By Ertharin Cousin, United Nations World Food Programme
Ertharin Cousin is the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme which is currently providing food assistance to 300,000 people affected by the crisis in the Central African Republic. She has just concluded a two-day fact-finding visit to the country.
People often laugh when I say I like to meet smiling, chubby babies when I’m out looking at World Food Programme operations in the field. But it’s true. A happy, healthy baby is the most obvious sign that we’re getting things right.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that we are going to get things right all of the time, everywhere in the world. The desperate situation I’ve witnessed these past few days in the Central African Republic shows the dangers of ignoring the warning signals for far too long.
It is not overstating the facts to say that C.A.R is teetering on the brink of a catastrophic humanitarian disaster. A political crisis aggravated the already fractious relationship between Christian and Muslim communities and exploded into inter-communal fighting that has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
In the past 48 hours I’ve seen the human impact of this tragic conflagration and it is etched on the faces of the children who have been innocently drawn in to a conflict being fought between marauding groups of young men, armed with machetes, knives and automatic rifles.
Too many have already been killed in this crisis, but the biggest danger stalking the young in C.A.R at the moment is malnutrition. At a health centre, just outside the capital, Bangui, I met two children who exemplified different sides of this evolving humanitarian disaster.
By Dominique van Heerden, CNN
As heads of state met in London for a major anti-poaching conference, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about everything from poaching, to conflict in the Central African Republic and Syria, and the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
The British government has just hosted the Illegal Wildlife Trading Conference in the hopes they, along with affected countries, can find a solution to protect the world’s most iconic species from extinction, because “we are in the eleventh hour”.
“Rhino populations have been devastated with one killed every ten or eleven hours at the moment. The illegal trade in ivory has doubled in the last six years,” Hague tells Amanpour.
Incidents of poaching are on the rise fueled by a growing demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia.
There are also concerns that poaching is helping to fund violent groups in the region.
When asked what he expected to be different after this conference, Hague says this is a “turning point,” citing an important combination of measures that African countries are going to take, including destroying stockpiles of ivory.
And it’s not just African countries who have pledged to take action; he says the countries through whom these products are transported have committed to do more to intercept illegal ivory and “treat the trade as serious organized crime”.
“This is a moral issue that these great animals have as much right to inhabit this world as we do…”
Crisis in the Central African Republic
Another major problem stalking the African continent is the ongoing crisis in the Central African Republic, where the United Nations is warning of “ethnic cleansing” as fighting between Muslims and Christians spirals out of control.
Although there are already French troops in the country, and thousands of African forces are being deployed, Hague says they need more help, and “more help is coming from Europe”.
Britain will not be sending troops to the Central African Republic though, instead they will help with humanitarian aid and logistical support, “but other European countries are going to do more,” Hague tells Amanpour, and he says it is “absolutely crucial” to have the involvement and support of other African states.
Assad “not intending to budge”
Christiane Amanpour also spoke to the UK’s Foreign Secretary about Syria, and the lack of progress in trying to find a solution to the country’s civil war. As the latest round of Geneva talks failed to bring about any notable progress, William Hague says President Bashar al-Assad is “clearly not intending to budge”.
“This has gone backwards and forwards over three years now. And so I think it would be a mistake for this regime to think it’s now so strong it doesn’t need to do anything.”
Britain is still providing help to the opposition, “practical support that isn’t lethal,” Hague says.
“We’ve never taken the position in any of these conflicts that we send lethal supplies. And it’s very hard for us to guarantee what happens to those lethal supplies. And that, of course, is a major difficulty for us.”
He adds that he is “not holding out any prospect” of changing position on lethal supplies in the near future, but says that Britain does want to be able to send “more practical support of other kinds that saves lives”.
The conflict in Syria is creeping closer to home for Britain where there are reports of British nationals traveling to Syria to fight in the war. Hague calls these reports “credible”.
“Hundreds of people from Britain and many other Western countries involved in going to fight in Syria and that is a huge concern for us,” he says.
Asked how he plans to tackle the problem, Hague tells Amanpour there are some actions they can take, like depriving people of their passports and canceling visas for those who are resident in the UK, who they “believe are a threat”.
But ultimately, he says, “the solution lies in resolving the conflict in Syria… That is the only long-term answer to this”.
A final thought on Sochi
There was a lot of uproar in the weeks leading up to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi over concerns about security and human rights in Russia.
But despite the “differences” between Britain and Russia, William Hague says he wants it all to go well.
“We want any Olympics anywhere in the world to be successful and to be safe,” he says, “and yes we have some differences with Russia over some issues such as LGBT rights, but we want them to succeed in hosting a successful Olympics”.
Click on videos above to watch Amanpour's extensive interview with William Hague.
Peter Bouckaert, Emergency Director of Human Rights Watch, has just returned from the Central African Republic.
Peter, along with his HRW team, has given this program exclusive footage documenting horrific violence, destruction and the mass exodus of Muslims from the country which the United Nations says amounts to “ethnic cleansing”.
Peter Bouckaert told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour “the Muslim population of the Central African Republic is facing an unprecedented wave of violence”.
“We were in the country for just over three weeks and personally witnessed 12 lynching’s or attempted lynching’s… it’s a scene of absolute brutality in the Central African Republic at the moment,” he says.
The Central African Republic was plunged into chaos last year after a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels dubbed ‘Seleka’ ousted president Francois Bozize.
They have since been forced out of power but Christian militias known as the anti-balaka have been allowed to fill the power vacuum.
Peter Bouckaert says more peacekeeping troops are needed on the ground.
“The small presence of the African peacekeepers and the French peacekeepers is simply not enough to stop the violence. We have gone out to many of these communities and people are really desperate to stop these attacks… We need a much larger peacekeeping presence, hopefully a full UN peacekeeping mission so this violence can stop and the Muslim community can continue to live in this country where they have lived for generations and generations. It will take a much greater international effort than what is underway at the moment”.
Click above to watch Amanpour’s interview with Peter Bouckaert.
By Mick Krever, CNN
The top Muslim imam and Catholic archbishop in war-ravaged Central African Republic are coming together to advocate for peace and urge their communities to stop their brutal fighting.
“We are together to first prove to international opinion that the crisis is not religious,” Oumar Kobine Layama, president of the C.A.R. Islamic Community, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Tuesday.
“Religious temperament has been used for some people in order to reach their objectives, which is power,” he said.
Chaos struck the Central African Republic last year after a coalition of rebels dubbed Seleka, a predominantly Muslim coalition, ousted President Francois Bozize – the latest in a series of coups since its independence.
Christian groups, called anti-Balaka, sprung up in response.
They have continued their vicious vigilante fighting despite thousands of French and African peacekeeping troops, and the election last week of a transitional president.
By Mick Krever, CNN
Crimes against humanity may have been committed in Central African Republic, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday from the capital of that country, Bangui.
“I don't think we…know the full scale of what has happened here in recent days, weeks and months,” she said. “But I certainly agree that what appear to be crimes against humanity have been committed.”
Both sides of the conflict, she said, are responsible for those offenses – both the Muslim Seleka militias that overthrew the president earlier this year, and the rival Christian groups that sprung up in retaliation.
“We met with one 20-year-old woman today who watched her husband get stabbed to death right in front of her,” she said. He was “then covered with kerosene and then lit on fire – literally burned to a crisp before her very eyes.”
That happened, she said, just last Thursday.
By Mick Krever, CNN
The former French foreign minister issued an impassioned plea on Tuesday for the world to follow France’s lead in protecting populations under imminent threat from war.
France, in dramatic fashion, has been at the forefront of intervening in deadly conflicts over the past few years, whether in Libya, Mali, or now Central African Republic.
“We are human beings, protecting human life,” Bernard Kouchner, who served under President Nicolas Sarkozy, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“Were we supposed to let them die?”
By Mick Krever, CNN
CNN’s Nima Elbagir gave a dramatic account Wednesday from the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, of the violence and chaos engulfing that country.
“We travelled down that road from Bossangoa to Bangui and we saw some pretty brazen militia roadblocks along the way,” Elbagir told Christiane Amanpour.
“We were in an U.N. convoy guarded by African peacekeepers and we had to stop like everyone else for the militiamen to open those roadblocks and let us through.”
The country descended into civil war in March when a Muslim rebellion known as “Seleka” overthrew the president, with the C.A.R’s Christian majority saying they became the targets of banditry. Now vigilante Christian groups have joined the fight, targeting Muslims.
France, the former colonial power, has deployed 1,600 personnel to the country to support African Union troops, after a vote last week in the U.N. Security Council authorizing military intervention.
More French troops have just arrived in Central African Republic in an attempt to disarm militias, and it was announced Monday that the U.S. military would fly African Union troops to the country.
CNN’s Nima Elbagir is on the ground in Bossangoa and witnessed the violence over the past week.
Click above to see her report from C.A.R., and her conversation with Christiane Amanpour.
The Central African Republic, a country in rolling crises almost since its independence in 1960, is spinning ever closer to catastrophe.
Muslim and Christian vigilantes are locked in bloody battle. As civilians fear for their lives, a small contingent of French and African troops are trying to stabilize the situation.
Documenting this situation is exceedingly dangerous for journalists, but CNN’s Nima Elbagir was able to talk to Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday from Bossangoa, where tens of thousands of people are seeking refuge.
“Even just having spent a few hours here, you do get this sense of such a tense, tense standoff,” she said. “I’m from Sudan, and I covered Darfur for years, and this just felt so chillingly reminiscent.”
Click above to see her full report.
By Mick Krever, CNN
The U.N. Deputy Secretary-General warned on Wednesday against having once again to say “never again” over the on-going bloodletting in the Central African Republic.
“The Secretary General and I are rather, I would say, disappointed, that we so often use the term ‘never again,’” Jan Eliasson told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “The very fact that we repeat ‘never again’ I think is a sign that it’s about time that we act on serious human rights violations early on.”
“Serious human rights violations are the first signs of something that could turn into mass atrocities,” he said. “And now this time we are acting late, I must admit, but hopefully not too late.”