Weeks after the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a State Department official on Thursday declined to label violence currently sweeping the Central African Republic “genocide” at a congressional hearing, where it was clear some members felt the United States should take more aggressive action to stanch the bloodshed.
“Do we simply pay lip service to the phrase ‘never again,’ or are we going to act to prevent a repeat of such mass atrocities from occurring?” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J, who chairs the House subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights and international organizations, which called Thursday’s hearing.
“I don’t think it matters what word we use,” said State Department Bureau of African Affairs officer Robert Jackson in response to a question about whether the indiscriminate slaughter of Muslims and Christians in the Central African Republic was genocide.
More than 2,000 people have been killed and perhaps as many as 1 million forced from their homes in months of bloodshed since Muslim rebels rejected the coalition government they were part of, captured the capital, Bangui, and ousted the country’s leader. Since then, Muslim and Christian militias have preyed on one another’s neighborhoods.
A U.N. peacekeeping mission of nearly 12,000 soldiers and police, approved by the Security Council in mid-April, will be deployed Sept. 15, supplanting an African Union force of 5,600 that was deployed in December. The U.S. is not expected to contribute any manpower but has pledged $247 million for humanitarian assistance.
Anne Richard, the State Department’s assistant secretary for refugee affairs, said “cash-flow problems” had limited European countries’ ability to contribute to the effort. “I am proud our country is doing so much,” Richard said. “This system only works when other countries join us.”
Human rights groups and activists argue that the international community has ignored atrocities in the Central African Republic. A U.N. spokesman, Steve Taravella, told McClatchy that the lack of global attention to events in Central Africa was extremely concerning.
Members of the subcommittee shared those frustrations. Smith said the world showed a “lack of a sense of urgency” despite “butchery” evident in the country.
“Delay is denial for those being hurt and killed,” Smith said, referring to the late summer schedule for the arrival of the peacekeepers.