Swift implementation of recommendations that emerged from Cameroon’s recent national dialogue can contribute significantly towards resolving the political and humanitarian crisis enveloping that country’s North‑West and South‑West regions, the Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) told the Security Council today.
François Louncény Fall, who also serves as the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for that subregion, stressed the need to build upon the momentum generated by the national dialogue — which took place from 30 September to 4 October — and to pursue further discourse among all stakeholders in order to quell underlying tensions among marginalized communities. The elections announced for 2020 will be a crucial test of democracy and the determination of national stakeholders to achieve genuine stability and socioeconomic development for all Cameroonians, he continued, urging all sides to step up their efforts to protect and promote human rights and to tackle impunity.
Presenting the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the situation in Central Africa and on UNOCA’s activities (document S/2019/913), he also underscored the wider security, humanitarian, socioeconomic and human rights challenges in the 11‑nation subregion, including climate change, attacks by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and threats to shipping in the Gulf of Guinea. Drawing attention to positive developments, he pointed to institutional reforms to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which are set to be adopted at an upcoming summit, as well as elections scheduled for various countries of the subregion in 2020 and 2021.
Sasha Lezhnev, Deputy Director of Policy for the Enough Project, emphasized that, in their efforts to end violent conflict in Central Africa, the Security Council and UNOCA should focus on the financial aspect of the subregion’s crises. Sanctions should be refocused to target networks of peace‑process spoilers.
Pointing out that the hundreds of millions of dollars generated by conflict resources are traded regionally and internationally, he said the Expert Panels on the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have reported extensively on how gold, diamonds and other minerals that finance armed groups are smuggled across Africa and on to the United Arab Emirates. It is the middlemen, financial facilitators and corrupt officials enabling such trade who should be targeted for sanctions rather than the lowest rungs in the supply chain — the armed commanders who rarely cross borders.
In the ensuing debate, Equatorial Guinea’s representative, also speaking for Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, urged the parties involved in the conflict in Cameroon to heed the call to join negotiations and resolve differences through compromise. While commending Governments in the subregion for their efforts to meet humanitarian challenges, she also noted that international assistance will also be critical going forward.
Calling for a halt to human rights abuses, the United Kingdom’s delegate urged that all recommendations that had emerged from the national dialogue be implemented, including strengthening bilingualism and engaging diaspora groups. “Words need to be matched by actions” to prevent the situation from deteriorating, he stressed.
The United States representative, Council President for December, spoke in her national capacity, underlining that what started as a political and human rights crisis in Cameroon has become an urgent humanitarian situation, with 1.9 million people, mostly children, in need of assistance. Welcoming Swiss mediation efforts, and urging UNOCA to play a more assertive role, she too called on the Government and separatist groups to engage in dialogue.
China’s delegate said Central Africa’s many challenges can be traced back to insufficient, unbalanced and unequal development. However, he also pointed out that, while the international community should support development efforts, the situation in some parts of the subregion does not threaten international peace and security and therefore does not require United Nations intervention.
Indonesia’s representative said credible elections in Central Africa will be critical for addressing the root causes of conflict. Governments must not only regain the trust of the people, but also of each other. “Trust is important and partnership is key,” he stated.
Also speaking were representatives of the Dominican Republic, Belgium, Russian Federation, Kuwait, Poland, Peru, and Germany.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:34 p.m.
FRANÇOIS LOUNCÉNY FALL, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), said the political and security situation in the subregion remains a cause for concern. Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Central Africa and on UNOCA’s activities (document S/2019/913), he underscored its security, humanitarian, socioeconomic and human rights challenges, as well as the growing impact of climate‑related problems. However, there has also been progress on structural reforms and peacebuilding over the last 11 months, he reported, citing the completion of plans to reform the 11‑member Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the adoption of a regional plan of action to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, among others. Between 2020 and the end of UNOCA’s current mandate in August 2021, he noted, most countries in the subregion will be organizing fresh elections, providing an opportunity to promote national dialogue as well as greater participation by women and young people.
He went on to emphasize that terrorism remains a threat to stability in the subregion, especially in the Lake Chad Basin area where Boko Haram remains active. Priority must be given to supporting implementation of the Regional Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience Strategy for Areas Affected by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin Region, he added. Meanwhile, climate change is affecting men and women through Central Africa, with direct implications for peace and security, he said, pointing out that some 50,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been affected by serious flooding, prompting the Government to declare a state of emergency in three departments. Several other countries in the subregion are grappling with natural disasters linked to climate change, he added, calling upon international partners to extend humanitarian assistance to the Governments concerned. Climate change was among the topics on the agenda of the forty‑ninth meeting of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa, held in Luanda, Angola, in late November, he recalled.
Calling attention to maritime security challenges, he cited a reported 7 November attack on an oil tanker north‑west of Sao Tome and Principe and an attack near Malabo on 20 November that prompted Equatorial Guinea to place its security forces on high alert throughout the country. He said that he plans a joint visit with the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel in early 2020 to take stock of the maritime security situation in the Gulf of Guinea and to determine how the United Nations can help. He added that he is encouraged by efforts by countries in the subregion to bolster cooperation and strengthen ECCAS, noting that a special summit of that organization scheduled for 18 December is expected to adopt a package of institutional reforms. He reaffirmed the readiness of the United Nations to help implement those reforms and strengthen the capacities of ECCAS.
Reporting on the situation in Cameroon, he said a national dialogue from 30 September to 4 October produced a set of key recommendations to address the crisis in the country’s North‑West and South‑West regions. However, the level of violence continues to threaten Cameroonian lives, he said, citing reports of human rights violations and abuses attributable to all sides. Humanitarian workers have also been targeted, he added. More than 700,000 people have been displaced by the conflict and thousands have been reported killed or injured, he said, calling upon international partners to support national efforts to address humanitarian needs. In the wake of the national dialogue, some of its recommendations have been implemented, including the release of some prisoners, but the swift implementation of all recommendations will be a significant step towards resolving the crisis, he emphasized. After the President of Cameroon announced legislative and municipal elections for 9 February 2020, he recalled, the leader of the opposition Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun announced that it would not participate, citing the absence of suitable conditions for voting in the North‑West and South‑West. Other political groups expressed reservations, but two Government ministries announced on 2 December that conditions for elections are in place.
He went on to emphasize the need to build upon the momentum generated by the national dialogue and to pursue dialogue among all stakeholders in order to quell underlying tensions among those who feel marginalized. Inclusive and credible elections will be a crucial test of democracy that demonstrates the determination of national stakeholders to achieve genuine stability and socioeconomic development for all Cameroonians, he said, pledging that the United Nations remains committed to helping them reach that goal. He urged all actors on the ground to step up their efforts to protect and promote human rights and to tackle impunity. As for other parts of Central Africa, a state of emergency remains in three provinces of Chad bordering Libya and Sudan, he reported, stressing that peace will depend on multidimensional assistance, especially as Chad prepares for oft‑postponed legislative elections in the first quarter of 2020 and presidential elections in 2021. In Congo, meanwhile, greater efforts are required to create the right conditions for presidential elections in 2021. International assistance is needed to stabilize the Pool region, alongside financial contributions to help the Government implement a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, he said.
SASHA LEZHNEV, Deputy Director of Policy for the Enough Project, said that in the effort to transform and prevent violent conflict in Central Africa, the Council and UNOCA should focus strategically on the financial aspect of crises in the subregion. That would be done most effectively through enhanced engagement with international partners on transparency reforms, and with private sector as well as anti‑money‑laundering bodies. In such an effort, sanctions should be refocused to target networks of peace-process spoilers, he emphasized. Pointing out that the hundreds of millions of dollars generated by conflict resources are traded regionally and internationally, he said Expert Panels on the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have reported extensively on how gold, diamonds and other minerals that finance armed groups are smuggled across Africa and on to the United Arab Emirates. It is the middlemen, financial facilitators and corrupt officials who enable that trade who should be targeted for sanctions rather than the lowest rungs in the supply chain — the armed commanders who rarely cross borders.
He went on to cite reports by the Enough Project indicating that Congolese conflict gold might well be reaching Western consumers through an international corporate network coordinated by a Belgian tycoon with refineries in Uganda, Dubai and Belgium. On transparency reform to prevent mass violence, he said young people and civil society in many countries are sick and tired of corruption and seeing their limited natural resources eaten away through off‑budget accounts and secret State‑owned companies that dole out patronage. To combat such causes of conflict, banks and other financial institutions must play a critical role, he said, emphasizing that they should be proactively engaged in implementing sanctions and other anti‑money‑laundering measures. The Wolfsberg Group, an association of global banks focused on developing frameworks for managing financial crime risk, might be a good place to start, he suggested. Similarly, the Council should engage with the global gold sector on the issue of conflict gold, particularly with the Financial Action Task Force, which has already made helpful recommendations that have not been implemented. That body and its regional components could also play a critical role in combating conflict‑related money‑laundering and other financial crimes, he said.
Supporting regional anti‑laundering efforts should be part of UNOCA’s mandate, with the Special Representative linking their work with global institutions, he continued. In targeting international networks that spoil peace processes, the Council should empower Panels of Experts to investigate such networks and support them by mandating an additional expert on regional facilitators, he said. While acknowledging that the United Nations cannot force Governments to root out corruption, he noted that key international partners such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), extractive industry groups and civil society coalitions are working with Governments on transparency reforms and the United Nations should coordinate closely with them. The Special Representative should meet regularly with such groups and the Council should include reporting on financial transparency and governance reforms in UNOCA’s mandate. Similarly, the Council should engage the Governments of destination countries for conflict resources such as the United Arab Emirates, he said, adding that the Heads of State of such countries should be made aware of the key reasonable steps that citizens and international partners are demanding, so that they can take measures to prevent much wider crises with disastrous human consequences.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said UNOCA should enhance its early‑warning capacities and other conflict‑prevention strategies in conjunction with regional organizations. Expressing concern over the strife in Cameroon, he said all parties must do more to ensure humanitarian access. He called for an end to human rights abuses, for the investigation of all incidents and for the implementation of all recommendations of the national dialogue, including those on strengthening bilingualism and engaging diaspora groups. “Words need to be matched by actions”, to prevent the situation from deteriorating, he emphasized, underlining the imperative need for the international community to support further peacebuilding efforts in Cameroon. He added that more must be done in the Lake Chad Basin area to tackle security and development crises. He also welcomed political progress in the Central African Republic while urging the Government of Burundi to work with all parties to ensure free and fair elections.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), speaking also on behalf of Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa, affirmed that UNOCA must continue to receive support to build synergies with regional and subregional organizations. It must establish a clear division of labour with those organizations and other United Nations entities, she added, expressing hope that its extended mandate will allow UNOCA to closely monitor elections coming up in Central Africa and the threat of armed groups and criminals, which result from the large quantity of arms flowing through the subregion. She went on to denounce terrorism, including attacks by Boko Haram, recalling also the 2011 condemnation of attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Calling for support in implementing the Silence the Guns initiative in Africa, as affirmed by resolution 2457 (2019), she said it could help in realizing a peaceful and prosperous Africa. She welcomed the national dialogue in Cameroon, associating her delegation with its recommendations while urging the parties involved in conflict to heed calls to join negotiations to resolve differences through compromise. She went on to affirm the importance of UNOCA’s work in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, underlining the importance of cross‑border agreements in the subregion. Commending the efforts by Governments of Central Africa to meet humanitarian challenges, she emphasized that in order to do that, they must have international assistance, which must also support them in advancing the women, peace and security agenda in the subregion.
Ms. MORRISON (Dominican Republic) applauded UNOCA’s advocacy work with the countries of Central Africa, including its efforts to maintain stability in Cameroon. She also condemned abuses by such armed groups as the Lord’s Resistance Army. Pointing to the security threat represented by climate change, she welcomed Central Africa’s commitment to protect its rainforests. Expressing concern over the humanitarian situation as well as attacks against humanitarian workers, she called upon subregional organizations to step up cooperation to end all violence. She also called upon Governments to increase democratic space and enhance dialogue with civil society actors in order to combat armed groups and crime, and to transform their economics for the benefit of their people.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), expressing grave concern about the situation in Cameroon, said that while the national dialogue, its recommendations and the release of prisoners are encouraging steps, the situation on the ground has not changed in any meaningful way and entire generations risk being deprived of access to education. Only dialogue and negotiation will make it possible to find solutions. A lack of funding for the humanitarian plan for Cameroon is only compounding the problem. Regarding climate and security, Gabon has taken legislative steps to address environmental crimes, he observed, adding that the illegal exploitation of natural resources remains a major problem for the subregion. The various United Nations missions in Central Africa must be given robust mandates to tackle the problem.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), underscoring his country’s support for UNOCA, said regional actors must remain at the forefront of preventing crisis and resolving conflicts. He urged them to develop coordinated approaches to terrorism, noting that the spread of radicalism and terrorist elements has been accompanied by the illicit circulation of weapons, drugs and natural resources. He also expressed concern at acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, including criminal raids on foreign vessels, as well as the ongoing activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is doing an active business in banditry and other acts of lawlessness. Turning to Cameroon, he said the problems of its English‑speaking regions have deep historical roots that can only be addressed at the negotiating table with respect for human rights and the rule of law.
BADER A. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait) said he hoped that the various elections to be held in the subregion will be inclusive of all political parties, with the participation of international observers. Drastic solutions must be found to stop conflicts in Central Africa and to hold those responsible for violence accountable. Condemning attacks by Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army, he stressed the importance of international and regional cooperation to address the threat that such groups pose to the subregion. He also drew attention to the humanitarian situation, expressing regret at the growing number of people in need, refugees and displaced persons, and the spread of cholera and Ebola.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) urged the countries of the region to hold timely and credible elections that ensure the adequate participation of women. He welcomed Cameroon’s holding of a national dialogue but expressed concern over continued human rights violations in that country. All incidents should be investigated and perpetrators held accountable. Expressing concern also over the situation in Chad, including the attacks of Boko Haram, he said that regional efforts to meet those challenges require the assistance of the international community. Affirming the importance of UNOCA’s work in ensuring cooperation and coherence between the efforts of all United Nations entities, he expressed his country’s continued support for the Office.
HUMBERTO VELÁSQUEZ (Peru), commending UNOCA on its achievements, also expressed concern over the continued threats posed by armed groups and the political instability in the region, as well as humanitarian suffering there. Addressing those problems required strengthened cooperation between UNOCA, the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and ECCAS. He called on the Governments in the region to tackle impunity through substantive reform of their justice systems. Cooperation with organizations that promote respect for human rights are welcomed in that regard, he said, adding that the private sector must also be engaged.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia), noting progress as well as continuing challenges in Central Africa, said that this moment must be seized to assist the countries of the region to make further progress, with the assistance of UNOCA and the international community. Root causes of conflict must be addressed. For that purpose, credible elections are critical. Governments regain the trust of the people, he stressed, adding that Governments in the region must also gain the trust of each other. To meet the daunting challenges posed by armed groups, diseases and other threats, he stated: “Trust is important and partnership is key.” Underlining the importance of regional and subregional organizations in such efforts, he called for greater support for strengthening the capacities of ECCAS, also urging the Council to offer strong support to UNOCA in the implementation of its mandate.
YAO SHAOJUN (China) commended the collective efforts of countries in the subregion to tackle its many challenges, many of which are the outcome of insufficient, unbalanced and unequal development. The international community should support Central Africa’s development efforts while also respecting national ownership of problems. The situation in some countries in Central Africa pose no threat to international peace and security and therefore do not require United Nations intervention, he emphasized. He also underscored the need for coordination among the various United Nations entities in the subregion.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) expressed concern about the precarious situation in the region, including the negative effects of climate change on security and stability, cross‑border terrorism by the Lord’s Resistance Army and Boko Haram, conflicts between farmers and herders, and small arms proliferation, among others. Such problems require joint responses. Therefore, one of UNOCA’s key tasks should be to promote regional integration through organizations like ECCAS. He also encouraged UNOCA’s close cooperation and coordination with other United Nations bodies, such as UNOWAS and the United Nations Office of Counter‑Terrorism and the Counter‑Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate. In addition, UNOCA should deal with the issues related to the nexus of climate change and security. Turning to the deteriorating situation in Cameroon, he urged the Council to consider how UNOCA can contribute resolving the conflict, which has a negative impact on the entire Central Africa region.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States), Council President for December, spoke in her national capacity, expressing concern for the rapidly worsening humanitarian and human rights situation in Cameroon. What started as a political and human rights crisis has become a humanitarian situation requiring immediate attention. Since protests began in 2016, nearly 3,000 people have died, including 300 defence and security personnel. Some 1.9 million people, mostly children, require assistance, up 80 per cent from last year, she said, citing figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). She called on separatist groups and the Government to ensure humanitarian access to those in need and to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law. Welcoming Switzerland’s mediation efforts, she urged UNOCA to play a more assertive role vis‑à‑vis the situation in Cameroon, where the Government and separatist groups must engage in dialogue and relinquish support for a military solution.