WASHINGTON — The U.S. government needs to commit to the future of strife-torn Central African Republic to stop a "culture of impunity," said a Catholic Relief Services regional director in testimony May 1 at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

The United States needs to develop a plan for next three to five years, said the text of testimony by Scott Campbell, CRS' regional director for central Africa. "Without security and stabilization, the culture of impunity will continue, and the cycle of violence will no doubt continue," he said.

In March 2013, a rebel group led mostly by Muslims toppled the Central African Republic's government, but engaged in what Campbell called "brutish rule" against Christians and other non-Muslims. This led to groups within the country taking revenge on the country's Muslims -- who account for about 15 percent of the population -- burning mosques and homes.

To date, there are about 2,000 dead and 900,000 -- about one-sixth of the nation's population -- displaced either inside or outside the Central African Republic's borders. The United Nations, according to Campbell, considers the forced removal of tens of thousands of Muslims from the county as ethnic cleansing.

A CRS project called "Mango Tere," which means, "Come to a Consensus," resulted in talks between the new government and the last Muslims who were preparing to leave the capital city of Bangui. They were persuaded to instead unload their trucks and stay to participate in a process of reconciliation, Campbell said.

Campbell said retired Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, a CRS board member, has traveled in the country with U.S. evangelical and Muslim counterparts. As observers, they signed a "Declaration for Peace" that outlines a desire for an end to violence and encourages interreligious dialogue.

In his testimony, Campbell said the United States also needs to adequately fund and support U.N. peacekeeping efforts, and "help galvanize other donors to fulfill their pledges for humanitarian assistance" in the Central African Republic.

At the hearing, both Campbell and Robin Renee Sanders, CEO of the FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative, (Food Security, Education, Environment-Energy, Economics, Democracy-Development and Self-help) which promotes African development, cited continued attacks by Muslim militias. Sanders called them "reverse revenge killings," in the northern part of the country.

Sanders said it is one element in a cycle of violence "that could possibly lead down the road to something we have not seen before: a two-way genocide as each group, Muslim and Christians, impose horrendous revenge and 'reverse revenge' killing upon each other."

Kasper Agger, field director for the Enough Project, an anti-genocide watchdog organization, said in testimony that the White House should call on the International Criminal Court to prioritize investigations and prosecute those most responsible for the violence, "including those involved in sexual violence and economic criminal activity."