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SC/14739
15 December 2021
8933rd Meeting (PM)

Despite Electoral Progress, Central African Countries Still Besieged by Terrorism, Humanitarian Crisis, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Despite some progress in the electoral arena, countries in Central Africa continue to grapple with the serious challenges of terrorism, dire food insecurity, climate change and the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the subregion told the Security Council today.

François Louncény Fall, also Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), briefed the Security Council on the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the region and the activities of UNOCA (document S/2021/975).  Central Africa continues to deal with the COVID‑19 pandemic, with 438,000 cases reported and 7,047 deaths since the pandemic began — a 100 per cent increase compared to June.  However, since his last briefing, São Tomé and Príncipe had a peaceful and orderly presidential election.  With crucial elections pending in 2022 and 2023 — including in Angola, Chad, the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe — renewed commitment to peaceful and democratic electoral processes remains paramount.

Terrorist activity in the Lake Chad Basin, including by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, still presents a serious challenge, he said, reporting that the armed groups have reconfigured, generating additional threats to the populations.  However, they have also been weakened by military operations and infighting, he pointed out, stressing that the time is right to increase international support to defeat them, including much needed technical and material assistance to the Multinational Joint Task Force.  Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Guinea, organized maritime crime has remained a threat to State and human security, despite a decrease in piracy incidents.

Describing Chad’s efforts to achieve a peaceful and democratic transition within 18 months, he noted the recent granting of amnesty by transitional authorities to members of armed groups to encourage dialogue and reconciliation.  Turning to the Central African Republic, he reported on consultations with national authorities and international partners, in coordination with Special Representative Mankeur Ndiaye of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which resulted in continued efforts towards lasting peace.  However, noting the continuing violence in Cameroon, with non-State armed groups forming alliances with foreign groups and deploying more complex weapons and tactics, he welcomed new local initiatives promoting a bottom-up approach to resolve the crisis through dialogue.

In the ensuing debate, a number of speakers, while citing the comprehensive efforts by UNOCA to advance dialogue and, ultimately, solutions, echoed concerns over the ongoing terrorist activity and the dire humanitarian situation plaguing the region.

The representative of Niger, Council President for December, speaking in his national capacity and also on behalf of Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, called for the implementation of decisions taken at an Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) conference — efforts that contributed to the unilateral ceasefire declared by Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.  Expressing concern about terrorist activities in the Lake Chad Basin, he stressed that the humanitarian situation in the region has remained worrisome due to persistent conflict and natural disasters, with violations of human rights by armed groups, including violence against women.  He urged international partners to support UNOCA and regional countries.

The United Kingdom’s delegate voiced concern about the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic, which was taking a distressing toll on the civilian population and compounding an already acute humanitarian situation.  Commending the call of President Touadéra for a unilateral ceasefire and underlining the importance of an inclusive peacebuilding process, he expressed regret over further reports of the Russian private military company the Wagner Group and its continuing human rights abuses in that country.

France’s representative welcomed the regional mediation initiatives by Angola and Rwanda and encouraged steps taken in Chad since the adoption of a transition roadmap at the end of July.  She also emphasized the need for elections scheduled in that country for September 2022 to be free, transparent and inclusive.  However, while hailing the ceasefire in the Central African Republic, she stressed that the Wagner Group must put an end to its abuses, predation and violence at the expense of Central Africans.

The Russian Federation’s delegate emphasized that armed criminal and terror groups are the main threat in the region, with Islamic State West Africa Province and Boko Haram using rear bases to strike deep into Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon and exploiting the low military capabilities of those countries.  However, responding to accusations levelled at her country, she remarked that those who spoke have a very sad history of destabilizing countries, and not only in Africa.  They are far from impeccable on human rights, she said, adding that she could not consider their statements on the Central African Republic as anything but a hypocritical coordinated campaign.

Norway’s representative, looking to future solutions, highlighted a draft resolution that his country — in collaboration with incoming members Ghana, Gabon and other regional countries — will introduce regarding piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea, which cost the surrounding regions almost $2 billion dollars.  Climate change as well has led to more than 96,000 internally displaced persons in Burundi, and intercommunal clashes between herding and farming communities in Chad and Cameroon.  There must be preventive diplomacy, he stressed, adding that the Security Council’s role “cannot be reduced to that of a firefighter rushing to scenes after the fact”.

Also speaking were the representatives of Estonia, Viet Nam, India, Mexico, China, Ireland and the United States.

The meeting began at 3:16 p.m. and ended at 4:45 p.m.

Briefing

FRANÇOIS LOUNCÉNY FALL, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Africa and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), briefed the Security Council on the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the region and the activities of UNOCA (document S/2021/975).  Noting that Central Africa continues to grapple with a worsening situation related to the COVID‑19 pandemic, he said that vaccination campaigns in the subregion are slow and asymmetric, with nearly 3 per cent of people vaccinated as of 16 November.  Meanwhile, 438,000 cases have been reported, including 7,047 who have lost their lives since the pandemic began — a 100 per cent increase compared to June, he observed, calling on the international community to continue supporting the region to mitigate the pandemic’s impact.

However, he expressed optimism over economic recovery after a severe recession, commending regional, continental and international financial institutions for generous financial and technical commitment.  Management of the pandemic has exposed some protracted governance challenges that must be addressed for the subregion to prevent, mitigate and successfully resolve future crises.  Elections remain a key feature.  Since his last briefing, a peaceful and orderly presidential election took place in São Tomé and Príncipe, further consolidating the country’s track record of democratic transitions.  However, the political class needs help implementing key reforms so that the population can harness the “democratic dividend”.  With crucial elections pending in 2022 and 2023 — including in Angola, Chad, the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe — renewed commitment to peaceful and democratic electoral processes remains paramount.

The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) has stayed the course in implementing institutional reform, working in cooperation with the African Union and UNOCA, to establish a subregional governance architecture, he continued.  He stressed that ECCAS must be strong in order to help its member States address challenges including terrorism and violent extremism, maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, the weak participation of women in peace and political processes and the impact of climate change.  Expressing concern over terrorist activity in the Lake Chad Basin, including by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, he reported that during a recent joint high-level visit with Special Representative of the Secretary-General Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh, of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), they were informed that the armed groups have reconfigured, generating additional threats to the populations.

The terrorist groups are resorting to deadlier and more sophisticated methods, he continued.  However, as they have been weakened by military operations and infighting, the time is right to increase international support to defeat them.  The Multinational Joint Task Force and the concerned national armies are in dire need of technical and material assistance, particularly in the clearance and disposal of improvised explosive devices, one of the main causes of death in their ranks.  International support is also needed in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration as the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has resulted in the defection of thousands of former associates.  He also urged increased international support to implement the Regional Strategy for the Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience of the Boko Haram-affected Areas of the Lake Chad Basin Region.  Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Guinea, organized maritime crime has remained a threat to State and human security, despite a decrease in piracy incidents.  Turning to the women, peace and security agenda — a key regional priority — he noted that the participation of women remains limited despite progress and political will in parts of the subregion.

Calling for bold commitments on climate change, he highlighted rising tensions among communities, as competition for depleting natural resources causes more frequent and more lethal conflicts.  He welcomed the statement issued by the fifty-second ministerial meeting of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa, supporting Chad’s efforts to achieve a peaceful and democratic transition within 18 months, along with support from the Peacebuilding Commission.  Transitional authorities decided two weeks ago to grant amnesty to certain members of armed groups in efforts to encourage them to take part in the processes of dialogue and reconciliation.  Such envisaged inclusive national dialogue is a historic opportunity, he emphasized, requiring greater international support as Chad grapples with a dire socioeconomic situation.

He went on to note that in the Central African Republic, consultations with national authorities and international partners, in coordination with Special Representative Mankeur Ndiaye of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), have resulted in continued efforts to help the country move towards lasting peace.  Turning to Cameroon, he cited continuing violence in the north-west and south-west regions, including against civilian targets, with non-State armed groups forming alliances with foreign groups and deploying more complex weapons and tactics.  He welcomed new local initiatives promoting a bottom-up approach, which would ultimately help create an environment to resolve the crisis through dialogue and call on all parties to take steps towards a negotiated political solution.  In addition to considering the recommendations of the national dialogue, he said he will also remain in contact with the main actors in the country and in the diaspora on the need to go further into constructive discussion towards building a peaceful and lasting resolution.

Statements

JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) noted that Central Africa continues to face serious political, economic, humanitarian and security challenges.  Commending UNOCA’s ongoing work on conflict prevention and mediation efforts across the region, he encouraged greater coordination between the Office and United Nations country teams, with a particular focus on delivery of agreed plans and strategies.  Welcoming the efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force to tackle Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, he voiced his country’s continued support for regional stabilization efforts through its assistance to the regional stabilization facility.  He also expressed concern about the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic, saying that it continues to take a distressing toll on the civilian population and compounds an already acute humanitarian situation.  Commending Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s call for a unilateral ceasefire, he underlined the importance of an inclusive peacebuilding process while expressing regret over further reports of the Russian private military company Wagner Group continuing to commit human rights abuses in that country.

VEBJOERN HEINES (Norway) cited the finding of a report funded by his country and supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which found that piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea cost the surrounding regions almost $2 billion dollars.  He highlighted a draft resolution that his country, working closely with incoming members Ghana, Gabon, and other regional countries, will be introducing, adding that the text would increase attention to the issue, among other things.  Moving to onshore topics, he called for enhanced preventive diplomacy, stating that the Council’s role “cannot be reduced to that of a firefighter rushing to scenes after the fact”.  He also strongly condemned reported continued attacks against schools and education facilities in parts of Cameroon, as well as in other countries in the region.  Turning to climate change, he said it is increasing security challenges everywhere, including in Central Africa, where natural disasters have led to more than 96,000 internally displaced persons in Burundi, aside from intercommunal clashes between herding and farming communities in Chad and Cameroon.  “As the Council continues to catch up to this reality, Norway will maintain its support to UNOCA’s climate and security project,” he said.

SHERAZ GASRI (France) welcomed the regional mediation efforts by Angola and Rwanda and called for the dialogue to begin as soon as possible and in an enabling environment.  She welcomed encouraging steps taken in Chad since the adoption of a transition roadmap at the end of July, emphasizing the need for elections scheduled for September 2022 to be free, transparent and inclusive.  In Cameroon, France is supporting authorities with mediation initiatives, she noted, which will enable a political solution to the crisis in the north-west and south-west regions where violence is increasing.  Turning to humanitarian issues, she welcomed the ceasefire in the Central African Republic, stressing that the Wagner Group must put an end to its abuses, predation and violence at the expense of Central Africans.  France is providing €6 million for humanitarian and food assistance, she said, adding that her country will also continue to support the Multinational Joint Task Force of the States bordering Lake Chad, and to extend humanitarian and stabilization support to the Lake Chad Basin.  On elections slated to be held in several States in the region, including Angola and Gabon, she said UNOCA provides indispensable support, which can help those elections take place in an inclusive manner and ensure the full participation of women and young people as voters and candidates.

ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia), stressing that the region continues to confront several challenges at the political, economic and security level, underlined the important role of further prioritizing peaceful, inclusive and credible electoral processes that would contribute to a greater representation of women in public life.  As well, he expressed concern on the lack of improvements on the security situation this year, recalling incidents in Cameroon and Chad, including the increased use of improvised explosive devices and attacks against civilians.  The targeted attacks against schools and schoolchildren, as well as United Nations personnel and humanitarian workers, are particularly alarming, he noted.  Calling on the regional countries to address the accountability for human rights violations and abuses and make further progress to combat impunity, he stressed the need for greater cooperation and regional integration at the time of COVID‑19, as well as in addressing the effects of climate change, which pose a serious threat to international peace and security and have magnified already complex consequences to the humanitarian situation.

PHAM HAI ANH (Viet Nam) noted the enormous security and socioeconomic challenges faced by the region in the course of pursuing long-term peace and stability.  He expressed concern about persistent insecurity due to the activities of armed groups and terrorists, particularly in the Lake Chad Basin, maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, the reported expansion of Islamic State West Africa Province and unceasing violence in the north-west and south-west of Cameroon.  Stressing that the humanitarian situation in the region remains dire as a result of conflict, epidemic, floods and climate change, he called for support for humanitarian response plans, as well as for efforts to fully address the root causes of instability.  Also highlighting the importance of regional cooperation, particularly the Economic Community of Central African States and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, he urged international partners to provide sustained technical and financial assistance to the countries in the region during this challenging period.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) welcomed the successful conduct of presidential elections in São Tomé and Príncipe, observing that, aside from some difficulties faced by the Central African Republic and Chad, the region has remained politically stable and peaceful overall.  Taking note of progress in recent months in the Central African Republic, which deserves international support, he expressed hope that the unilateral ceasefire announced in October will strengthen peace.  In Chad, he welcomed progress towards the national dialogue process, the establishing of the National Transitional Council and the holding of elections.  Turning to security, he expressed concern about the continuing spread of terrorism in Central Africa including in the Lake Chad Basin, as evinced by continued killings by Boko Haram and the spread of Islamic State West Africa Province, and welcomed regional efforts such as the Multinational Joint Task Force and the quadripartite agreement between Chad, Libya, Niger and Sudan to tackle the issue.  He called for equitable distribution of COVID‑19 vaccines, including to the countries in the region, and called for an urgent increase in surveillance through international cooperation to strengthen maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.

JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico), welcoming the steps taken in Chad, including an inclusion of women in the committee organizing national dialogue, emphasized that it is the first step towards open elections.  However, he voiced concern about violence in north-west and south-west Cameroon.  Citing reports of alleged links between separatist groups of that country and Nigeria, he said such movements threaten regional stability.  He went on to say that UNOCA must support implementation of the Joint Roadmap for Peace in the Central African Republic, which was adopted at the summit of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region.  He called on UNOCA to redouble efforts, in particular in three priority areas.  First, the proliferation and illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons in the region continues to be a threat to the civilian population and Governments.  UNOCA must play an active role in the adoption of a regional strategy that harmonizes with existing efforts.  Second, electoral processes are a recurring source of political instability and conflicts.  States’ institutional and legal frameworks must be strengthened.  In that regard, he welcomed the dispatch of an electoral observation mission of the African Union and ECCAS to São Tomé and Príncipe in July, stressing that such practice should become commonplace.  Third, prevention must be at the heart of UNOCA’s work, he stated, adding that the Office should focus on strengthening regional governance by supporting existing institutions.

SUN ZHIQIANG (China), stressing that stability in Central Africa affects the continent’s security overall, called on the United Nations and the international community to heed the voices of countries in the region, respect their wishes and work together towards regional prosperity and stability.  The international community must also support the development of countries in the region in a way that suits national conditions, he stressed, underlining that importing democratic transformation will backfire.  Noting that many countries in Central Africa will hold elections in 2022, he called on the international community to respect national ownership of the same while assisting these processes.  He also underscored the need to help countries in the region improve their governance capacity and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals against the backdrop of increasing terrorist activity, a deteriorating humanitarian situation and maritime-security issues in the Gulf of Guinea.  The international community must also support the region’s fight against COVID‑19, honour official development assistance commitments and scale up aid to eradicate poverty and improve livelihoods.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) voiced regret that a draft resolution on climate and security brought to a vote by Ireland and Niger earlier this week was not adopted by the Council.  The reality and impact of climate-related security risks cannot be ignored, she stressed, reiterating the interlinkages between the adverse impacts of climate change and recruitment by terrorist groups, including Boko Haram, particularly in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the climate crisis has heightened tensions along the tributaries of Lake Chad in recent decades, where the reduction in water levels is sparking violent clashes between fishermen and herders.  This fighting has caused the displacement of thousands of people to Cameroon and Chad.  She expressed concern that this displacement has a disproportionate impact on women and children and is likely to exacerbate existing tensions, as well as create new ones.  Pointing to the dire humanitarian situation in Central Africa, and the staggering numbers in need of humanitarian assistance, she condemned attacks against humanitarian, health and education personnel and facilities and called for perpetrators to be held accountable.

ANNA EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) emphasized that numerous armed criminal and terror groups are the main threat in the region, with Islamic State West Africa Province and Boko Haram using rear bases to strike deep into Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.  They exploit the low military capabilities of those countries, with the support from local residents who must coexist with them.  Porous national borders allow both civilians and armed groups to move freely.  Thus, States must step up efforts to block channels and strengthen cooperation with African regional partners.  She went on to welcome the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum, created in July, noting that in 2020 the Russian Federation allocated special technical assistance to the Ghana and Nigeria coast guards.  She also highlighted Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s initiative for a specialized universal entity under the auspices of the United Nations to combat maritime crime.  Regarding accusations made by some delegates against the Russian Federation, she remarked that those who spoke have a very sad history of destabilizing countries, and not only in Africa.  They are far from impeccable on human rights, she said, adding that she could not consider their statements on the Central African Republic as anything but a hypocritical coordinated campaign.  Illegal armed groups are the main cause of instability in that country and it has the full sovereign right to choose its partners in combating such threats.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) welcomed the African Union’s newly appointed High Representative to Chad to support reforms and a democratic transition.  Joining the call for a civilian-led transition to a democratically elected Government, he also highlighted the Transitional Military Council’s recent granting of amnesty to 300 members of armed groups to participate in dialogue.  However, he emphasized the need for women and civil society members to be included in the process and called for a concrete timeline to be set out for elections.  Turning to Cameroon, he expressed concern about the continuing violence and the insufficient momentum in the dialogue between the Government and armed groups.  Turning to the Central African Republic, he said all parties must respect the ceasefire and adhere to the Joint Roadmap for Peace in the Central African Republic.  Further, all security actors must end human rights abuses and coordinate their activities with MINUSCA.  On Burundi, noting that the United States terminated its bilateral sanctions programme and related visa restrictions on 18 November, he expressed concern about reports of human rights violations and abuses that threaten to undermine progress.  However, the decision was taken as an acknowledgement of changed circumstances and the concrete positive steps taken by Burundi in the pursuit of reforms.  The United States continues to offer a reward of up to $5 million for any information that could lead to the arrest, transfer or conviction of Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and help bring him to justice, he said.

ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity and also on behalf of Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  He emphasized that the political situation in the region has seen significant positive headway and applauded UNOCA and regional organizations for their joint actions.  He called for implementation of decisions taken at an ECCAS conference on the integration of regional security and the outcome of a mini summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.  Those efforts contributed to the unilateral ceasefire declared by Central African Republic President Touadéra.  Truly inclusive national dialogue is paramount to revitalizing the 2019 peace agreement.  The issue of foreign combatants in Libya and neighbouring countries must be accorded appropriate attention and UNOCA must work closely with other United Nations offices in the region, he added.

Expressing concern about terrorist activities in the Lake Chad Basin, he echoed the Secretary-General’s call for the establishment of a regional strategy for recovery of the areas affected by Boko Haram attacks.  Turning to the humanitarian situation in the region, he said it has remained worrisome due to persistent conflict and natural disasters.  United Nations statistics and funding also have remained unchanged since June.  Violations of human rights and humanitarian law by armed groups, including violence against women, are alarming and driving displacement.  In that regard, he called on international partners to support UNOCA and regional countries in addressing the humanitarian situation and to assist the work of the Peacebuilding Commission in supporting regional States’ economic development.

For information media. Not an official record.