The Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) appealed, during a videoconference meeting of the Security Council today, for the deployment of more peacekeepers in response to an upsurge in violence in the wake of presidential and legislative elections on 27 December.
“The situation is tense on the ground and the wave of violence that preceded the elections is continuing,” said Mankeur Ndiaye, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic. He emphasized that seven “Blue Helmets” have been killed in the past four weeks, including, most recently, two on 18 January in an ambush outside Bangassou city. That was the same day on which the Constitutional Court validated the re-election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, he said, noting that a coalition of armed groups and political allies including former President François Bozizé are violently challenging the outcome.
The deployment of reinforcements from the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) lifted morale among MINUSCA personnel, he said, while cautioning that some armed groups appear to be increasingly aggressive and human rights violations are continuing, testing the Mission’s capacities. “We need a strategy to manage the mandate,” he emphasized, requesting a substantial increase of both troops and police officers in the framework of inter-mission cooperation. If the Mission fails to get more personnel, it will do what it can, in a country where the Government has no control over some areas, he said. However, peacekeepers now are deployed over a very wide area, with a limited ability to act robustly due to a lack of drones, attack helicopters and special forces. MINUSCA’s police component is equally overwhelmed, he said, adding that the overcrowding of prisons due to prolonged tensions is a serious issue that requires the training of additional prison staff.
Underscoring the need to restore State authority and, in turn, lower the threat posed by armed groups, he urged the international community, the United Nations and international partners to support good governance and reconstruction. The citizens of the Central African Republic demonstrated their resilience by turning out for the 27 December elections, but there is now a danger of their country backsliding when it should be on the road to peacebuilding, he cautioned.
In the ensuing debate, Council members, noting that today’s meeting was requested by the Government of the Central African Republic, condemned attacks on United Nations peacekeepers and expressed condolences to the families of fallen “blue helmets”. Many urged parties to the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic to abide by their commitments under that 2019 pact, signed in Bangui on 6 February 2019. Several also commented on the Government’s request that the Council ease the arms embargo that it imposed in 2013.
[Unanimously adopting resolution 2552 (2020) under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, on 12 November, the Council maintained MINUSCA’s current troop levels of 11,650 military and 2,080 police personnel as well as its strategic objective of creating the political, security and institutional conditions conducive to sustainably reduce the presence of armed groups and the threat they pose. See Press Release SC/14356.]
The representative of Tunisia, Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity and also for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, strongly condemning the attacks by armed groups and calling upon the authorities in the Central African Republic to swiftly investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice. The increasing attacks are significantly exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in the country, he said, noting that nearly 60,000 people have already fled the violence and the delivery of aid to 2.8 million people in need has been disrupted. He went on to underscore the crucial importance of strengthening MINUSCA by providing it with the necessary permanent capacities to fulfil its mandate. It is important that the Security Council send a strong message calling upon armed groups to cease their attacks, he emphasized. While commending the national authorities for holding the presidential elections within the constitutional timeline, he called on political actors to respect the poll results and settle any post-electoral disputes peacefully.
Describing the vote — the first since the signing of the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation — as an important step towards a democratic transition and stability in the Central African Republic, he said that under the accord, all stakeholders should fully honour their pledges, particularly on the cessation of hostilities. The road to sustainable peace and security is still long, he cautioned. It requires a genuine and deep reconciliation process to rebuild trust among communities and strong State institutions capable of exercising control over its territory and providing services to its populations, he stressed. It also requires addressing the root causes of violence and instability and a strong commitment from the international community to accompany the country in those important endeavours. He then commended the efforts of the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), in their capacity as guarantors of the peace agreement, in the search for a solution to the conflict, also welcoming the recent appointment of an ECCAS mediator.
The representative of France condemned the violence committed by the self-proclaimed “coalition of patriots for change”, supported by former President François Bozizé, noting that the group attacks peacekeepers, the national armed forces, civilians, humanitarian personnel and institutions. Urging the authorities and the armed groups to resume dialogue as soon as possible, with support from the guarantors — the African Union and ECCAS — he warned that new sanctions could be imposed on those who oppose the process. He emphasized the importance of respecting the Constitutional Court’s confirmation of the re-election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, taking note of his conciliatory approach to the opposition. He went on to declare that attacks on peacekeepers constitute war crimes, stressing that all actions by the legitimate military forces must be coordinated with MINUSCA. Explaining that the embargo decided by the Council aims to prevent weapons from flowing into the country and falling in the wrong hands, he said that lifting will depend on progress towards achieving the objectives set by the Council, starting with the management of armaments and ammunition. However, he underlined that in no case should the embargo stand in the way of strengthening the Central African armed forces. France hopes that the concerns expressed by the national authorities on that matter will be examined by the Council with due attention, he said.
The representative of Viet Nam urged all parties concerned to settle electoral differences through dialogue and negotiation, and to give priority to the will of the people, who are longing for stability and development. The peace agreement is the only viable path towards ending the conflict, she said, urging its signatories to refrain from any action that could worsen the situation. At the same time, ongoing support from the international community is indispensable, she emphasized, paying tribute to the contributions of the African Union, ECCAS and neighbouring countries.
The representative of Ireland welcomed the Central African people’s commitment to democracy, shown during the presidential elections in the face of violence and insecurity. That determination should inspire the authorities and all parties to engage sincerely in the electoral process and represent the will of the people, she said. Noting that the work of civil society, especially women and religious leaders, has been essential in facilitating the polls, she said it demonstrates the importance of inclusive processes in consolidating peace. She went on to point out that the cycle of impunity is inextricably linked to the cycle of conflict, emphasizing that it must be broken. The authorities must hold to account the perpetrators of violence and human rights violations and abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence. Noting the critical contribution of the Rwandan infantry and Sri Lankan aviation units from UNMISS in helping MINUSCA react to the actions of armed groups, she urged the Council to ensure that the latter has the resources it needs to maintain its robust posture.
The representative of Estonia expressed his strong support for MINUSCA’s rapid and robust response to ensure the protection of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Despite the actions of several parties to destabilize the electoral process through violence, the people of the Central African Republic went out to vote and will do so again, he noted, emphasizing that their decision must be accepted and respected by all political actors. Any disputes regarding the electoral results must be settled peacefully and lawfully, he said. Declaring that there is no road to lasting peace through violence, he called upon the guarantors and facilitators to strengthen their engagement in supporting effective implementation of the peace agreement, stressing that spoilers of the agreement and the democratic process must be held accountable.
The representative of Norway expressed deep concern about the rapidly deteriorating security situation, urging armed groups to end hostilities immediately. Further, he called for full, equal and meaningful participation by women as essential for sustainable peace, also encouraging the national authorities to engage all parties, including the opposition, in finding a way forward to reinvigorate the peace agreement. President Touadéra must demonstrate statesmanship and be a president of all citizens, he emphasized, adding that his country would be most interested in hearing more about his and his Government’s vision for peace and democratic development. He went on to say that recent reports of desertions from the Central African armed forces, and the extreme violence of the past few weeks, have rightly raised questions about MINUSCA’s capacities. Norway stands ready to discuss how MINUSCA can be further strengthened.
The representative of China declared that the people’s choices must be respected, emphasizing that all parties concerned must put the interests of their country and people first, respect the Constitutional Court’s validation of the election results, respect the peace agreement, renounce violence and resolve differences peacefully. In light of the situation on the ground, and in response to the Government’s requests, he said, the Council should lift the arms embargo in order to create better conditions in which to improve the capacity of the security forces. China supports a temporary strengthening of MINUSCA on the basis of inter-mission cooperation, alongside careful analysis of attacks on peacekeepers and steps to ensure their safety, he added.
The representative of India described attacks on MINUSCA peacekeepers as shocking and unacceptable and called upon the national authorities to act immediately to bring the perpetrators to justice. He called upon opposition groups to lift the blockade on towns, allowing free movement of essential supplies, and on all signatories to the peace agreement to cease hostilities immediately and join the Government in finding a peaceful solution to the current crisis. Commending MINUSCA, he stressed the importance of coordination between the Mission, national security forces and States extending support to them.
The representative of the United States said that deadly attacks on MINUSCA troops are not only potentially war crimes but also an outrage against the United Nations and its Member States. “They must stop and they must stop now,” he said, emphasizing that all parties must respect the Constitutional Court’s decision and build an inclusive Government that tackles the underlying sources of tension. He expressed dismay at desertions and defections from the armed forces, saying he looks forward to the Government’s assessment of that problem. Going forward, the United States will think carefully about how the response to recent developments should be calibrated said. Noting that the Government requested today’s meeting to seek even a temporary lifting of the arms embargo, he expressed concern about the ability of the armed forces to use and account for its weapons. The United States looks forward to working with the United Nations and other Council members to find better solutions ahead of the Council’s next meeting on the Central African Republic, he added.
The representative of the Russian Federation, noting the Central African Republic’s wish that the Council adopt a resolution on the current situation, said that such a text would confirm the country’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, as well as the importance of non-interference, good neighbourliness and regional cooperation. It would also condemn the coup attempt undertaken by the former President and violations of the peace agreement by illegal armed groups, appeal to all political parties to respect the final election results, and call for lifting of the embargo on the supply of heavy weapons in order to increase the national army’s capacity to protect the population and counter illegal armed groups. Recommending that the Council consider those elements, he said they chime with resolution 2552 (2020). Moreover, it is time to consider imposing sanctions on the leaders of armed groups, but the priority remains on promotion of the political process, he noted. The deterioration from December 2020 to January 2021 clearly demonstrates that the sanctions on the country should be adapted in a timely manner to the current needs, including extension of State authority throughout the national territory and the suppression of illegal armed groups, he said, pointing out that the latter are often better armed than the regular army.
The representative of Mexico urged all political actors to abide by the election results and focus on building a new stage of reconciliation, in accordance with the peace agreement, and welcomed President Touadéra’s call for reconciliation. Women, youth and refugees should take their rightful place in political decision-making to build lasting peace, she said, adding that the work of the Reconciliation Commission can contribute to that objective. She emphasized the urgent need to provide it with the appropriate means to start operations. Warning that the arrival of Central African refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and Cameroon increases the risk of regional destabilization, she stressed that the Council must consider the precarious nature of the political and security situation and grant MINUSCA the necessary means to fulfil its mandate and protect its staff.
The representative of the United Kingdom, commending the Central African people’s exercise of their right to vote, urged all parties to renew their commitment to the peace agreement and immediately stop violating its provisions. Attacks on United Nations peacekeepers are reprehensible and must be swiftly investigated, with the perpetrators brought to justice, he said, emphasizing that all parties must respect the Constitutional Court’s confirmation of the election results and put the needs of the people first. He went on to stress that the arms embargo is aimed at preventing weapons from falling into the hands of armed groups, not against the Government, and must remain in place pending progress on key benchmarks set out by the Council in April 2019.
Sylvie Valérie Baïpo Temon, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Central African Republic, said her country is facing a rebellion led by the Coalition of Patriots for Change and its political wing, COD2020, aimed at destabilizing the country and seizing power. “This is a serious threat against the civilian population and democratic institutions,” at a time when the Government finds itself deprived of its legitimate right, under the United Nations Charter, to defend the country, she emphasized. Whereas the initial goals of the arms embargo — to prevent rival armed groups from accessing weapons and to head off civil war — were noble, it has effectively weakened the State is now insignificant to the outlaws, she stressed. She emphasized that the Government is demonstrating goodwill by fulfilling the provisions of the peace agreement and requested that the Council condemn the rebellion and establish an international commission of inquiry to shed light on “the actors behind this plot”.
The imbalance between MINUSCA and armed groups is compounding the problem, she said, adding that despite its robust mandate, the Mission lacks both resources and sophisticated weapons. “The conflict on the ground is not a conventional war,” she stressed, going on to request the total lifting of the Council’s embargo on heavy weapons, thus enabling the democratically elected Government to protect its people and defend territorial integrity. It is the armed forces, after all, that are on the front lines and know the country best, she added, underscoring progress made in security sector reform. “We must face up to reality,” she continued. If the Council is concerned about an influx of weapons, then it should consider an embargo that targets non-Government forces. Lifting the embargo entirely would enable the armed forces to better adapt to the situation, she said, adding: “We are convicted that you will not turn a deaf ear to this legitimate appeal.”
The representative of the United Kingdom, taking the floor a second time, said he wished to reassure the Minister that the embargo is not intended to punish the Government, but rather to prevent arms from reaching “bad people”. He noted that the Government can already import weapons below a certain calibre, as well as training assistance. As for heavy weapons, he strongly urged the Minister to submit a request for exemption to the Council. The Council, like MINUSCA, is committed to supporting the people and Government of the Central African Republic, he stressed.