Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, translated from French, to the National Assembly of the Central African Republic, in Bangui today:
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, ladies and gentlemen, Mbi Bala Ala Koué. [Greetings to you all.] It is a great honour to be speaking to you and — through you — to all the people of the Central African Republic. I wish to pay tribute to the people’s courage, resilience and determination to overcome great adversity.
I would like to assure you of the international community’s solidarity, and its commitment to supporting you as you address the enormous challenges that you continue to face. Among others, these include insecurity, a humanitarian crisis, slow and difficult progress towards development, and the feelings of exclusion and marginalization in parts of the country where the authority of the State is still absent.
The situation remains fragile. Armed groups are fragmenting and multiplying. Civilians, “Blue Helmets” and humanitarian workers are frequently targeted. One Central African in four is displaced. Rape is being used deliberately as a weapon of war. The Central African Republic is at risk of sliding back into open intercommunal violence.
We cannot contemplate this risk. We must turn the tide. With the major institutions now in place, the time has come to end the violence and consolidate democracy. I will be your strongest advocate in the international community, so that Central Africans receive the solidarity they need and deserve.
This is why I have asked the Security Council to boost MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] force numbers. MINUSCA has shown its worth, with many Blue Helmets making the ultimate sacrifice. Of course, we are aware that its capacity must be reinforced and improved.
Peacekeeping operations save lives. In some cases, they save entire countries. I know that the actions of some of our soldiers have tarnished the image of peacekeepers. I have made a personal commitment to the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse. This week, together with Jane Connors, our first Victims’ Rights Advocate, I met victims and their families. We must make our zero-tolerance policy a reality.
Honourable deputies, I want us to continue to improve the performance of our staff, to better serve the people of the Central African Republic. MINUSCA will use force when the State’s stability is threatened, and each time civilians need protection, in places where it is present, as far as it can. But, MINUSCA clearly cannot be everywhere simultaneously in this huge country. MINUSCA alone cannot bring back peace. What MINUSCA does is provide the space needed to build peace through dialogue.
I hear the calls for redeployment of the army. MINUSCA will remain beside you to support these efforts. And you can count on me to call for FACA [Central African Armed Forces] to have the weapons and equipment they need, to accomplish their mission to protect all Central Africans. I want also to restate very firmly a fundamental principle of the United Nations: MINUSCA is impartial. It does not favour any religious or ethnic group. I, therefore, appeal to all of you to take this message back to your people and communities, and to oppose any and all hate speech.
Honourable members, the task of solving this crisis lies first and foremost in the hands of the people of the Central African Republic. Nobody is in a better position to help the country than its own citizens. Unfortunately, religion and ethnic origin have been manipulated to create division among communities. This has severely polarized a fragile country, even though your diversity is an asset, not a threat.
Nowhere in the world has the use of force alone resolved a conflict. We, therefore, need not only more peacekeepers, but more political initiatives for peace. The United Nations will work hand in hand with all the partners of the African Initiative. I encourage all parties to move the process forward under the guidance of the Government of the Central African Republic.
You are facing a daunting challenge, but you are not alone. Last month, President [Faustin Archange] Touadéra, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and I jointly chaired a high-level meeting in New York. International partners had previously expressed their commitment to supporting you at the Brussels Conference in November 2016. I call on the international community to honour its commitments. We must not forget that humanitarian aid is still cruelly underfunded.
Honourable members, the international community must be engaged, supporting you to ensure equal access to natural resources; freedom of movement; better integration of some regions; and greater investment in basic infrastructure. The National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan is central to our commitment to supporting you. The Central African Republic needs development programmes for neglected rural areas. Basic services, including schools, hospitals and roads, must be accessible to all.
The Central African Republic also needs solid institutions and good governance. I applaud your efforts to get the Special Criminal Court up and running, and I hope it will begin operating soon. We will also continue to support your efforts to establish a transitional justice mechanism. Impunity cannot be tolerated.
But, justice alone is not enough. Countries that have lived through serious trauma have a deep need for reconciliation. Your own parliamentary peace initiative demonstrates that we are defending the same values and fighting for the same ideas. The National Assembly has a vital role to play in ensuring the efficient delivery of Government services, not just in Bangui, but at the local level. The emerging network of local peace and reconciliation committees has already helped to meet that need in places with no State institutions, including, for example, Bria and Bambari.
I would like to acknowledge the presence here of women members of the Assembly, and congratulate you on reserving one third of administrative posts for women. The women of the Central African Republic, like many others around the world, have too often been the victims of violence and discrimination. It is high time to change that.
Mr. Speaker, honourable members, ladies and gentlemen, we are all committed to the return to peace. A cessation of hostilities is undoubtedly an important component. However, we also need to bring peace to people’s hearts, and social cohesion. The Central African Republic has suffered for far too long. As representatives of the people, you have a central part to play in turning the situation around.
We have no time to lose. There is little room for manoeuvre; every day counts. The United Nations will be beside you to meet this challenge. Singui la mingui. [Thank you for your kind attention.]