The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday aimed at stabilizing the Central African Republic, a dangerous and dysfunctional country that has descended into near-total chaos over the last half year.
Sponsored by France, the country's former colonial power, the resolution promised support for a new multinational African Union force that is deploying in the Central African Republic, and raised the possibility that the operation would be transformed into a United Nations peacekeeping mission, which would give it more resources and power.
The resolution demanded that the weak interim government, put in place after armed rebels known as the Seleka ousted President François Bozizé in March, adhere to previously negotiated plans to hold elections in early 2015, promising unspecified help to honor that deadline.
It further demanded that the Seleka and other armed groups "lay down their arms immediately" and allow the unfettered flow of humanitarian aid into the country. It also said the Security Council would investigate and report all violations of human rights there, including through the deployment of advisers who specialize in the protection of women and children.
The Security Council action followed a crescendo of warnings, including from France's president, that the Central African Republic, chronically unstable in the best of times, had become an utterly lawless and terrifying country because of the Seleka insurgency, creating new risks of instability among neighboring states.
The resolution singled out Seleka fighters as being responsible for what it called "extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence against women and children, rape, recruitment and use of children and attacks against civilians."
While the resolution did not threaten the immediate prospect of a more forceful armed intervention, the reference to the possible strengthening of the African Union force was welcomed by the Central African Republic's United Nations ambassador, Charles Armel Doubane.
"Today is the first day for another time -- it's the beginning of a different future," he told reporters outside the Security Council chamber after the resolution had been approved.
Rights groups who have been sounding the alarm on the breakdown in the Central African Republic were more cautious in their endorsement, saying it did not go far enough.
"The Security Council is finally waking up to the human rights tragedy plaguing the Central African Republic," said Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations director for Human Rights Watch. "Broadening the human rights mandate of the U.N. mission is a good but insufficient first step."
He said the Security Council should urgently strengthen the capacity of the African Union force "to protect civilians and sanction individuals responsible for grave abuses, including Seleka leaders."
The Security Council action came as reports of new violence of a sectarian nature were emerging from the country. In a dispatch from Bangui, the capital, Reuters reported deadly clashes between Seleka fighters, who are mostly Muslim, and self-defense militias, who are mostly Christian, in the northwest mining village of Gaga and the isolated eastern town of Bangassou, leaving 60 people dead.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 10, 2013 2:01 PM