France stands up for Human Rights in the Central African Republic
Rebel in northern Central African Republic

Lately, the international community has witnessed a great enthusiasm on part of France getting involved in the de-escalation of violence in torn African countries and in the bolstering of subsequent peacekeeping missions.

While some critics may argue that France is only trying to prove a preeminent role among the European countries when it comes to EU’s external relations and moreover, it tries to emulate the role of the world’s policeman, France has a different stance. Former French Foreign Minister and co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières Bernand Kouchner claims that France is “trying to do its best at its level” and it should not be only France the one who gets involved when human rights are grossly violated. He argues that France has been advocating for the duty to intervene and later for the right to intervene in countries where civilians’ rights are not only no longer protected by their governments, but they are frequently violated by them.

The French intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR) should be viewed in the light of certain factors which have motivated France more than other countries to express its concern and act pre-emptively in order to avoid another humanitarian disaster.

The CAR used to be a French colony and after it gained its independence in 1960, has been repeatedly drawn into political chaos, since the common strategy for getting to power in the CAR was to organize a coup d’état against the former government. This unfortunate “tradition” is one of the reasons which triggered high instability in the country. The most recent event which led to the CAR’s spiralling into chaos is the Seleka takeover of the government, following a coup against the former president, François Bozizé.

Seleka is a Muslim rebel group which has justified the overthrown of president Bozizé by accusing him of corruption and failure to follow through on earlier peace deals. Naturally, these allegations are not even remotely surprising, since the CAR is one of the most unstable and poorest African countries. However, instead of providing stability, as promised, the rebels' takeover has only worsened the domestic situation and has triggered a sectarian conflict between two religious groups which had previously been living in peace. Seleka has been accused of committing atrocities against the Christian population which in return created its own militia aiming at defence and retaliation.

Apparently, France is committed to express a moral stance in its previous colonies and prevent a violence escalation of catastrophic proportions. To this end, France is a supportive advocate for intervention in countries such as the CAR, bearing in mind the shameful failure of the UN to act and stop the genocide in Rwanda, two decades ago. At that time, it was yet again France the one who took action when no other state was willing to take the lead and stop human suffering. However, its intervention was considered to be too little and too late, and that may be one shameful memory France is trying to make up for.

We are witnessing a shift in a state’s motivation when it comes to interference in the domestic affairs of another state. These political actors are no longer guiding their external policies strictly on their national interests, but at the same time they are seeking to provide humanitarian relief and be proactive in acting against human rights violation.

Critics might disagree with this point of view, but the truth is that regardless of the secondary aims France might have to intervene in the CAR (and previously in Libya and Mali), its activity has triggered humanitarian outcomes and has played an important role in limiting the level of violence in these countries. Thus, France is promoting and defending human rights by always referring to the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P), a doctrine which makes the state the main responsible in protecting its citizens and enables the international community to act when states fail to do so.

Furthermore, the French intervention in the CAR is not only legitimate, since it is focused on humanitarian purposes and it is backed by the African Union, but it is also a legal operation, authorized under UN Security Council resolution.

All things considered, it seems like France has decided to step up and take action when the situation requires it. It has taken the role as both an interventionist and an advocate for human rights protection. Diplomatically speaking, France is a lead actor in promoting the African cause and to this end, has organized the French-African Summit at the beginning of December, which aims at improving security in the unstable continent. Furthermore, its 1,600 troops present in the CAR and its continuous plea for a strengthened European intervention are yet further proofs of the French involvement in the region and its willingness to put an end to inter-communal strife and humanitarian crises.  

Edited by: Celeste Concari 
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