid.

Silent Success

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

The escalating violence in Central African Republic (CAR) has caught everyone in its web, including refugees from countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For the Congolese living in places like the CAR capital, Bangui, or the town of Batalimo, home was just a short trip away across the Oubangui River. UNHCR earlier this year agreed to help those who wished to repatriate due to fear for their safety. The refugee agency has since mid-January facilitated the return home of hundreds of these refugees. The following photographs, taken earlier this month by UNHCR staff members Dalia Al Achi and Hugo Reichenberger, depict the repatriation of a group of 364 Congolese. The refugees portrayed were heading to the riverside town of Zongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province, where they spent a night in a transit centre before continuing to their hometowns. They were relieved to be leaving, and some were in poor health. The decision to return to the country they had fled during the years of civil war from 1996-2003 was not easy. Some 6,000 of the 17,000 Congolese refugees in Central African Republic have registered with UNHCR to go home.

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African RefugeesPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African Refugees

The UN refugee agency and its partners appealed for more donor support to cope with the continuing outflow and deteriorating condition of refugees from the Central African Republic.
UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR and Cameroon

This video was shot by one of our staff* using a mobile phone as they helped refugees who had crossed the river to safety.
Central African Republic: Torn CommunitiesPlay video

Central African Republic: Torn Communities

For more than a year, inter-communal strife has displaced tens of thousands of people in the Central African Republic. But amid the violence, efforts are being made to promote reconciliation.