The Central African Republic (CAR) has long been one of the world's poorest countries, largely forgotten by other nations. One child in CAR died every 21 minutes from preventable causes. Today the situation is far worse.
In recent months deep and complex problems have pitted people with different identities against one another and created a human tragedy. Four-and-a-half-million people have been affected (half of them children), and 838,000 displaced.
Attacks against children have sunk to atrocious, indefensible levels. Souleymane Diabaté, UNICEF Country Representative in CAR, said: "In my twenty years of work with UNICEF, never have I seen anything like what is happening. ... Children are being directly targeted in violent attacks - even decapitated." Many believe we are now in danger of seeing this crisis spiral into genocide.
The United Nations ranks CAR a level three emergency, among the top three humanitarian emergencies globally, and warned, "The elements are there, the seeds are there, for a genocide ... all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia."
While the world has repeatedly promised "never again", it remains at constant risk of witnessing another "ever again." CAR stands at a humanitarian and moral cross-road; we must ensure that this human tragedy does not become another human catastrophe, and that Canada plays a role in stopping the violence.
Therefore, in what context should we view Wednesday night's take-note debate about the Central African Republic in the House of Commons?
First, the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are concerned about the lack of awareness of this crisis. What can the government do to raise awareness of the crisis in the international community and at home in Canada?
Second, CAR's Archbishop and leading Imam are calling for an inter-religious reconciliation effort. Will Canada play a role in conflict resolution through its conflict management and governance funds?
Third, while the UN has asked for $551 million in aid, it has only received 11 per cent of the needed funds; and Canada has given $16.9 million to date. The European Union is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to CAR with €76 million in 2013. In December 2013, the European Commission gave €45 million and €23 million in development funds.
As the second-largest donor to La Francophonie, will Canada contribute more? What steps will it take to help NGOs raise funds, and will it specify where the funds will go and for what they will be used?
Grave concerns have been expressed about the ability of the under-resourced African Union force or MISCA to protect civilians and restore security. The arrival of French troops has helped to improve the situation, but a more forceful presence is necessary to stabilize the country. Will the government consider funding the current troops on the ground in CAR, or consider sending logistical support?
A fourth issue is that CAR needs to be stabilized. NGOs need more life-saving humanitarian aid before the rainy season begins when their ability to reach those outside the capital will be drastically reduced. Will the government consider humanitarian, logistical, or materials support to relieve immediate suffering?
Last week, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that, after reviewing many reports detailing acts of extreme brutality by various groups and allegations of serious crimes, her office will open a preliminary inquiry into the situation in CAR. In her words, "The allegations include hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities."
The security situation remains unpredictable and volatile, institutions have failed, the health care system has collapsed, and children have been out of school for months. The reality is that 2.5 million people need urgent assistance.
These are problems that cannot be solved with a short-term band-aid solution. How will the government help to aid and stabilize CAR in the medium and long-term? For example, will the government invest in the reconstruction of the education system so that children can regain stability, begin the reconciliation process, and have hope for the future?
And how will the government work with the United Nations and other like-minded nations to aid in developing, implementing, and maintaining a long-term development and assistance plan for CAR? Will Canada support peace and stability by offering to act as a negotiator and intermediary? Will Canada support the organization and monitoring of fair and free elections that will take place in one year?
Together, let us ensure we pay attention to early warning signs of mass atrocities, and take every measure available to us to prevent a preventable crime.
And finally, what we do now or fail to do will have an impact on society for years to come, and we will be judged on how we choose to act.