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Central African Republic: thousands of families still in danger

26-01-2011 Interview

People in the east of the Central African Republic are suffering attacks, looting, kidnapping and food shortages because of armed conflict. Benoit Chavaz runs the ICRC’s protection and detention activities in the CAR. On the day the ICRC releases a film portraying the fight for survival, he explains how the organization is helping communities.

How does this film reflect the humanitarian problems you witness in the field?

It shows something that is still very striking for me – how the conflict unstitches the very fabric of community life. For instance, we see a farmer who has lost his wife and his livelihood through no fault of his own. His children have been left without a mother, exacting a heavy price from the next generation.

Similar stories abound in the CAR. In the north-east, for example, village communities have had their property destroyed and looted during attacks. Many feel safer hiding in the bush than they do at home, but this reduces access to education, healthcare and clean water. The film highlights people's remarkable resilience in the face of such hardship and insecurity.

What is the ICRC doing?

We work very closely with affected communities to make sure we understand their needs. Depending on the situation, we may provide food and seed, for instance, or facilitate access to water. We also help families separated by the violence to stay in touch.

Our teams in the field document cases of violence and discuss them with those presumed to be responsible, in an effort to prevent such violations from happening again.

Rules exist to ensure civilians and their property are protected during armed conflict, and one priority is to promote those rules among weapon-bearers through awareness-raising sessions.

What effect is the conflict having on children?

Children as young as 10 have had their childhoods cut short by conscription into armed groups, especially in the east of the CAR. The ICRC is extremely concerned about this issue, and we raise the matter in our dialogue with weapon-bearers wherever possible.

Thanks to its nationwide volunteer network, the Central African Red Cross was recently able to take several children from Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo into their care. After surviving a gruelling ordeal, lasting years in some cases, these children had escaped their captors only to find themselves lost in a foreign country. The ICRC in Bangui traced their families through its delegations in neighbouring countries and eventually reunited the children with their relatives. Unfortunately, many children are not so lucky.

What are you doing to improve conditions for detainees?

The ICRC has been helping the authorities to improve detainee conditions in the CAR since 1992. Last year we followed the cases of over 1300 detainees in 27 prisons.

The aim is to ensure that people are being held under humane conditions, so at the end of each prison visit we share any recommendations for improvement with the authorities. We also provide direct humanitarian assistance where there are pressing needs, such as water and healthcare.


Photos

 

Benoit Chavaz

 

Obo, Haut Mbomou province, CAR. In a camp for internally displaced persons on the outskirts of the town.
© ICRC / M. Kokic / cf-e-00313

Ouham province, CAR. Women draw water from a well repaired by the ICRC. 

Ouham province, CAR. Women draw water from a well repaired by the ICRC.
© ICRC / M. Kokic / cf-e-00589

Bangui, CAR. ICRC staff visit Bimbo women's prison. 

Bangui, CAR. ICRC staff visit Bimbo women's prison.
© ICRC / M. Kokic / cf-e-00576

Ouogo, Ouham province, CAR. Briefing session on international humanitarian law. 

Ouogo, Ouham province, CAR. Briefing session on international humanitarian law.
© ICRC / M. Kokic / cf-e-00534