Not long ago, Canada boasted a strong tradition of peacekeeping. Our soldiers served under the United Nations umbrella in some of the world’s worst conflict zones. Today, our contribution is relatively insignificant. Canada provides a little more than a hundred personnel to all UN peacekeeping operations worldwide – a figure that includes police, civilian personnel and soldiers. Our contribution is at the same level as Cameroon.
There is absolutely no sign that Ottawa – or the Canadian public – desires anything different. Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan was expensive, costly and unpopular by the time it ended. Nobody is keen to send our troops back into battle any time soon. But Canadians should be asking themselves if there are other ways this country can play a role in ending horrific violence, even if it is happening half a world away. The brutal conflict in the Central African Republic is such a case.
The conflict in CAR is quickly spiralling out of control. The country’s new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, warned her country is “at the brink of implosion.” The roots of the violence stretch back to last March, when President François Bozizé was ousted in a coup by predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels. Michel Djotodia, the rebels’ leader, appointed himself president but later resigned. Christian, “anti-balaka” militias have since gained the upper hand. Fighters loyal to both sides have committed horrible atrocities, and the minority Muslim population in particular is currently being targeted in a campaign of co-ordinated violence that is forcing entire communities to flee to surrounding countries.
The United Nations has warned that CAR is at a “high risk of crimes against humanity and genocide.” Amnesty International describes human rights violations on “an unprecedented scale.” A force of 6,000 African troops and 1,600 from France have failed to prevent the violence from escalating.
The conflict in CAR may seem distant, but it is deeply disturbing. There are echoes of Rwanda, where, nearly 20 years ago, Hutus slaughtered Tutsis while the world essentially stood by on the sidelines. Nearly one million people died before anything was done.
What could Canada do now? Even without sending troops, there are options. Canada could play a role in trying to resolve the sectarian conflict through negotiation. It could contribute more than the $16.9-million it has already donated to the UN’s $551-million appeal, which is woefully underfunded at just 11 per cent. It could consider providing logistical support to those countries with troops on the ground. Canada cannot send troops, and it’s not clear what they could accomplish in any case. But we can do more than just stand by and watch. Canada can take steps to help.