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Plus a change, Plus c'est la mme chose

The Responsibility to Protect threshold and the international response to conflict

in the Central African Republic
In December 2012 the Central African Republic (CAR) plunged once more into a
conflict that ran along ethno-religious lines, with Christian president Francois
Bozize ultimately ousted from power in March 2013 after a coup orchestrated by
Muslim rebels (referred to herein as Seleka). Under his replacement, Seleka
leader Michel Djotodia, the Seleka engaged in a sustained campaign of violence
against the Christian majority that ultimately devolved into skirmishes across
the country between the Seleka and Christian/Animist Anti-Balaka. Yet
despite the scale of the atrocities committed by both sides, with over 1 million (a
quarter of the population) displaced and thousands killed, the response from the
international community has been defined by countless condemnations,
expressions of concern and delayed action. Despite growing comparisons being
drawn with other ethnic or sectarian conflicts in Rwanda or the former
Yugoslavia, a military contingent did not reach the CAR until September 2014,
nearly a year and a half after the conflict began. This synopsis will attempt to
draw parallels between the tepid response from the international community
and the underlying principles of Responsibility to Protect (referred to herein as
RTP). Due to the scope of this analysis, it is beyond the remit of this discussion to
engage in a comprehensive explanation of the CAR crisis or indeed a critique of
RTP itself. Rather, it will seek to use a contemporary case study to demonstrate
that the delayed response from the international community results from
In Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnouns 2002 Foreign Affairs article The
Responsibility to Protect they outline 6 principles that they argue must be
satisfied to justify a military humanitarian intervention.1 They are broadly
subdivided into three categories: just cause threshold, four precautionary
principles and the requirement of proper authority. It is important to recognize
here that military intervention is seen as a tactic of last resort, to be used only if
political, economic or judicial steps fail. For brevity, the six principles that Evans
and Sahnoun outline are as follows:
Threshold for establishing just cause of military intervention:
1. Large scale loss of life, actual or anticipated or Large-scale ethnic cleansing,
actual or anticipated
2. Right intention must be to halt or avert human suffering
3. Last resort all other options have been exhausted
4. Proportional means scale, duration and intensity of the intervention should
be the minimum necessary to secure the object of defending the people
5. There must be reasonable prospects for success
6. Right authority whose responsibility is it to intervene?
Evans G & Sahnoun M, The Responsibility to Protect, Foreign Affairs, Nov
2002, p. 102.

With these principles in mind, their guiding influence on the international

response to the CAR conflict becomes evident. It is difficult here to delve into the
minutiae of both the conflict and the international response within the
parameters of this synopsis, however the key components may be effectively
distilled into coercive or diplomatic intervention, as outlined by Evans and
Sahnoun, and then a military response. A detailed timeline of the international
response2 reveals that during 2013 over 15 condemnations or expressions of
concerns were released by various arms of the United Nations and African Union.
Indeed, the first substantive commitment of personnel did not come until July 19,
when the AUPSC authorized MISCA, a 3652 strong personnel team that would
engage in stabilization efforts in the region. But the force would not arrive in
Bangui until December 19. In the months between the announcement and the
arrival of MISCA personnel, the scale of the conflict had grown to the extent that
additional forces were committed to the original MISCA force. From December 79, only ten days before the MISCA force was due to arrive over 1000 Muslims
were killed in Bangui alone. In a February report released by Amnesty
International, later corroborated by Human Rights Watch3, the organization
argued that the peacekeepers authorized by the MISCA failed to swiftly deploy
to these areas to protect civilians, allowing anti-balaka militias to assert
themselves. In town after town, as soon as the Seleka left, the anti-balaka moved
in and launched violent attacks on the Muslim minority.4 It was not until April
10 2014 that the United Nations Security Council decided to deploy 12,000
peacekeepers to replace the MISCA forces, the changeover taking place on
September 15.
The reticent response from the international community, mired by delays and
countless condemnations is archetypical of the cautious approach
embedded in the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. Essentially, that all other
avenues of preventative measures must first be explored before military
commitment is made. The basis for this argument is clear a military first
mindset would risk dangerously undermining national sovereignty and further
destabilizing regional conflicts, hence the extensive parameters in place. But this
approach is also markedly inflexible. For in countries where coercive
mechanisms both political and economic are evidently unsuitable due to little to
no economic infrastructure and a highly unstable political system, what other
coercive measures exist? Countless more questions arise: how is large scale
loss of life objectively determined? Can it always be anticipated in highly
unstable conflict regions? The answers to these questions are inherently
complex, sometimes in possible to determine. As the amnesty international
Taken from the Global Responsibility to Protect site, accessed at:

report concludes while the UN discusses possible solutions, citizens are

being slaughtered.
To conclude, the international response to the conflict in the Central African
Republic has undoubtedly been inflected by the caution and reticence that
underpins the ideology of R2P. The conflict in the Central African Republic is
incredibly complex, and it is not the intent of this short foray into the discussion
to suggest that military intervention should be the first response of the
international community in these crises. In this catch-22 scenario, intervention
without careful consideration of consequences can result in disaster as per
Somalia in 1992. But when the decision making process becomes mired down in
condemnations, fact-finding missions and summits the cost is measured in
lives. If the international community is to avoid these mistakes in future
conflicts, a reassessment that considers the variables unique to each conflict is