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UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic

In the Bangassou military base, in the Central African Republic, where UN peacekeepers are trying to protect the refugees against the ethnic conflict that affects the country.

Of the 14 missions worldwide in which peacekeepers are engaged, one of the most at risk takes place in the Central African Republic. In 2017, there were 13 deaths among the Blue Helmets stationed at the Bangassou base. Since 2013 and the beginning of the civil war, the international community has tried to intervene between the militias of the Seleka, which are predominantly Muslim, and the anti-balaka militias, Christian and animist.

Michael Zumstein photographed this fortified military base, where members of Minusca, the United Nations Integrated Multidimensional Mission for Stabilization in Central Africa, work. Their main objectives are to ensure refugee protection (in Bangassou, Christian militias are predominant and it is therefore the Muslim refugee populations that are protected by the Blue Helmets), promote human rights, and disarm, demobilize and reintegrate militiamen into civil society. In particular, they set up a programme that enables anti-Balaka militiamen to hand in their weapons, in exchange for a salary and training. However, this initiative cannot guarantee training participants' attendance or prevent them from obtaining new weapons to return to combat.

In addition, peacekeepers face many obstacles and challenges on the ground. They are a prime target for armed groups, who take advantage of instructions received by soldiers to use violence only as a last resort. Although the mission is deployed with a view to international solidarity, the presence of peacekeepers in the region is not well perceived by the refugee population, who question their effectiveness in ending ethnic violence and massacres perpetrated in the region by anti-Balaka militias. However, Minusca officials are trying to limit losses pending the diplomatic resolution of the conflict, over which their influence is currently limited.

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