Continued Attacks by Illegal Armed Groups in Central African Republic Thwarting Progress towards Implementing Peace Agreement, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Central Africa President Stresses Commitment to Strengthen Institutional Stability, Restore Security, Calling for Renewal of Peacekeeping Mission’s Mandate

Unabating attacks by illegal armed groups in the Central African Republic are exacerbating the already‑fragile security situation and undermining valuable progress made in establishing institutional stability, the Head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there told the Security Council today, as members examined the situation ahead of an imminent vote on renewing the Mission’s mandate, which expires on 15 November.

Issues considered by the 15-member Council ranged from concerted efforts by the Government to bring about a political solution to the crisis, including through sustained dialogue and the recent announcement by President Faustin Archange Touadera of a unilateral ceasefire in his Government’s war against violent armed groups, as well as the utility of an arms embargo imposed in 2013, to concerning reports of excessive use of force and alleged rights violations by military instructors from the Russian Federation.

Mankeur Ndiaye, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest related report (document S/2021/867), said that extending MINUSCA’s mandate can help build on the positive momentum generated by the recent elections, which concluded on 23 June, by deepening decentralization through holding local elections, which have not occurred since 1988.  He cautioned that any delay in doing so will undermine the integrity of the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation (known as the Khartoum Accord).

As many as 3.1 million people in the Central African Republic — 63 per cent of its population — are in urgent need of protection and assistance, he said, calling for more funding as only 60 per cent of the humanitarian budget is currently covered.  Moreover, the security situation in the country’s west and central south-east is deteriorating due to the activities of illegal armed actors, he said, adding that the ongoing strategic review of MINUSCA will pave the way for important security sector reforms and help it better address complex security challenges.  Calling recent violations of status of forces agreement between MINUSCA and the Government “particularly deplorable”, he said a credible political process could only be brought about with improvements in the security and humanitarian situation.

Also raising such concerns was Olaf Skoog, Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, who deplored recent reports of human rights violations committed by a host of actors, including armed groups, national armed forces and instructors.  He also condemned human rights and international humanitarian law violations and abuses, including conflict-related sexual violence and the uptick in the use of explosive ordnance devices, adding that international partners, such as the European Union and MINUSCA, have borne the brunt of repeated attacks.  Welcoming the republican dialogue announcement on 1 September, he emphasized the need for such talks to be credible and inclusive, to pave the way for an enduring solution to the crisis.

Adeoye Bankole, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security of the African Union, echoed such calls for inclusiveness, stating that youth, women, and various stakeholders should be allowed to participate in the process towards lasting peace.  The African Union — as the guarantor of the Peace Agreement — will continue to provide support for the Central African Republic, he said, adding that the bloc is ready to deploy human rights observers and supply MINUSCA with additional personnel and equipment.

Also briefing the Council was Pamela Audrey Derom, President of the Conseil National de la Jeunesse Centrafricaine, the first woman to lead the country’s National Youth Council, who called for the active engagement of the Central African Republic’s young people — who represent 70 per cent of the country’s working population — in development projects.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members welcomed the Government’s measures to reinstate institutional stability and meet the formidable challenges it faced, and expressed appreciation for the contributions of regional actors, such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, to facilitating long-term stability in the country.  Some voiced concerns about obstructions to the work of the Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic, while many condemned the increasing attacks on MINUSCA, including reports of status of forces agreement violations and attempts to discredit it through disinformation campaigns.  In particular, a number of delegates drew attention to reports of human rights violations perpetrated by the Russian group Wagner.

In this regard, the representative of the United Kingdom expressed concern about credible reports of such human rights abuses, which he said stoke conflict and undermine the vital work of international peacekeepers and the Central African authorities.  Observing that Wagner does not offer long-term security solutions in Africa, he called for a full investigation into these reports, adding that his country is ready to agree on appropriate measures, including United Nations sanctions, in response.

In a similar vein, France’s delegate characterized the Wagner group’s presence in the Central African Republic as “destabilizing”, pointing out that there is mounting evidence of its involvement in extrajudicial executions, as well as the organized plunder of natural resources.  She went on to call for the elimination of ambiguity created by language such as “other security forces” in United Nations reports.  For his part, the representative of Norway said that, while the Coalition of Patriots for Change and the Central African Armed Forces were responsible for human rights abuses, the Wagner group were responsible for almost half of the verified incidents, involving nearly 500 victims.

The representative of the Russian Federation challenged these points, contending that Russian instructors do not take part in fighting, but merely aim to enhance the level of professional training of the armed forces.  “If we receive information on violations from law enforcement bodies of the Central African Republic, we will closely examine them,” she stressed, calling on Council members to focus their attention on violations committed by their own militaries and private companies in the country, as well as in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera, who also addressed the Council, said his Government was committed to bolstering institutional stability and restoring security, despite the depredations of armed groups such as the Coalition.  Nonetheless, he emphasized that he had never closed the door to negotiations with the Coalition’s leaders.  Calling on the Council to unanimously renew MINUSCA’s mandate and reconsider the arms embargo, which impinged on security forces’ ability to face up to sudden threats, he said:  “Our only ambition is to find a lasting political solution to the crisis we are enduring.”

Also speaking were representatives of Tunisia (also on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), India, Viet Nam, United States, Mexico, Ireland, Estonia and China.

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:10 p.m.

Briefings

MANKEUR NDIAYE, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), presenting the Secretary General’s latest report on the situation in the Central African Republic (document S/2021/867), welcomed the 10 and 15 September visit of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2127 (2013) concerning the Central African Republic, which contributed to constructive dialogue with the Government, and represents an important political opportunity to explore relevant solutions to achieve lasting security.

While the concluding of elections on 23 June represents an important step towards institutional stability, he said that the positive momentum must be maintained by extending MINUSCA’s mandate, which can facilitate and deepen decentralization by holding local elections, which have not taken place since 1988.  Any delay in doing so will undermine the integrity of the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, which envisions power‑sharing.  He went on to welcome the 15 October declaration of unilateral ceasefire by President Faustin Archange Touadera, as well as the positive contributions of Angolan President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, acting President of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, towards the adoption of the Joint Road Map for Peace for the Central African Republic.  The ceasefire will help create conducive conditions for the smooth operation of the republican dialogue, he said, adding that its success will however depend on strict respect by all parties and guarantors to adhere to the framework for accountability and to punish violations.  Civil society actors will play an important role, he stressed.

Regarding security challenges, which continue to deteriorate in some parts of the country including the west and central south-east, due to the activity of armed actors, he called for an end to the cycle of impunity through the Commission on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation.  On the strategic review currently under way, he said it will help optimize the support of MINUSCA, and help effectuate important security sector reforms, ensure strengthened investment in governance, accountability and coordination for cohesion, and help it better meet the challenges of the complex security situation.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, which he called “regrettable”, he expressed concern that 3.1 million people in the Central African Republic — 63 per cent of its population — are still in urgent need of protection and humanitarian relief.  He called for more funding for aid, noting that only 60 per cent of the humanitarian budget is covered.

He said the status of forces agreement violations faced by MINUSCA — 41 of which were reported recently — are “particularly deplorable” and underscored the need to improve the security and humanitarian situation in order to facilitate a credible political process.  It is also essential to engage separately and collectively with all actors in the region to bring about the immediate cessation of hostilities, gradually restore trust, ensure solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons, and effectively implement MINUSCA’s multidimensional mandate.  The deployment of more troops is urgently needed, he said, also calling for more resources to ensure better protection for civilians, provide humanitarian assistance and secure local elections, and for Council members to support MINUSCA in the achievement of its goals.  He deplored incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse, which “ruin the reputation of our organization and make fragile the legitimacy of mandate”, and called for an end to the scourge.

ADEOYE BANKOLE, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security of the African Union, said that, despite the success of general elections and other positive developments, series of attacks continued and contributed to the precarious security situation, including renewed clashes between the Coalition of Compatriots for Change and all the armed groups.  Condemning violence, he called for an immediate ceasefire and the return to the 2019 Political Agreement.  He welcomed a call for a ceasefire by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.  The recent ceasefire declared by the President is “a game‑changer” and the success of the republican dialogue depends on its inclusiveness.  Youth, women and various stakeholders should be allowed to participate in the process towards lasting peace.  Turning to the humanitarian and human rights situation, he said the African Union, as the guarantor of the Peace Agreement, will continue to provide support for the Central African Republic.  Further, the bloc is ready to deploy human rights observers.  Commending the work of MINUSCA, he expressed the African Union’s readiness to support the Mission by providing additional personnel and equipment, emphasizing that the Mission’s mandate should be extended with all necessary tools.

OLOF SKOOG, Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, noting that the bloc has supported peacebuilding activities and contributed to recent electoral processes, welcomed the ceasefire announcement and called on all actors, without exception, to end armed actions at once.  He also welcomed the appointment of a new government committed to reforms, focusing on justice, the fight against impunity and corruption, and welcomed the electoral cycle finalized in July.  However, many challenges remain, he said, encouraging the Government to lend support to the Special Criminal Court and the Commission on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation.  While welcoming the republican dialogue on 1 September, which could pave the way for a lasting solution to the crisis, he emphasized that the talks must be credible and inclusive, and permanent structures for dialogue between all parties must be put in place.  He went on to underline the importance of effectively implementing recommendations made in the 2019 Political Agreement, as well as implementing the road map adopted at the Luanda Mini-Summit, particularly its ceasefire provisions.

He expressed concern over recent reports of human rights violations committed by armed groups, national armed forces and so-called “instructors”, as well as human rights and international humanitarian law violations and abuses, including conflict-related sexual violence, attacks on the Peuhl community and increased use of explosive ordnance devices.  International partners such as the European Union and MINUSCA have also borne the brunt of repeated attacks.  Further, he condemned all Status of Force Agreement violations against MINUSCA and extended it his full support.  Noting that the Central African Republic remains an extremely fragile country facing an acute humanitarian crisis, with 2.8 million people requiring aid, he underscored the need to restore security and for continued, sustained dialogue to bring an end to the crisis.

PAMELA AUDREY DEROM, President of Conseil National de la Jeunesse Centrafricaine, said she was speaking on behalf of youth from Africa, who have the same aspirations as young people in Europe, and was also representing the Central African youth ignored during major consultations.  Thanking the Security Council for inviting her, she said discussing the realities and intentions of young Africans with eyes sparkling with dreams and hope is a real debate.  In February 2019, she became the first woman to occupy the position to lead the National Youth Council, she said, expressing her determination to fulfil her mandate.  Rejecting the belief that youth are not capable of changing the destiny of a country facing a crisis for 50 years, she said she heard, during the preliminary consultations for the next republican dialogue, the determination of young people to create a better future.

The National Youth Council, with the support of more than 50 interns in the Central African Republic’s ministries and institutions, organized intergenerational dialogues in more than six prefectures, she said.  About 70 per cent of the country’s working population are young people with dreams and hopes for development.  What is important is to engage young people in a real process of transformation, and not to consider them as passive actors for change and beneficiaries but as active partners for the implementation of development projects and programmes.  She requested the Security Council to lift the arms embargo to shore up State authority and guarantee national integrity, and underscored that multilateralism is needed to help the Central African Republic tackle development challenges.

Statements

FAUSTIN ARCHANGE TOUADERA, President of the Central African Republic, welcomed the troops and means allocated to his country and to MINUSCA, as well as the recent visit by the 2127 Sanctions Committee to assess progress made by the country.  The worsening security situation is aimed at sabotaging the electoral process, he said, adding that the recent regrouping of bilateral forces will help better protect civilians, ensure the sustained provision of humanitarian assistance and enable elections to be held.  However, the activities of the Coalition of Patriots for Change continue to pose a threat to the State’s efforts to restore security, he said, emphasizing that the Government never closed the doors to negotiations with the leaders of the Coalition.

He went on to outline steps taken towards finding a political solution to the crisis, including consultations for an inclusive republican dialogue and the Joint Roadmap for Peace in the Central African Republic initiative spearheaded by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, which are helping “breathe new life into the process of peace and reconciliation”.  The Government is concentrating its efforts in six areas:  ceasing hostilities; committing to the peace process; declaring a unilateral ceasefire; implementing the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation of former combatants with the support of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the International Conference; ensuring better border security so the Central African Republic does not provide a haven for illegal activity in the region; supporting a republican dialogue; and strengthening the formation of the national army with a view to the lifting of the arms embargo.

Welcoming the Council’s support for implementing the road map and conducting dialogue, he stressed that delays in financing the resources needed for the 6 February 2019 political agreement will undermine its implementation.  He therefore called on the Council to extend support to help implement the mandate, thereby ensuring the mobilization of international partners.  “Dissolution of armed groups and decentralization are priorities,” he said, adding:  “But, they call for a conducive security situation.”  He underscored his commitment to ending human rights violations and ensuring accountability, by providing transitional justice mechanisms through the Special Criminal Court.  The Government has established the Special Commission of Inquiry, whose conclusions will duly be followed up.  He noted that the Government is working closely with MINUSCA to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity, adding: “Our only ambition is to find a lasting political solution to the crisis we are enduring.”  He called on the Council to unanimously renew the MINUSCA mandate, and to assess the burden constituted by the arms embargo, given the need of the security forces to face up to sudden threats in one of the most fragile subregions of the continent.

NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) called on all armed groups, the Central African armed forces and all other forces to immediately stop fighting.  France stands ready to propose to the Security Council new sanctions against individuals who violate the ceasefire agreement, he said.  Wagner’s presence in the Central African Republic is destabilizing.  Evidence is mounting on the abuses committed by the company, including extrajudicial executions.  Wagner also engages in organized plunder of natural resources, she said, calling for the elimination of the ambiguity created by the language “other security forces” in United Nations reports.  MINUSCA cannot work when it is subjected to slander on social media and in the press, and when the status of forces agreement is violated.  Calling on the Central African Government to do everything to restore a relationship of trust with MINUSCA, she said that France will soon propose a resolution that takes into account the new political situation and highlights the need to swiftly increase the troop ceiling in line with the Council resolution adopted in March.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), also speaking for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — known informally as the “A3+1” — welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire and the Government’s commitment to republican dialogue, and expressed appreciation for the “unwavering support” of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to help pave the way for long-term stability in the Central African Republic.  Regional organizations and guarantors of the political agreement, such as ECA, play an important role in advancing the peace process, he said.  On the scheduled elections, he called for adherence to the voter registration schedule to permit the participation of refugee returnees and internally displaced persons.  Further, the full and meaningful participation of women must also be ensured.  While welcoming steps taken towards ensuring good governance, he said the tense security situation in the west and central parts of the country is concerning.  He deplored reports of an uptick in serious human rights violations against the vulnerable, including internally displaced persons, as well as reports of sexual violence, the recruitment of children and attacks on peacekeepers.  Against this challenging backdrop, he commended the continued efforts of humanitarian actors and called on international and regional donors to close the funding gap and help sustain their activities.  He underscored the group’s support for the extension in principle of MINUSCA’s mandate until 15 November 2022.

TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) welcomed the unilateral ceasefire announced by President Touadera last week, commending the President’s choice to give peace a chance.  Urging all armed groups, particularly those members of the Coalition of Patriots for Change that have not rejoined the Peace Agreement to follow the example of the Government and join the ceasefire, he stressed the latter could be the first step towards bringing an end to the violence.  Yet, it must go hand in hand with ending the obstruction of MINUSCA’s mandate implementation and ensuring an inclusive political dialogue.  On human rights violations, he said all parties are to blame:  the Coalition in the first place, but also the Central African Armed Forces and their Russian allies of the Wagner group, who were responsible for almost half of the verified incidents, which involved nearly 500 victims.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) outlined the positive developments that have taken place in the Central African Republic over the last year, including the successful conclusion of the electoral cycle and the formation of the new Government with increased representation of women.  The nation-wide ceasefire announced by President Touadera provides an opening for all stakeholders, including the signatory armed groups, and could have a positive impact on the republican dialogue.  However, the security situation remains volatile in certain areas and the lives of ordinary civilians, particularly women and children have worsened with increased displacement and abuses, he cautioned, calling on the international community and the United Nations to scale up the humanitarian assistance.  There is also a need to speed up disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes, he said.

DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) welcomed the nationwide ceasefire announced by President Touadera on 15 October, urging all actors to follow suit.  To achieve sustainable peace and development in the country, there is undoubtedly no other way than rebuilding trust and promoting dialogue among parties concerned.  Viet Nam greatly values the role of regional cooperation in conflict prevention and resolution.  Owing to their local knowledge, the African Union, Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the International Conference are well‑positioned in promoting confidence, trust and dialogue among concerned parties, thus finding the way to settle the root causes of conflict.  Accordingly, he commended the high-level engagement between International Conference countries and the adoption of the Joint Road Map for Peace in September — to help revitalize the peace process in the Central African Republic.  Noting that sanctions are implemented as a temporary tool for promoting peace and security, he said they should be lifted when conditions allow and regular reviews are needed to ensure their effectiveness.  The recent visit of the 2127 Sanctions Committee demonstrated the Council’s effort towards this end.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), welcoming the ceasefire announced last week by President Touadera, urged all armed groups to lay down weapons and recommit to the Peace Agreement.  Expressing concern over human rights abuses, she said most civilian deaths in the past four months were the result of indiscriminate attacks and excessive use of force by the national security and “bilaterally deployed and other security forces”.  It is no secret what these “bilaterally deployed and other security forces” forces are:  Russian Federation‑supported mercenaries.  Welcoming that the Central African Government is taking an important step in investigating these violations, she urged Moscow to hold its citizens accountable.  She also called for accountability for sexual abuse and exploitation, including by United Nations peacekeepers, commending the Secretary-General’s measures to address the issue.  Expressing concern that the work of the Panel of Experts has been blocked, she called for a swift resolution of the situation.  Moreover, she stressed that a durable solution is possible only through full implementation of the 2019 Peace Agreement and inclusive dialogue.

ENRIQUE JAVIER OCHOA MARTÍNEZ (Mexico) welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire last Friday, noting that it represents a “gesture of hope”.   However, he expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation due to the activities of the Coalition of Patriots for Change, and called on them to adhere to the Khartoum Accord.  He further called on regional actors to help support dialogue to put an end to the conflict, which is gravely affecting civilians.  He expressed concern about challenges faced by MINUSCA, including reports of status of forces agreement violations and attempts to discredit it, and called for a review of the Mission’s priorities.  Mexico supports the mandate’s renewal according to the terms laid out in the Secretary-General’s report, he said.  Further, there must be a “coordinated attack” on the financing model employed by armed groups, which entailed the illegal exploitation of natural resources.  Moreover, authorities must bring their arms munitions system in line with international standards to avoid a situation in which arms are diverted to enemies of the State.  He went on to condemn increasing reports of the use of explosive devices and acts of sexual violence related to conflict, and called for the investigation of such incidents, identified by MINUSCA.

JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) said his delegation remains concerned by credible reports of human rights abuses committed by the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, in the Central African Republic.  These abuses are a driver of conflict and undermine the vital work of international peacekeepers and the Central African authorities.  Wagner does not offer long-term security answers in Africa, he said, joining other Council members in calling for a full investigation of Wagner’s human rights abuses, and in stressing that the company’s activities must comply fully with the United Nations arms embargo.  The increase in violence perpetrated by armed groups who are signatories to the Peace Agreement is unacceptable.  The United Kingdom is ready to agree appropriate measures, including United Nations sanctions, in response.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), welcoming the Joint Roadmap for Peace adopted by the International Conference and the 15 October ceasefire announced by President Touadera, urged all parties to “not let this opportunity slip through their fingers”.  Welcoming the announcement of the electoral calendar, she said all citizens must be able to exercise the right to vote.  The authorities must also recognize the contributions of women to society, she said, stressing the need for their full participation as voters, candidates and elected officials.  Sanctions are an important tool used by this Council to support the restoration of peace and security in the Central African Republic.  Ireland looks forward to the appointment of members to the Panel of Experts.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) expressed concern over human rights violations in the Central African Republic including reported cases on the excessive use of force, indiscriminate killings of civilians and conflict-related sexual violence against women and children.  In that context, Estonia hopes that the Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic will soon be fully operational to continue its work in assisting the Council in implementing the sanctions measures.  It is regrettable that MINUSCA peacekeepers and United Nations personnel in the country are subjected to hate speech, restrictions to freedom of movement and other unacceptable incidents by national forces and their partners, he said, encouraging the Government of the Central African Republic to facilitate cooperation with MINUSCA and address the disinformation campaigns targeting United Nations personnel.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) noted efforts by the new Government to bring about peace and security, including the recently announced ceasefire.  She likewise welcomed its normalizing efforts, which included the appointment of more civil servants and police officers, and its creation of judicial bodies.  All these efforts have been made possible as the Central African Armed Forces have stabilized the situation, she pointed out.  However, the international community must strengthen its support to authorities, as the Coalition of Patriots for Change has not desisted from its activities, she said, adding that enhancing the army’s combat effectiveness and strengthening it will help the country overcome its internal crisis.  MINUSCA is an important element to ensure security, however peacekeeping must not substitute the efforts of the national authorities.  The capacity of their army must be strengthened, she said, adding that “the arms embargo is a clear obstacle to that goal”.  The calls of the Central African Republic and its regional partners on lifting restrictions must be heeded.  Turning to Russian instructors, she said they are not taking part in fighting, but aiming to enhance the level of professional training of the armed forces.  “If we receive information on violations from law enforcement bodies of the Central African Republic, we will closely examine them,” she stressed, calling on Council members to focus their attention on violations committed by their own militaries and private companies in the country, as well as in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

DAI BING (China) outlined positive developments, saying that, overall, the country is moving in the right direction.  Citing improvements in administration and security, he said that local elections are to be held for the first time in more than 30 years.  Welcoming the 15 October ceasefire announcement and the Roadmap for Peace adopted by the International Conference, he said the international community must provide targeted assistance.  Strong support is needed to build national capacity in security sector reform, protection of civilians and fighting impunity.  The Central African Republic must also stabilize the economy, address the food shortage and develop energy resources, he said, urging international financial institutions, including the World Bank, to honour their commitments.  MINUSCA should shift its focus to restoring State authority and heed the country’s needs.  The recent visiting mission undertaken by the 2127 Sanctions Committee should prompt an early decision to lift the arms embargoes, he said.

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