The mostly Muslim Seleka movement declared autonomy for the Republic of Logone on December 14, and plans to pursue independence from the Central African Republic (CAR), calling into question the right to self-determination against the oppositionist principle of territorial integrity.
CAR's latest problem began when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the government of then-President Francois Bozizé in March 2013 who is a Christian. Following the coup, the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia organised to fight against the Seleka and carried out large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians.
What we want first of all is autonomy. Then we'll look at how to move towards independence
The country has since been at war, on religious and ethnic lines, experiencing heavy fighting, reprisal killings, grenade explosions and intimidation by armed groups. Thousands of people have been displaced.
The international community was able to broker a constitutional referendum scheduled for December 13, in what many considered a crucial step towards ending nearly three years of violence. But can a constitutional referendum and national elections keep the Muslims and Christians, Seleka and anti-Balaka, together in CAR?
Noureddine Adam, the current leader of the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) − one of the four Seleka factions – does not believe Muslims and Christians as represented by the Seleka and anti-Balaka can coexist in CAR. He rejected the proposed elections and backed an autonomous State in his northeastern stronghold.
So on December 14, 2016, Maouloud Moussa, Adam's spokesman and chief lieutenant declared the autonomous and would-be-independent Republic of Logone. "What we want first of all is autonomy. Then we'll look at how to move towards independence," Moussa told Reuters. "Muslims are marginalised. The north has been abandoned by the central government."
Two successive interim Christian presidents were restored to power, partly to pacify the majority Christian population and the anti-Balaka rebels, but the fighting has continued. French, African Union, and United Nation troops have been stationed in the country since 2013, but have not been able to restore peace between the Seleka and the anti-Balaka.
Pope Francis made his first visit to an active war zone when he visited the CAR on 29 November to 30. Despite his meeting with representatives of the Muslim community in CAR's capital city of Bangui, the tensions have continued. And the December 27 national polls expected to elect a new president and parliament, and restore democratic rule may not fix the cracks that have grown between Christians and Muslims in CAR.
While Seleka rebels have already rejected the national election, with a referendum on a new constitution being marred by violence between rival factions, the country's central government has quickly designated Seleka as a terrorist organisation. "We call upon the international community and the international forces present in Central African Republic to do everything possible to neutralise the capacity of these terrorists to do harm," said government spokesman, Dominique Said Panguindji.
As the international community continues to question CAR's future options, autonomy/independence or a lengthy war of secession, Seleka secessionists, it would seem, may be protected by the jus cogens rule, which makes a case for the right of nations to self-determination. The rule, which in this case could be binding on the UN, states that nations, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their soverignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference.
The CAR government, however, is urging the international community to reject the Seleka secession request by invoking terrorism. UN peacekeepers on Tuesday took down the rebel republic's flag - horizontal yellow, green and black stripes with a white star - after it was raised over the local gendarmerie in the northern town of N'Dele. "MINUSCA condemns the FPRC's declaration on the autonomy of the northeast...and will use all means, including resorting to force, against any separatist attempt, in line with its mandate," the mission, known by its acronym MINUSCA, said in a statement.
But this action raises a few questions in the face of Woodrow Wilson's famous statement, that "national aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action...". So should MINUSCA help CAR to fight the secession demands of Seleka? Is CAR better off with an autonomous Seleka nation? Would the Republic of Logone serve as Muslim country and CAR serve as Christian country? Is this a viable solution like Pakistan and India?
Seleka's call for autonomy and subsequent independence finds legitimacy that can be traced back to the Atlantic Charter, signed on 14 August, 1941, by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who pledged The Eight Principal points of the UN Charter.
Seleka's demand for autonomy and potentially independence is going to test the UN Atlantic Charter, and several international laws on self-determination as national self-determination looks to challenge the principle of territorial integrity or sovereignty of states.
There are often contradictions between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity, and as many nations before CAR have shown, territorial integrity often takes precedence.