27 October 2017

Remarks to the National Assembly of the Central African Republic

António Guterres

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.

This is a place in which I feel very much at home, for two reasons.

The first is that I am standing in your Parliament. The second is that I am in the Central African Republic. I served in Parliament for 23 years, counting the time during which, as Prime Minister, I had of course to be accountable to Parliament. So I was a representative of the people of my country as a member of Parliament for those 23 years.

It is a great pleasure to be meeting you, my fellow parliamentarians of the Central African Republic, and to hear you speaking with the same candour that I spoke with when I was a member of my own country’s Parliament.

I also feel at home because I am here, in the Central African Republic.

This is not my first visit. I came several times when I was United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I travelled a bit around the country and witnessed the enormous generosity of its people, who – despite particularly difficult political crises and insecurity – never closed the borders to refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and from Sudan.

It is just this kind of generosity and solidarity that I am now asking the international community to show the Central African Republic.

The people of this country, who have always opened their doors to those in need, deserve the same generosity and solidarity from the international community that, as United Nations Secretary-General, I am called upon to represent here today.

I also had the opportunity to visit communities of refugees from the Central African Republic in Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I witnessed the pain of their exile and the tragedy of people who long to be with their families and communities, but find themselves in a desperate situation, living in abject poverty, completely dependent on outside aid, and unable to contribute to peace, stability or the political, economic or social life of their own country.

I am well aware of the suffering of the people of the Central African Republic.

I wish to pay tribute to their courage, resilience and determination to overcome great adversity.

I wish 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. As I have listened to you, I have shared your concern at those challenges, which include insecurity, a humanitarian crisis, slow and difficult progress towards development and the feeling of exclusion and marginalization suffered in parts of the country where the authority of the State is still absent.

I have heard the tragic accounts of people who arrive at hospitals and health centres, find nothing there, and must resign themselves to a sad fate, sometimes including – as the honourable member just explained – death.

I realize that the situation is still fragile. Armed groups are splintering apart and multiplying, making the security situation more difficult to manage.

Civilians, Blue Helmets and humanitarian workers are frequently targeted.

The Central African Republic holds this year’s international record for the number of humanitarian workers killed: 12.

One in every four people in the country is now a displaced person.

Rape is being used deliberately as a weapon of war.

The Central African Republic is at risk of sliding back into open inter-community violence.

This is not a situation that we can accept. We must come together to turn back the tide.

But I draw hope from some important achievements.

Now that you have major democratic institutions in place, the time has come to end the violence and consolidate democracy. I will be your enthusiastic advocate with the international community, to ensure that you get the support that you need and deserve.

This is why I have asked the Security Council to boost MINUSCA force numbers.

MINUSCA has shown its worth, though many Blue Helmets have sacrificed their lives for it. We realize that its capacity for action must be expanded and improved. Peacekeeping operations save lives. In some cases, they even save entire countries.

However, I know that the actions of some of our troops have tarnished the peacekeepers’ image.

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 absolutely must make our policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse a reality.

Honourable members,

I want MINUSCA to continue to improve the performance of its staff, to better serve the people of the Central African Republic.

MINUSCA should and will continue to use force when the State’s stability is under threat, and whenever civilians are in need of protection, in places in which it is present, and within the bounds of its means.

But we need to understand the rules of what are now known as asymmetric conflict. We are seeing the world’s most powerful armies struggling to maintain peace in situations in which armed groups are springing up everywhere, are difficult to detect, and carry out attacks in the most unexpected and unpredictable places.

MINUSCA is not equipped like the world’s most powerful armies.

I have seen with my own eyes how our troops travel the forests not in armoured vehicles, but in pickups. They can be killed at any time not even with a machine gun, but with a shotgun used for hunting.

I also know that troops have been killed not during military operations, but when fetching water to give to the inhabitants of displaced persons’ camps.

It is very easy to criticise a military force for being unable to bring peace to an entire country. There are certainly things that can be improved, capacities that can be boosted, mandates that we wish could be strengthened, but let us be fair: look at the situation in other parts of the world, and look at the sacrifice made by large numbers of soldiers, including some who pay with their lives.

I will be very firm in fighting all abuse. I can guarantee that zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse is a matter of honour for me.

If there are any further accusations of misdeeds committed by troops, we need clear information in order to be able to take action.

I can assure you of one thing. These forces are at the service of the people of the Central African Republic, and have no other agenda than achieving the wellbeing, survival and security of the people of the Central African Republic.

As I explained, for over 20 years I was a member of Parliament and a politician in my own country. I know the rules of politics. It is sometimes easier to manipulate reality for political ends, but that political manipulation can have terrible consequences.

To give you an example, Christians and Muslims have lived together for decades, even centuries, in the Central African Republic. But we have heard the voices of some who want to use political manipulation to divide communities of different religions that have always coexisted.

These political manipulations must be condemned.

When I was planning my visit to the Central African Republic, it was suggested that I should visit Bambari. But I refused. Twelve peacekeepers were brutally killed in Bangassou. I considered it my duty as the highest official of the United Nations to go there and express to those colleagues and comrades my sympathy in the face of the immense sacrifice of twelve lives in the service of the people of the Central African Republic. I went to Bangassou because the events happened there.

I was surprised to hear and see some comments suggesting something like “You see! He’s paying a politically motivated visit to Bangassou to show favouritism for one community over another”. This shows how political manipulation can sometimes end up provoking mistrust, most seriously between the people of the country, but also between the people of the country and the United Nations forces.

We may have our faults, and we may make mistakes. But rest assured that we are here to serve you. We have no agenda other than the agenda of the people of the Central African Republic.

If there are any unjustified actions, instances of abuse or inappropriate behaviour, I want to be personally informed, to be able to take firm action, because I want to see United Nations forces that are impartial, show no complicity with any group, and instead are fully devoted to the people of the country.

Above all, I want to support those forces, because the women and men dying for the people of the Central African Republic have the right to the same solidarity and commitment.

MINUSCA alone cannot bring back peace.

What MINUSCA does do is provide the room you need to build peace through dialogue.

I hear the calls for redeployment of the army. MINUSCA will remain at your side to support efforts to do so. You can count on me to argue for the armed forces of the Central African Republic to get the weapons and equipment they need to fulfil their mission of protecting all sections of the population of the country. There is nowhere in the world where peace can be guaranteed by foreign forces alone.

As the head of the United Nations Secretariat, I am acutely aware of the need and the importance of having in the Central African Republic armed forces from the country itself, armed forces that are at the service of every one of its citizens, without discrimination, and armed forces that can guarantee peace.

I will fight to make sure that that security becomes a reality.

Our aim is to make sure that the armed forces of the Central African Republic have the weapons and equipment required for deployment. We are even discussing how deployment might take place progressively, beginning in the least dangerous, less risky areas, leaving the United Nations forces to focus on the more dangerous areas. The idea is that the armed forces of the Central African Republic should gradually and completely replace the United Nations forces, as you have the right to expect that they should.

I want also to restate once again very firmly a fundamental principle of the United Nations: MINUSCA is impartial. It does not take the side of any religious or ethnic group. The efforts of every citizen of the Central African Republic are needed to rebuild the country.

I would therefore appeal to all of you to take this message back to the people and communities that you represent, to counter any and all hate speech.

Honourable members,

The task of solving this crisis is 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, as I have said, religion and ethnic origin have at times been manipulated to create division among communities.

This has polarized a fragile country, even though its diversity is an asset, not a threat.

Nowhere in the world has the use of force settled a conflict on its own.

We need not just more soldiers of peace, but more political initiatives for peace.

The United Nations will work hand in hand with all African Initiative partners. I encourage all the parties to move the process forward under the guidance of the Government of the Central African Republic.

Once again, we need leadership from inside the Central African Republic, and we need an African Initiative. The job of the United Nations is to support leadership from inside the Central African Republic, and to support the African Initiative.

You are facing a daunting challenge, but you are not alone. Last month President Touadéra, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and I jointly chaired a high-level meeting in New York to restate our solidarity with the Central African Republic.

International partners had already expressed their commitment to supporting you at the Brussels Conference in November 2016.

I call on the international community to honour its commitments. Funding for humanitarian aid is still cruelly lacking.

Together, the humanitarian community, the United Nations, civil society in the Central African Republic and the world, made what was a rather modest appeal. We already had the impression that the world was forgetting the crisis in the Central African Republic. that proved correct, as the appeal met less than 40 percent of its funding target.

That was what convinced me that I needed to take advantage of United Nations Day to visit the Central African Republic and refocus the international community’s attention on it.

The way that the world media works today, everyone is concentrating on the North Korean nuclear threat and the crises in the Middle East, and the world is beginning to forget the tragedy of the people of the Central African Republic. The reason for my visit is precisely to tell the world that the Central African Republic still needs its solidarity.

The international community must commit itself to helping you to guarantee equitable access to natural resources. Those resources belong to you, not to the armed groups. There must be free movement, better integration of some regions, and more investment in basic infrastructure. It goes without saying that international solidarity is absolutely vital to these development projects.

The National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan is a central part of our commitment to supporting you.

The Central African Republic needs development programmes for neglected rural areas. It needs schools, hospitals and roads.

Reinforcements for Bangassou took three weeks to get there from Bangui. If that can happen to relatively well-equipped troops, I wonder what could happen to the country’s traders, or to ordinary people. Travelling from one town to another takes days or weeks.

The international community must make a huge investment to help you to fill this gap. That investment will also require security measures.

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.

Justice alone is not enough, however. 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 entities present, including, for example, Bria and Bambari.

I wish to acknowledge the presence among you of women members of the Assembly, and congratulate you on reserving one third of administrative posts for women.

As the honourable lady has just so eloquently emphasized, the women of the Central African Republic, like so many other women elsewhere, have all too often fallen victim to violence and discrimination. These phenomena are not confined to the Central African Republic. Even in developed countries we are still seeing terrible sexual abuse – of the kind recently exposed in the film industry. Discrimination against women is seen all across the world. It is high time that that situation changed. I am counting on this National Assembly to adopt the laws we need for full equality for women.

Mr. Speaker,

Honourable Members,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are committed to a return to peace. A cessation of hostilities is undoubtedly an important component of that. However, we need not just a peace brought by silenced weapons. We also need to bring peace in hearts and social cohesion.

The Central African Republic’s suffering has been long. As representatives of that same people, you have a central part to play in turning the situation around.

We have no time to lose. We have so little room for manoeuvre that every day that passes is vital.

The United Nations will remain at your side – at the side of the National Assembly and at the side of the people that you represent.

Thank you.