By Niklas Jakobsson
Next week, the trial against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo will hear final arguments from the prosecution and defence. The former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been in the custody of the International Criminal Court since 2008 for his alleged role in the violence that hit the Central African Republic between 2000 and 2003. He faces charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
But while his trial is being wrapped up, the internet is being flooded with comments and opinions relating to the current turmoil in the Central African Republic.
In the wake of murder, rape and religious persecution, the violence in the CAR, which began in 2012 and continues to this day, has left several hundred thousand displaced from their homes.
For over five decades the country has been laden with conflict. The lack of a powerful and stable government has enabled the violence, argues Amanda Taub, a lecturer and author at Wronging Rights, in an article for vox.com.
”In a country where government is weak or entirely powerless, military power has become a way for fighters to gain everything from material goods to political power. And because the state and peacekeepers lack the strength to protect civilians, violence against Muslim and Christian communities begets reprisals, which beget more violence.
“In other words, until peace has more to offer, the fighting won’t stop.”
Thomas Zuber, a guest blogger for Africa in Transition, agrees. He argues that the lack of recognition for the new president Samba-Panza by the Seleka is symptomatic of the weakness of state institutions.
”Despite foreign governments reestablishing full embassy missions in Bangui, conflict persists. The Seleka have refused to recognize Samba-Panza’s government. The vast numbers of internally displaced people and refugees add a further strain to the country and the region’s numerous challenges.”
So the people of CAR have a badly functioning government. What hope do they have for justice? Evan Cinq-Mars, a research analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, argues in an article for The Global Observatory that the country’s justice system is down and out.
”The country’s justice system is broken, and despite the promise of a hybrid Special Criminal Court to prosecute the perpetrators, resources have not yet been mobilized to get it up and running. The involvement of the International Criminal Court is welcome, but it is at too preliminary a stage to date to stem systematic and widespread attacks against civilians.”
Even as Cinq-Mars welcomes the involvement of the ICC, there’s an amazing story about how the court may have even managed to save lives in the CAR – without even knowing it.
An article by Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker gave a moving account of how the ICC’s sheer reputation came into play on the ground at a Christian mission in the small town of Bossemptele.
”Once, the antibalaka abducted three refugees. One of the nuns, Sister Josephine, told their leader that the camp was under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and that if anything happened to his prisoners he could end up in The Hague. “It was a lie,” Father Bernard said, and smiled. “But when the antibalaka leader heard that, he agreed to let them go.” The situation was similar in many places across the Central African Republic: a handful of priests and nuns in Catholic missions were all that stood between tens of thousands of trapped Muslim civilians and their would-be killers.”
But don’t be fooled – it’s not often that the awful events in the CAR make the pages of something like the New Yorker. German blogger Lukas Aiden throws harsh criticism at the world’s media for their inability to cover one of the ”worst genocides of the modern world”.
”What we do not hear about are the Christian soldiers in the Central African Republic that are doing the very same thing to a dwindling Muslim minority. Yes, people that identify openly as Christians are causing one of the worst genocides of the modern world. Yet we hear almost nothing about it at all. This is one of the worst tragedies and failures of Western media of all time.”
Is it just the media’s fault? Or are Western governments to blame too? Twitter has been filled with calls for greater attention to these ongoing atrocities in the CAR. They’ve even got their own hashtag: #CARcrisis. (How about that for trending?)
So, what will it take for the world’s media to cover the CAR crisis? Who’s to blame for the lack of attention? And what should the next step be for the government of the CAR to solve the ongoing conflict?
The Weekly Hubble features the most popular or controversial international justice story of the past week and reactions on social media to the news.