After months of violence, the Central African Republic’s political and civil society are meeting for reconciliation talks. The political rifts however remain wide as parts of the Seleka rebels have chosen not to attend.
Justice and reconciliation, peace and security, governance and rule of law, development and rebuilding the country – the list of topics to be discussed at the national reconciliation forum is long. Around 700 representatives from politics and civil society are meeting in the Central African Republic's(CAR) capital Bangui for a weeklong meeting starting on Monday (04.05.2015). The summit is supposed to pave the way for national elections which are scheduled for August and to end the country's two year-long political crisis. This week's agenda also includes the drafting of a new constitution.
"The aim is to forgive the bad governance, the violence, the looting and the humiliation and to set up conditions for reconciliation," explains Antionette Montaigne, advisor and spokesperson for interim President Catherine Samba-Panza.
Seleka rebels boycott the forum?
The CAR's civil war broke out in March 2013 when Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the government of President Francois Bozize. In response, Christian vigilantes formed the anti-Balaka group. In an onslaught of violence, both groups attacked members of the opposite religion and killed thousands of civilians. Both sides blame each other of committing war crimes.
"We want to participate in the forum in order to demand our rights," said Hadja Aissatou Saada Moukadas, the wife of the Imam of the Bangui's Atik Mosque. The forum allocated 13 seats of the forum to civilian representatives of the country's Muslim population. Too few, Muslim groups complain.
The Seleka rebels on the other hand said that it would not attend the forum in a statement that was circulating on the internet. The group complained about irregularities in the organization of the forum and about the arrest of a high-ranking Seleka leader.
In need of humanitarian aid
The reconciliation forum comes at a time of a relative period of calm, at least in the capital Bangui. 8,500 UN peacekeepers are currently stationed in the Central African Republic, supported by the French Operation Sangaris. The latter however made negative headlines last week, when French soldiers were accused of sexually abusing children during their mandate there.
Yet despite the presence of the peacekeepers, the Central African Republic remains far from stable. There are continued outbursts of violence and attacks against civilians. According to UN reports, around 460,000 people have fled the country into neighboring states. In CAR itself, an estimated 440,000 men, women and children have been internally displaced. Just a few days ago the UN called on the international community to send aid to the country's population. International donors have up to now only delivered 76 million Euro in aid out of the required 550 million.
Peace requires concrete action
The reconciliation forum will change little, said David Smith of the South African Okapi Consulting group, who advises international organizations working in CAR. "Lots of good intentions will come out of this forum and the right words will be said by the international community to say that they're on the right track." Talk of peace and stability is always a good thing, Smith told DW. "The problem is that it's never really backed up with concrete action."
It is important to conduct elections as soon as possible, even if free and fair elections cannot be guaranteed, Smith argued. "Right now we have a transitional government, which by its nature is weak and cannot do anything to put together long term policy because its not in power for a long time." The country also needs a concrete plan on how to rebuild institutions like the army, the police, the health and education sector, Smith added. In other words things that every functioning state should have. If this is not done, said Smith, we could see a repeat of the country's recent violent history.
No reconciliation without justice
Since independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic has seen repeated military coups, the presence of the peacekeepers and several attempts of reconciliation.
The country has at least taken one concrete step towards reconcialiation even before the onset of the forum. A few days ago, the National Transitional Council passed a law that would allow the formation of a special court. The court would serve as a place for Central African and international judges to rule on cases of atrocity and crimes against humanity. Rights group Amnesty International, however criticized the law, which in its current form could exempt present and former presidents from prosecution. Without justice for all, reconciliation is not possible, Amnesty argued.