A year ago, Watchlist and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) conducted a joint field mission to the Central African Republic (CAR) to research and report on the situation of children affected by armed conflict. In the report that followed the mission, An Uncertain Future? Children and Armed Conflict in the Central African Republic (May 2011), Watchlist and IDMC made recommendations to increase the protection of children by reevaluating and funding existing and new reintegration programs with strong psychosocial programs for demobilized and vulnerable children. In a promising recent development, UNICEF released its 2012 Humanitarian Action for Children, in which they made a notable change in their humanitarian approach to CAR by pledging to focus on comprehensive support for demobilized and vulnerable children affected by the armed conflict. Included in their plan is the prioritization of reintegration and rehabilitation programs with an emphasis on psychosocial care. While a significant development, this plan is merely the most recent example of the growing impact and awareness that Watchlist and IDMC’s research has helped generate over the past year.
In the months following Watchlist and IDMC’s mission to CAR, other significant achievements and developments in protecting and rehabilitating children took place. At the time of their mission, Watchlist and IDMC found evidence of recruitment and use of child soldiers by community self-defense militias as well as by two local armed groups, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD). Other grave violations, including denial of humanitarian access, were also reported as being committed by the two groups. Since then, Action Plans formalizing the release and reintegration of recruited children were signed by the CPJP and APRD in the fall of 2011 and a cease fire was signed between the CPJP and CAR government in order to restore humanitarian access to certain areas.
By taking stock on the current situation of children and armed conflict in CAR, Watchlist has learned that the demobilization of dozens of children from CPJP ranks is underway and that a reintegration project has been approved by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) with funding from the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF). The demobilization and rehabilitation of children from the APRD is underway in certain areas as well, and a joint monitoring system is being established by UNICEF and the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in CAR (BINUCA) to oversee the process. A project is also being developed by international NGOs in Bocaranga, Obo and Paoua to end the use of children in community self-defense militias.
While significant steps have been taken towards ending violations against children in CAR’s armed conflict, the fragility of the ongoing peace process and short-falls in humanitarian funding are continuing to put children at risk. In addition, Watchlist learned that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to commit grave violations against children and that rehabilitation programs and the repatriation of children who were released or escaped from LRA forces have not improved. There is also concern that progress has been slow following Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for CAR, Margaret Vogt’s promise to revitalize and “fix” the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) in CAR.
It’s been a year since Watchlist and IDMC’s mission to CAR and the conflict is still not over. There is still more that can be done to protect children and help them reclaim their future. With continued interest in CAR and commitments of financial support to strengthen and develop programs like reintegration and rehabilitation, we are likely to see even more achievements in the next year.