WASHINGTON, DC, May 1, 2014 – Scott Campbell, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Regional Director for Central Africa, told Congress that the United States should back efforts to restore peace and security to the Central African Republic (CAR) and commit to long-term humanitarian assistance for the troubled country.
“I was recently in CAR, for three weeks from Christmas to mid-January and for three weeks in March,” Campbell testified to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
Campbell said he saw communities that had been burned and looted. “Some people had very little left,” he said. “But they had very little to begin with, even before the crisis.”
He described CRS efforts to help, working through Catholic Church partners, distributing emergency supplies to over 37,000 people in one area, reaching over 10,000 farming households with seeds and tools in another, so they could begin to restore agriculture after two consecutive planting seasons were disrupted by the violence.
“But as dire as the situation is, what I have been describing is what’s happening on the outside,” he said. “More compelling is what is happening on the inside.”
“There is a willingness among a significant proportion of the population to return to the pre-crisis reality where people lived and worked together harmoniously and in peace,” he said, telling of CRS workshops that had been successful in bringing people from various communities together.
“These workshops have been truly transformative,” he said.
Campbell called for the U.S. to support a strong and well-trained UN peacekeeping force, noting that the current force there is unable to contain the violence. “Security is paramount,” he said.
He also called on the U.S. to provide “leadership and funding” for humanitarian efforts.
“The U.S. government should also help galvanize other donors to fulfill their pledges for humanitarian assistance in CAR,” he testified. “All efforts must … integrate peacebuilding and conflict resolution activities to rebuild social cohesion torn apart by the recent fighting and to prevent future outbreaks of violence.”
In his prepared testimony, Campbell told of the tragic events that have overtaken the people of CAR since the mainly foreign Seleka rebel group overthrew the government of President Bozizé in a March, 2013 coup. Since then, CAR has been riven by conflict. Many Muslims have fled the country fearing violence from local militia groups called Anti-Balaka. As many as 900,000 people fled their homes at some point during the last year and some 2,000 have died.
“What began as a war for power and resources with an ancillary religious dimension can now appear as a religious conflict,” he said. “However, … this is not a religious war: never has an Imam, a Bishop or a Pastor led the fighting or justified the killing. Yet, the social fabric has been torn and the violence has affected both non-Muslim and Muslim communities.”
“Understanding the state of the country, and recognizing that the people of CAR do not just need immediate assistance, but will need long-term support, CRS has committed private funding and assistance to CAR over the next five years,” he told the subcommittee.
Campbell said CRS’ work will focus on immediate emergency assistance for those affected by the violence, recovery work including the provision of temporary housing and help in restoring agriculture, and longer term efforts to reconcile and rebuild communities. He asked that the U.S. government also commit its leadership and resources over the long term.
“If given the opportunity, the space and the support, people within CAR want to rebuild the social fabric of their country,” he said.
Watch the video recording of Scott Campbell’s congressional testimony, which starts at 2:36:50 on the timeline in the first video on the page (Part 1 of 2).
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Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in 93 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. For more information, visit www.crs.org or www.crsespanol.org and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media: Facebook, Twitter at @CatholicRelief and @CRSnews, Google+, Pinterest and YouTube.