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'Criminals are in charge of the Central African Republic' says Human Rights Watch Director

November 18th, 2014
01:30 PM ET

By Henry Hullah, CNN

“Criminals are in charge” of the Central African Republic, and the country "continues to descend in to absolute chaos,” Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Monday.

One of Africa’s poorest nations, the C.A.R. has been ravaged by a war between Muslims – Séléka militias – and anti-Muslim “Anti-Balaka” militias. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands of Muslims have fled the country.

France and the United Nations have sent peacekeepers to help rebuild the former French colony, which has seen five coups since independence in 1960, but the challenge they face is huge.

"The peacekeepers face a very difficult task in the Central African Republic,” Bouckaert told the program. “There basically is no governance in most of the country. The state has just disappeared. There are no detention facilities. They have to re-establish law and order in a country as big as France with just twelve thousand troops."

The Human Rights Watch Director gave a dark vision of the African country's current predicament but he was joined in the interview by a living symbol of hope in the future, Father Bernard Kinvi.

A Roman Catholic Priest based in the northwest of the country, Kinvi's Mission and hospital became a refuge for Muslims fleeing violence. He treated the injured and pleaded with their attackers to stop.

Father Bernard joined the program on his first trip outside Africa shortly after being honored by Human Rights Watch for his “unwavering courage and dedication to protecting civilians in the Central African Republic.”

Amanpour asked the priest what happened when these Anti-Balaka militants first came to his village, Bossemptele.

"When we understood that the Anti-Balaka were there, we wanted to try and negotiate to see if they would stop any armed confrontation,” Kinvi told the program. “But they wouldn't listen to us."

"Then there was confrontation. Some Muslims managed to hide; some managed to get away and some got into the hospital. But many went into the bush as well and were not able to flee the conflict. And unfortunately all those who were not able to flee died. They were massacred. They were killed."

"I found children. I found people who had escaped. I found invalids. I found wounded and I brought them to the hospital."

"They wanted to kill a young boy of 13 years of age. They wanted to kill him. And their interpretation was that he would grow. He would grow up into a man and should be killed. So I said to them, OK. Well, first, you'll have to kill me. Kill me first."

Despite daily threats, Father Bernard Kinvi managed to save thousands of besieged Muslims by shielding them in his Roman Catholic Mission.

'There is a precarious calm'

With the country in disrepair, Amanpour asked Peter Bouckaert would it have been any worse without the peacekeepers’ deployment several months ago.

"Absolutely," he told the program. “I think we need to understand that a Rwanda was averted in the Central African Republic, the kind of massacres we witnessed 20 years ago because of the presence of these peacekeepers."

The Muslim population has become almost non-existent in the Central African Republic now, with “less than half a dozen small Muslim communities” left in the west of the county according to Bouckaert. After such violence and upheaval, what is the atmosphere like in Father Bernard’s village now?

"At present, it's a precarious calm insofar as the anti-Balaka are still there, they’re still armed,” Kinvi told the program. “We can't really speak in real terms of peace, but just of a precarious calm.”

Christiane Amanpour asked Peter Bouckaert about what the future holds for the Central African Republic - does he have hope?

"I do because of this man and other people like him,” he told her.

“We can make a difference.”

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