2nd Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 149, Issue 122
Thursday, February 26, 2015
The Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin, Speaker
Central African Republic
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Dallaire, calling the attention of the Senate to the clear and present links between the genocide in Rwanda and the crisis in the Central African Republic today.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, today more than 850,000 people in the Central African Republic are displaced. Today, nearly 1 million people of the Central African Republic have fled their homes, either remaining in their country under unimaginable circumstances or fleeing to neighbouring countries and living under equally painful conditions. Women, children, girls, boys and fathers are searching for peace in their country, and it is only with international help that they will finally find it.
Ache, a 16-year-old girl from Darfur, Sudan, has already overcome many obstacles in her life. She finished elementary school in the Central African Republic this past August, but violence has come knocking at her door once more. She is now asking, “With our lives in danger, how will I keep studying?”
Ache was nine years old when she started hearing explosions in her backyard in Darfur. Honourable senators, I know what she means about the explosions, because at the time that she was in Darfur, I spent many, many days in Darfur. The difference was that I was under UN protection and she was alone.
Ache continues to say that the soldiers were coming so fast at her home in Darfur, that her family did not have the chance to take anything with them. They walked for five days to the northeastern corner of the Central African Republic. Ache married when she was 15 years old. With the help of international organizations, her family became self-reliant, farming and rearing cattle. She was able to continue school, but war has followed Ache and she fears for her life once more.
Honourable senators, the United Nations says that this is a humanitarian crisis among the world’s worst. Despite the dire and pressing situation in the Central African Republic, it risks being overshadowed if support is not provided immediately.
I rise before you today in this chamber with hopes that my words will resonate with you and the people you represent. I hope that this forum, on the national stage in front of Canada’s leaders, will be enough to convince you that we are not doing our part in safeguarding the human rights and the humanitarian needs of those most in need of them. Honourable senators, I believe this is a responsibility that as Canadians we have historically and rightfully taken upon ourselves to fulfill.
The history of the conflict: The Central African Republic is a small, landlocked country almost precisely in the middle of the African continent. Gaining independence in 1960, it is a new country with many ethnic groups and religions making up its cultural background. With 5.2 million people, the life expectancy at birth is only 51 years, but today it is the violence and instability caused by civil war since 2012 that I would like to bring to your attention.
After the elections in 2012 that were believed to be fraudulent, a rebel union known as the Séléka began to capture towns in response to their dissatisfaction with the government. The rebels finally arrived at the capital, Bangui and ousted the government and the president, who was later indicted for crimes against humanity. This coup d’état was only successful through kidnappings, murders and attacks on innocent civilians.
Since the transitional government came to power in March 2013, the violence has continued. Humanitarian groups are continuously finding bodies in the streets. Killings continue in the capital and security has worsened around the entire country. The Séléka deliberately and systemically killed civilians, looted and destroyed thousands of homes, and burned villages. Further violence between the Séléka and the old regime supporters, as well as the violence between Séléka factions, have resulted in a war that is pitting religions and ethnicities against each other.
The Lord’s Resistance Army is now operating in many regions of the Central African Republic. As you are aware, honourable senators, the Lord’s Resistance Army has done tremendous damage in northern Uganda, killing many women and children.
In the Central African Republic, the Lord’s Resistance Army is forcing children into fighting. Not only are they being forced into fighting, they’re also being made sex slaves. More than 10,000 children in the Central African Republic have been recruited by armed groups. Between the Muslim rebels toppling the government and the Christian militias retaliating, children are going missing amid the violence — an entire generation is disappearing.
Stories of girls as young as 10, 12 and 14 are emerging. They are held as cooks and maids, but also as sex slaves who often become pregnant. These girls do not have a home to go back to, on the off chance that UNICEF negotiates their release. Their families have fled and contacting them is impossible.
The international response and the United Nations: International response to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic has not been adequate. The French government, which has been sending troops and resources to help African troops attempt to protect the civilian populations, repeatedly called out to the international community that without more help, the situation would stay on the route to destabilize the entire region, threatening international peace and security.
With a series of resolutions, the UN Security Council described the security situation in the Central African Republic as, and I quote:
. . . a total breakdown in law and order [with] widespread human rights violations and abuses, notably by Séléka elements, including those involving extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence against women and children, rape, recruitment and use of women and children and attacks against civilians.
The Security Council mandated a peacekeeping force of 12,000 blue helmets to the Central African Republic, but unofficial warnings of genocide had already started.
By December 2013, the Security Council adopted a resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which means that it had to turn to the use of force in order to implement security measures destined to restore peace and security.
A series of sanctions was put in place, and importantly all member states of the United Nations were called upon to respond to the humanitarian appeals of the UN and other organizations in order to meet the spiralling needs of people inside the Central African Republic and refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.
Unfortunately, the reports of these efforts show a bleak picture. Violence continues to escalate, and armed security operations are still needed on the ground. The current European Union force and UN peacekeeping force is not enough.
The current humanitarian situation: Amnesty International has declared that Christian militias have committed ethnic cleansing against Muslim populations in the Central African Republic. The result has been, in the words of Amnesty International, “. . . a Muslim exodus of historic proportions.”
Sporadic killings around the country have developed into systemic murders of civilians. There is no way to hide because the motives of the perpetrators cover every religion and ethnicity. The number of displaced people this year is half a million more than in 2013. Two years of chaos has affected the entire country, including children who cannot go to school because the education system is in a state of crisis.
The last official number we have is 5,186. That is 5,186 deaths since 2013.
This year, your government allocated $5 million to humanitarian projects in the Central African Republic. I am very pleased that UNICEF, the World Food Programme and Save the Children are being given these funds, which are necessary to provide humanitarian aid, food, drugs and shelter to those who need it most. However, humanitarian aid remains a priority, and this is an area where our county could have a major positive impact.
Honourable senators, you remember Senator Dallaire’s pleas in this house for Canadian involvement in the Central African Republic crisis and his call for this inquiry. I want to thank him for initiating this inquiry. What Senator Dallaire explained to us is increasingly relevant today, as the violence in the Central African Republic is not nearing any end.
The UN spokesman has said that mobilizing troops for this peacekeeping mission is taking months. They are knocking on doors to gather troops, equipment and helicopters. Canada, unfortunately, has not answered the call.
Canada is placed in an ideal situation to play a strong and fundamental role in a peacekeeping mission to the Central African Republic. With the necessary language and cultural skills, a fellow Francophonie nation and highly regarded in terms of peacekeeping experience and skill, Canada should be playing a leading role in stabilizing the region. A non-colonizing nation such as Canada is not just welcome in peacekeeping coalitions in the region, but sought after.
We talk a lot about money, but when will we admit that humanity and our neighbour’s lives do not have a dollar value? When will we remember that as Canadians we believe in the basic inalienable human rights and the need to protect them?
Canada has been an integral part in building a new system of international peace and security since the end of the Second World War. Our Armed Forces are specifically trained and designed for missions like the one needed in the Central African Republic.
And yet our country has refused to take part in the current missions. We have refused our internationally recognized military skills and resources that would be integral in building the foundations of an effective security mission, one that the Central African Republic and the surrounding regions could trust.
There are many examples of international treaties and laws that as Canadians we have not only voluntarily agreed to follow, but that we have helped to write. I would like to share with you one example, which is the General Assembly resolution from the 2005 World Summit, and I quote:
The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means . . . to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council . . . on a case-by-case basis . . . should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations . . .
Honourable senators, timely and decisive action is needed to establish peace and security in the Central African Republic. How many more need to perish before we decide enough is enough? How many more need to perish before we follow our international obligations?
Let me remind you it was Canada’s Lester B. Pearson, then Minister of External Affairs, who led the initiative for the first-ever UN peacekeeping force. It was the first mission to use military personnel to create a buffer zone between belligerents and to supervise the withdrawal of forces. This was, of course, UNEF 1, the first United Nations Emergency Force deployed to secure a peaceful end to the Suez Crisis in 1956.
Lester Pearson is known as the father of modern UN peacekeeping. He argued to the General Assembly that “. . . a truly international peace and police force . . . large enough to keep those borders at peace while a political settlement is being worked out” was the only foreseeable safe way out.
Honourable senators, the first-ever UN peacekeeping mission was led by the first commanding officer, General Tommy Burns, a Canadian. The next year, Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize.
I, of course, do not need to tell anyone here why peace matters in Africa. You all know too well, as history has shown us before, let us not allow history to repeat itself.
Honourable senators, I would like to end by sharing a story with you of Didiatou Hassam, who was a new mother. This past May she was part of a convoy transporting hundreds of Muslim families away from the ethnic violence in the country. Didiatou Hassam was on her way to safety. She had just finished breastfeeding her baby when she was shot in the head.
It was too dangerous to stop, so Didiatou Hassam’s body lay in the truck for six hours until the convoy could stop for the night. She was buried with others whose lives were also taken during the ambush. Honourable senators, international peace —
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Jaffer, your time is up. Will the chamber grant Senator Jaffer five more minutes?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, international peace and security depend on the cooperation and will of all countries who are equipped, big or small. Today, international peace and security is depending on many of us Canadians.
In closing, honourable senators, I ask you to consider the cries for help of the women and children of the Central African Republic. They need us to be with them today. We are a Francophonie country. They are a Francophonie country. Their cries of help should not be unheeded.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Honourable senators, if no other senators want to speak on it, this inquiry will be considered debated.