Battling the spread of COVID-19 and resurgent militia attacks, the Central African Republic stands at a crossroads, experts said during a 22 June videoconference meeting* of the Security Council, urging the country to stay focused on implementing its landmark Political Agreement and holding credible elections on schedule.
Senior officials of the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union — one of the Central African Republic’s main external partners — briefed the 15-member Council and reacted the contents of the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2020/545). On the one hand, they spotlighted progress made in expanding State authority and preparing for the country’s presidential and legislative elections in December. On the other, they strongly condemned spiking violence and targeted attacks against civilians, national troops and peacekeepers, including a 21 June ambush reportedly committed by the Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation (3R) armed group, which killed two soldiers and injured several others.
Council members welcomed recent progress and praised the Central African Republic Government for its swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while demanding that armed groups cease all acts of violence. Many agreed that the 2019 Political Agreement — known formally as the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation and signed by the Government and 14 distinct armed groups — remains the only viable path forward. Some delegates went further, calling for the imposition of sanctions on signatory armed groups that continue to perpetrate violence and impede the peace process, as foreseen in the Agreement’s terms.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, described the overall political situation in the Central African Republic as fragile and dominated by preparations for the country’s December elections. Political parties are forming coalitions and announcing candidates. Though tensions flared recently following an attempt by a group of majority parliamentarians to extend the tenures of the President and the National Assembly in the event that elections cannot be held on time due to “unforeseen circumstances” — such as a pandemic — that move was rejected by the Constitutional Court. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mankeur Ndiaye, continues to work closely with national stakeholders to encourage political dialogue and support an environment conducive to peaceful, free and inclusive elections.
Against that backdrop, he urged national actors to find constructive, consensual solutions and refrain from any destabilizing activities. “There is a need for this Council and the broad international community to be vigilant and remain engaged as we approach these crucial elections,” he said. Outlining recent progress — including the fresh launch of a voter registration process — he said the issue of participation of refugees has not yet been resolved. He welcomed support from partners including neighbouring countries of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), while voicing concern that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) basket fund of $41.8 million still faces a $10 million shortfall.
Meanwhile, he continued, the security situation remains volatile amid continued threats from various armed groups and militias. “Some of the armed groups — including signatories of the [Political Agreement] — have acknowledged the Secretary General’s appeal for a global ceasefire, while at the same time using violence for expansionist aims,” he said. In the north-east, he cited violent clashes between rival factions of the group known as the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC), which have exacerbated communal tensions and resulted in population displacement. In the north-west, the 3R group continues to expand and challenge State authority.
He outlined the response of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) in the various prefectures, noting that the Mission maintains its robust posture while working to facilitate dialogue, reconciliation and social cohesion and advance the Political Agreement’s implementation. He also voiced concern over continued violations of the Agreement by some signatories. For example, the leader of 3R recently announced the decision to suspend the group’s participation in follow-up and monitoring mechanisms related to the Political Agreement and has adopted an aggressive approach that does not align with his commitments.
Describing the United Nations work with the African Union, ECCAS, the European Union and other partners as crucial, he recalled that they recently joined President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in a joint high-level videoconference to support efforts to advance the political process. However, serious challenges remain. “The continued armed clashes and the COVID-19 pandemic are further exacerbating the humanitarian situation and making more challenging the work of the humanitarian community,” he said, drawing attention to the 2.6 million people — more than half the Central African Republic’s population — that still needs humanitarian assistance and protection.
In that vein, he asked donors to support the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan, adding that the partial closure of borders with Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have contributed to rising prices for imported food items. Such a situation could affect the most vulnerable, he warned, noting that MINUSCA is working to mitigate those risks while strictly complying with the Government’s COVID-19 response plan. He underlined the need for continued support in the Central African Republic, stressing that the upcoming elections will be a major test requiring the Council’s support to prevent the erosion of hard-won gains.
Smaïl Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, commended measures taken by the Central African Republic Government to reduce the spread of COVID-19, with support from neighbouring countries, multiple supply shipments from the African Union and assistance from the European Union. While the pandemic has delayed the implementation of some important provisions of the Political Agreement, preparations for December elections have continued apace. He praised the Constitutional Court’s recent decision to prohibit an extension of the presidential mandate due to the coronavirus, describing the move as a welcome indication the Central African Republic’s institutions are “coming of age”.
While the country will still require electoral support, he said it is clearly possible to hold the election within the constitutional deadlines. Following three months of delays due to COVID-19, the Executive Monitoring Committee charged with overseeing the implementation of the Political Agreement was finally able to meet on 22 May, and members agreed that significant progress has been made. Among other strides, he cited the entry of national troops into new areas; the deployment of a first group of African Union observer forces in Bangui; further restoration of State authority; the facilitation of humanitarian aid delivery; and the launch of quick impact projects. However, he also echoed concerns about recent security incidents, including coordinated attacks against mixed rebel-Government security units on 9 June.
The African Union is committed to reaching out to all signatories to better understand what is behind the recent resurgence of armed violence, he continued. “More than ever, it is urgent to take appropriate measures to guarantee not only the free movement of goods and people, but also the fight against all forms of trafficking which could jeopardize peace and security in the region,” he said. The country’s humanitarian situation also requires global attention, with more than 697,000 internally displaced persons and 616,000 additional refugees in neighbouring countries — whose plight has become even more precarious amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Koen Vervaeke, Managing Director for Africa for the European External Action Service, expressed solidarity with the Central African Republic, pointing out that it was the first country to benefit from the European Union’s recently established humanitarian “airbridge” system. “This pandemic hit the Central African Republic in the middle of an electoral process of critical importance,” he said, welcoming Bangui’s efforts to adhere to its electoral timeframe. It is essential to reinforce the election’s inclusivity and reject disinformation campaigns, and the Political Agreement’s implementation remains critical.
Noting that important progress is being undermined by violence perpetrated by armed groups, he said recent attacks in the western part of the Central African Republic show that some groups still do not respect the terms of the Political Agreement. Dialogue and confidence between the parties should be strengthened, as should the inclusion of women and youth. Meanwhile, the independence of the Truth, Justice, Reparations and Reconciliation Commission must be ensured and the stalled disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process should be relaunched.
However, he emphasized that when parties commit serious violations of the Political Agreement’s terms, sanctions should be applied as foreseen under Article 35. “These violations are unacceptable and cannot continue without a firm reaction,” he stressed, warning that they put the Agreement’s credibility at risk. Concluding, he reiterated the European Union’s commitment to supporting the Central African Republic’s peace, stabilization and democratic process. The bloc’s military training mission will continue to provide support on the ground, while its upcoming civilian mission will be deployed as soon as COVID-19 health conditions allow, he said.
The representative of the Dominican Republic joined other speakers in noting the impact of COVID-19 on the Central African Republic’s electoral preparations and acknowledging Government efforts to maintain high-level contact with the leaders of armed groups. To create an environment conducive to free, transparent, fair and inclusive elections, the security situation — in which armed groups that signed onto the Political Agreement continue to attack civilians, aid workers and peacekeepers — must be addressed. He also drew attention to the humanitarian situation, calling for redoubled efforts to support the country through very difficult times.
The representative of China welcomed progress made in the Central African Republic, noting that the political situation is generally stable. However, violent attacks still endanger civilians, and COVID-19 now adds new complexities. Calling for continued international support, he said successful elections are a priority task and all election-related differences should be resolved through peaceful dialogue and consultation. He stressed the need for a holistic approach to peace and stability, requiring political will from all the parties and international support to help the Government build its capacity, provide social services, protect people and promote development. Turning to COVID-19, he said international partners also need to provide material, technical and personnel support. China recently delivered a second batch of medical supplies — including 150,000 surgical masks and 30,000 testing kits — to the Central African Republic.
The representative of the United States commended the Central African Republic Government on its efforts to advance preparations for credible, free, and fair elections, pledging to complement assistance being provided by MINUSCA and UNDP. However, the United States remains deeply concerned about continued violations of the Political Agreement by armed groups in Birao, Bria, Ndélé and Obo. It is troubling that groups professing a commitment to a ceasefire are conducting military operations against their competitors and unarmed civilians, she said, emphasizing that there is no contradiction between protecting civilians and using MINUSCA’s good offices to support the success of the peace agreement. “Indeed, the two efforts are mutually reinforcing,” she said.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the parties to the conflict in the Central African Republic have managed to achieve tangible process in advancing the political process launched in 2019. Amid the current challenging circumstances, all parties should strictly comply with the provisions of the Agreement and refrain from undermining the political situation. The Russian Federation will continue to encourage the signatories to refrain from violence, he said, commending steps by Bangui to curb the spread of COVID-19 and echoing calls upon all political actors to resist any temptation to politicize the pandemic.
Indonesia’s delegate said the Council must ensure the implementation of the Political Agreement by all parties, as it remains the primary framework for restoring and sustaining peace. Describing national ownership as the key to success, he underlined the importance of ensuring the Government’s ability to enforce the Agreement. MINUSCA’s role is more important than ever and the Mission should continue to win the hearts and minds of the people, including through community engagement. Voicing concern about the humanitarian situation — including the impact of COVID-19 — he emphasized the need to ensure the health, safety and security of peacekeepers, noting that Indonesia is among the largest contributors of blue helmets to MINUSCA.
The representative of Belgium was among those speakers that welcomed the Central African Republic’s rapid and measured response to COVID-19, while underlining the additional stress the pandemic places on its population and institutions and warning that the virus should not distract from the Political Agreement’s full implementation. It is crucial for Bangui to continue its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, reform its security sector, and hold peaceful, inclusive and transparent elections in line with the electoral calendar. Urging all parties to commit themselves to the peace process, he declared: “Violations of the Agreement are unacceptable and should not remain unchallenged.” Appropriate measures should be considered, he said.
Estonia’s representative echoed those points, condemning attacks on civilians and abuses of human rights in direct violation of the Political Agreement and supporting the Secretary-General’s call for firm and unequivocal sanctions to be imposed on armed groups violating the peace agreement. Welcoming news that preparations for the upcoming election are in full swing, he expressed hope that they can continue safely amidst the ongoing health crisis. He also joined other speakers in praising the promulgation of a new law establishing the Commission on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation.
The representative of France, Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, spotlighting his country’s strengthened bilateral support to the Central African Republic in the context of COVID-19. He echoed expressions of concern about violations of the Political Agreement by some armed groups — especially attacks on civilians, humanitarian personnel and security forces, grave violations against children and sexual violence — as well as unilateral declarations of withdrawal from the Agreement. “Our message must be clear — those who engage in these acts must be brought to justice and the measures provided for in Article 35 of the Agreement must be implemented,” he said, referring to the imposition of sanctions.
The representative of the United Kingdom expressed solidarity with the Central African Republic amid the twin threats of continued violence and COVID-19. The Political Agreement remains the only viable framework for sustained peace, and it must be protected. While condemning the repeated violations of the Agreement by members of some signatory armed groups, he welcomed recent progress, including ongoing high-level engagement and the legislation adopted by the National Assembly. The country is indeed at a crossroads, especially as its presidential and legislative elections draw closer, he stressed. “These elections must be a turning point.” The United Kingdom is reviewing its financial support and hopes to contribute soon. Meanwhile, appropriate measures — including sanctions — should be imposed if needed in response to violations.
Viet Nam’s delegate called on all signatories to the Political Agreement to build trust and engage in dialogue, thus paving the way for successful elections. All parties should heed the Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He stressed the importance of continued support for the Central African Republic, both technically and financially, and commended the African Union, ECCAS, MINUSCA and other partners for their contributions. He also underscored the need to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, adding: “They are on the ground to help and should never be targets of attacks.”
Sylvie Baïpo-Temon, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Central Africans Abroad of the Central African Republic, described the Political Agreement as a major milestone for her country and a testament to its determination to achieve stability and prosperity. By its terms, the Government, 14 armed groups, facilitators, guarantors and subregional countries all agreed to take up the challenge of lasting peace. Reiterating the strides made to date, she said that, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the National Electoral Authority is working to hold elections by the Constitutional deadline and the Government has confirmed the participation of refugees provided that the countries involved agree and make the necessary arrangements. She also advocated for the complete lifting of the arms embargo still imposed on her country, asking the global community to help make the Central African Republic a successful model of conflict resolution.
Also participating were the representatives of China, Germany, Russian Federation and Tunisia (also on behalf of Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and South Africa).
* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division