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Security Council Delegates Spar over Merits of Arms Embargo in Central African Republic as Mission Head Outlines Challenges in Run-up to Local Elections – Central African Republic

SC/14799

SECURITY COUNCIL
8971ST MEETING (AM)

Resource Constraints Offer ‘Recipe for Electoral Violence’ Executive Secretary of International Conference on Great Lakes Region Warns  

While slow progress is being made to advance the peace process in the Central African Republic, the new Government, appointed earlier this year, faces a host of formidable challenges, including the resumption of republican dialogue, restoration of State authority and holding of elections for the first time in three decades, the Head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there told the Security Council today, as members sparred over the continued imposition of the arms embargo first put in place in 2013.

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 report (document S/2022/119), outlined steps taken to restore stability following the adoption of the Joint Road Map for Peace for the Central African Republic on 16 September  2021.

In that context, he cited the unilateral ceasefire declared by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra on 15 October 2021 and a visit to Bangui on 14 January 2022 by representatives of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). He called on the Government to demonstrate more commitment to stay the course, including through the adoption of follow-up mechanisms and a clear timeline.

On the security front, he noted that while the military had succeeded in restoring State authority in some parts of the country, these efforts had resulted in human rights violations by all parties, including through the excessive use of force, targeting of certain communities in operations, gender-based violence and the recruitment, use, and abuse of children by armed groups, such as the Coalition of Patriots for Change.

Touching on MINUSCA’s proactive role in facilitating the peace process, including by helping to loosen the political deadlock and restoring a climate of trust that resulted in the return of the democratic opposition to the Committee organizing the national dialogues, he pointed out that the process should be revitalized through the complementary role played by the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation (known as the Khartoum Accord) and the more recently adopted Joint Road Map.

João Samuel Caholo, Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, enumerated the challenges hampering Government efforts to implement the Joint Road Map, including financial constraints. Delayed salaries discourage civil servants, including military personnel, and slowed implementation of the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes. He also expressed concern that resource constraints stood in the way of holding inclusive and credible municipal, regional and senatorial elections, slated to be held on 11 September 2022, for the first time in three decades. “This is a recipe for political and electoral violence arising from disputed results,” he stressed.

In a similar vein, Bertino Matias Matondo, African Union Special Representative and Head of the African Union Office in the Central African Republic, emphasized the need to address financing challenges around holding the republican dialogue. He expressed alarm about human rights violations in some regions, where military operations are taking place, and underscored the need to bring perpetrators to justice.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members took note of encouraging steps taken towards restoring peace and stability and welcomed ICGLR efforts to this end. Many speakers expressed concern about clashes between the military and armed groups and their splinter factions, which continued unabated despite the unilateral ceasefire, resulting in displacement and grave human rights violations. Differences emerged, however, around the imposition of the arms embargo, which some countries said impeded the country’s ability to re-establish State control.

Other Council members, however, disagreed, including the representative of the United States, who pointed out that the arms embargo cannot be lifted, as forces referred to as “other security personnel” perpetrated 40 per cent of all documented violations during the last reporting period. In particular, she took aim at the activities of the Wagner Group, which, alongside the Central African armed forces had committed 17 status-of-forces agreement violations over the past four months, she said, calling such actions “simply unacceptable”.

Echoing these points, the United Kingdom’s representative said the Wagner Group plays “a destabilizing role in the country” and undermines the work of MINUSCA. He expressed concern about the indiscriminate killings of unarmed civilians and targeting of Fulani and Muslim communities by the Group, alongside the military, denouncing the targeting of humanitarian personnel and denial of humanitarian access, amid ever-increasing needs.

The representative of Gabon, also speaking for Kenya and Ghana, invited all political classes to reject military solutions in laying the foundation for stability in the subregion. While noting that municipal elections are an opportunity for reviving democracy, he observed that current security conditions make it difficult to hold elections safely. Condemning attacks by armed groups, he called for their funding sources to be cut and for perpetrators to be held accountable. Further, the arms embargo against the Central African Republic must be lifted to bolster the State’s ability to protect its territory.

The representative of the Russian Federation took issue with what she characterized as a campaign to discredit the activities of Russian instructors, which she called “bewildering” as they are in the country at the request of Government authorities. Recalling her country’s abstention from voting on resolution 2605 (2021), on the extension of MINUSCA’s mandate, she said this action signaled the need for the Mission to overcome its shortcomings by ensuring proper cooperation with Bangui authorities. Stressing that the Mission cannot replace efforts by national authorities in restoring peace and protecting civilians, she pointed out that such a task is impeded by the arms embargo.

Rounding out the discussion, the Central African Republic’s, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Francophonie and Central Africans abroad, Sylvie Valerie Baipo-Temon, outlined the “courageous” steps taken by the Government to implement the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation and the Joint Road Map — first among them, the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire. She also pointed to the suspension of certain criminal prosecutions, acceleration of the republican dialogue and preparation for the municipal elections.

She also pointed out that steps are being taken towards accountability, with perpetrators of attacks being tried in court and the Special Criminal Court opening for cases in March. Against that backdrop, she called for the complete lifting of the arms embargoes against her country, describing them as unfair and ineffective. The Mission must become more effective in meeting its needs, including by training the national defence security forces.

Ahead of the meeting, the representative of the Russian Federation, Council President for February, spoke in remembrance of Vitaly Churkin, a long-serving Permanent Representative of the country to the United Nations, who died on 20 February four years ago. His tribute remarks were followed by those of the representatives of the United Arab Emirates and India, who both expressed respect for Mr. Churkin’s diplomatic skills and ability to elicit widespread admiration, warmth and respect, while defending his national interests.

Also speaking were representatives of France, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Albania, Norway, India, Brazil, Ireland, and China.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:41 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/2022/119), welcomed the new Government headed by Félix Moloua. The new authorities are facing many challenges, including implementation of the 2019 Peace Agreement, resumption of public dialogue, restoration of State authority and holding of local elections, which have been awaited since 1988. He also welcomed the extension of MINUSCA’s mandate and the Council’s support during the electoral crisis through an increased ceiling for military and police contingents, which have begun to arrive and should bolster the Mission’s ability to support civilians.

He said progress has been made towards peace and stability in the country following the adoption of the Joint Road Map for Peace for the Central African Republic on 16 September 2021, the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire on 15 October 2021, and a visit to Bangui on 14 January by representatives of the subregional organization, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), he continued. To ensure advancement of the peace process, he called on the Government to show more commitment, including through the adoption of follow-up mechanisms pertaining to the Road Map, as well as a clear timeline. All actors must show their shared willingness to overcome the crisis by carrying out their obligations in good faith.

For its part, MINUSCA is playing a proactive role in facilitating the peace process, he said, pointing out that the Agreement should be revitalized through the complementarity of the Joint Road Map and the Peace Agreement of 6 February 2019. Towards this end, the visit to Bangui in February enabled the establishment of terms-of-reference of a working group, responsible for the follow-up of three aspects of the road map adopted in Luanda: securing the commitment of armed groups, effects of the ceasefire declaration and enhancing the Government’s capacity for a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration framework. The Mission is also helping to restore a climate of trust by working to break the deadlock surrounding the public dialogue, which resulted in the return of the democratic opposition to the Committee organizing the national dialogues.

Turning to the security situation, which continues to be concerning despite the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in October 2021, he noted that in some parts of the country, military operations are under way against armed groups, such as the Coalition of Patriots for Change. While such action had resulted in the restoration of State control, he nonetheless deplored human rights violations by all parties, including the excessive use of force, targeting of certain communities in operations, gender-based violence and the recruitment, use, and abuse of children by armed groups. He called on authorities to conduct investigations to bring justice to the victims and to take steps to prevent human rights violations by security personnel. On accountability, he welcomed the holding of the first hearing of the Special Criminal Court and underscored the need for its independence and impartiality in order to carry out its mandate, including investigations and prosecutions.

BERTINO MATIAS MATONDO, African Union Special Representative and Head of the African Union Office in the Central African Republic, noted the Council’s consistent interest in the situation in the country, adding that the African Union’s position on the subregion is based on the principles of development. There are many problems connected to political tensions and resolving them requires cooperation among all stakeholders. He hailed efforts towards the success of the republican dialogue launched by the Government, expressing hope that the dialogue, scheduled in March, will bring about solutions. The African Union supports the active participation of religious leaders, civil society, women and youth in this initiative.

However, financing the republican dialogue is a challenge, he pointed out, calling for provision of financial and technical assistance. He also hailed the Joint Road Map adopted by the ICGLR within the framework of the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic, calling for further strengthening of the instrument. While the 2021 ceasefire represented “a step in the right direction” and may provide further impetus for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, he nonetheless sounded the alarm over human rights violations in the regions, particularly where military operations are taking place, underscoring the need to bring perpetrators to justice.

JOÃO SAMUEL CAHOLO, Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, speaking via video-teleconference, outlined steps taken by his organization towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis, including the hosting of three mini-summits on the political and security situation in the Central African Republic on 29 January, 20 April and 16 September 2021. He recalled that the third of these was held in Luanda and led to the adoption of the Joint Road Map for Peace in the Central African Republic, in which participants called for an inclusive dialogue in support of the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic and urged the Government to declare a ceasefire. Such steps, combined with the ceasefire declared on 15 October 2021, generated some momentum in the peace process and in the prevention of human rights violations, he said.

While taking note of the Government’s continued commitment to implementing the Joint Road Map for Peace, he said such efforts are impeded due to financial and non-financial challenges, including limited human resource capacities. Further, he said, delayed salaries discourage civil servants, including military personnel, impacting the expeditious implementation of the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes, one of the critical recommendations of the third mini-summit. While the necessary structure is in place and 4,205 elements of armed groups have been identified, limited fiscal space and institutional capacities are slowing the process and causing concern and panic among the beneficiaries, he added.

Turning to the municipal, regional and senatorial elections, which the Government pledged to hold on 11 September 2022, for the first time in three decades, he expressed concern that the country lacks resources to carry out critical activities needed for the holding of inclusive and credible elections. In particular, he noted that the registration of citizens, including internally displaced persons, is not fully on course and may not be completed by 30 April 2022, unless the country mobilizes $10 million. “This is a recipe for political and electoral violence arising from disputed results, due to inadequate preparation,” he stressed. On the concerning humanitarian situation, he pointed out that 3 million people — representing 63 per cent of the population — urgently need protection and humanitarian relief. Moreover, there are 641,300 internally displaced persons, and poverty and youth unemployment remain high. He called for addressing these rising humanitarian needs and supporting the institutional capacity of the Government, enabling it to establish peace and security. In that context, he urged the Council to work with authorities to bring about security sector reforms.

Statements

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) described armed groups as “a severe problem”, drawing attention to the violations they commit against civilians, Central African Republic forces, State institutions, United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel alike. “This is unacceptable”, he stressed, urging the international community to play its full role in applying the sanctions against these groups. It is for this reason that France proposed to the Security Council that Ali Darassa be sanctioned. The repeated violations of the ceasefire by armed groups and the Central African Armed Forces do not offer a path for a sincere dialogue. However, the path exists — the Luanda road map, supported by ICGLR, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Angola and Rwanda, he said, calling on authorities and armed groups alike to implement their commitments without delay. Changes to the sanctions regime should be part of an overall strategy that takes into account political progress, regional efforts and the achievement of objectives set by the Council, he said, expressing regret that work by the Panel of Experts was being blocked by the Russian Federation.

JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) expressed concern about the reported arrival of new players, which complicate the already precarious security situation, as does the fragmentation of the armed group Coalition of Patriots for Change; the continued use of anti-personnel mines, despite the ceasefire in October; and the traffic in illicit weapons, despite the embargo. MINUSCA must focus on assisting the State’s response and adapt its mandate accordingly, he said, calling on all authorities to cooperate with efforts to this end. He welcomed the establishment of a Special Criminal Court and called for further strengthening of the justice system, including by putting in place transitional justice schemes, without which there will be no lasting peace. Turning to the national republican dialogue, he welcomed agreements reached between the Government and the opposition, as well as efforts by the African Union and ICGLR in this regard. These dialogues must be inclusive and ensure the participation of women.

AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates), expressing regret that armed groups continue to launch attacks, said achieving sustainable peace in the Central African Republic requires a full commitment to the ceasefire announced in October. Equally critical to foster peace, security and sustainable development is that parties must engage in a robust, inclusive political dialogue and implement the 2019 Peace Agreement and the Luanda road map. Expressing hope that regional efforts to contribute to peace can advance progress in this regard, she also highlighted the need to empower women and youth to contribute to the peace process. Other areas requiring attention include improving and developing policies aimed at protecting civilians, particularly children and women, she said, calling on all parties to the conflict to guarantee humanitarian access and to refrain from attacks against aid workers and peacekeepers.

ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), noting that the ceasefire remains unimplemented amid a worsening security situation, highlighted the need for all actors to cease hostilities. Efforts must work towards credible elections, which must ensure equal participation of women and youth. She condemned recent violence, including civilian casualties, child recruitment by armed groups and targeted attacks on schools and hospitals, and raised concerns about the humanitarian situation, noting that since 2015, 3.1 million people are in need of assistance and protection. In this vein, she called on all parties to provide a secure environment and unhindered access for humanitarian workers. Given the many threats facing MINUSCA — including restrictions on movement, the use of improvised explosive devices and ongoing disinformation campaigns and hate speech — she welcomed the Government’s investigations into targeted attacks against peacekeepers and encouraged it to fully cooperate with the Mission to, among other things, address concerns about United Nations aircraft safety.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking for Kenya and Ghana, said today’s topic is crucial for these African members of the Council, as the subregion is in the heart of Africa. The Central African Republic is in a decisive phase of laying the foundation for stability, he said, calling for implementation of the Luanda road map. Describing a ceasefire, republican dialogue and upcoming local elections as key factors in these efforts, he invited all political classes to exhibit realism and reject military solutions. Municipal elections are an opportunity for reviving democracy and he encouraged parties to engage women and youth in the polls. However, it is difficult to hold elections safely under the current security conditions. He went on to condemn attacks by armed groups, adding that the perpetrators must be prosecuted in court and that their funding sources must be cut. He called for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Central African Republic so that the State can build the capacity needed to protect its territory. Given the current situation, the United Nations Mission needs a more robust mandate, he added.

MONA JUUL (Norway) welcomed the Government’s improved implementation of the status-of-forces agreement, stressing that a good working relationship between the authorities and MINUSCA is essential. However, she expressed concern about multiple reports of MINUSCA’s obstruction and denial of access by the Central African Armed Forces and the Wagner Group. The Mission must be allowed to investigate incidents of alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. She also voiced concern about the continued absence of a Panel of Experts for the country. After a hold of more than six months, one Member State has rejected the nominated experts, she explained, urging the Secretariat to swiftly propose new names and expressing hope that the Panel can resume its work as soon as possible.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), condemning in the strongest terms attacks — physical and disinformation — on MINUSCA personnel, called for more support to be lent to peacekeepers who had been sent into harm’s way and succeeded in restoring security and ousting armed groups from a number of areas. Individuals and entities responsible for attacks against peacekeepers must be held accountable. Turning to the “disturbing news” that Central African Republic armed forces, along with the Wagner Group, had committed 17 status-of-forces agreement violations over the past four months, which she called “simply unacceptable”, she said the Council must call on the Wagner Group to cease such obstructions. Pointing out that forces referred to as “other security personnel” perpetrated 40 per cent of all documented violations during the last reporting period, she noted that the arms embargo cannot therefore be lifted. She condemned the massacre of 30 unarmed civilians on 16 and 17 January 2022, which included 20 execution-style killings, and expressed concern about reports of the targeting of Muslim communities during operations, which destabilizes the delicate social fabric. On the peace process, she called for the full implementation of the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, which features inclusive dialogue and accountability. She called on the Government to abide by its ceasefire declaration and to enforce a ceasefire monitoring mechanism.

RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) said the planned September elections will be crucial in deepening the democratic process. In this vein, he expressed hope that necessary legislation will pave the way. Amid the volatile security situation, he underlined the need to expedite security-sector reform and disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation initiatives. The recent improved implementation of the status-of-force agreement is a clear indication of enhanced cooperation between MINUSCA and the authorities. Unfortunately, targeted attacks against peacekeepers continue, he said, encouraging the Mission leadership to take required measures to ensure their safety and security.

JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil), noting the troubling realities of a fragile security landscape, acknowledged recent legislative and judicial initiatives to address human rights violations and welcomed these lines of action, including ongoing investigations of targeted attacks against peacekeepers. Peace talks are critical, as is the urgent need for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration efforts, an area which the Government can benefit from MINUSCA resources and expertise. Calling on stakeholders to step up efforts to implement the joint road map created by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, he expressed hope that dialogue is re-established to foster a better understanding among political actors and welcomed forthcoming local elections in September.

Mr. ECKERSLEY (United Kingdom) expressed concern about continuing violence in the Central African Republic, which undermines prospects for an inclusive political dialogue, and urged parties to respect the ceasefire. The United Kingdom remains concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian situation and ongoing threats to civilians, he said, deploring the high levels of displacement and conflict-related sexual violence highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report, as well as the targeting of humanitarian personnel and denial of humanitarian access. Expressing concern about the indiscriminate killings of unarmed civilians and targeting of Fulani and Muslim communities by the Armed Forces of the Central African Republic and the Wagner Group, he said the latter plays “a destabilizing role in the country” and undermines the work of MINUSCA. He also called for clarity on an attack on a police bus in November, which resulted in casualties of United Nations personnel and a civilian, and for an urgent investigation into the jamming of MINUSCA’s GPS signals and satellite communications.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are being perpetrated by all parties to the conflict in the Central African Republic. She pointed to increased gender-based violence, conflict-related sexual violence against women and grave violations against children, expressing particular concern over the significant number of violations committed by national security forces and other security personnel. She urged authorities to ensure thorough, impartial and effective investigations into all alleged abuses, voicing deep concern over reports of serious violations by the Wagner Group. Pointing out that 3.1 million people — 63 per cent of the population — is in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, she condemned in the strongest terms attacks against humanitarian actors and obstructions to aid delivery. She urged all actors to create an environment conducive to the peaceful holding of local elections, emphasizing the importance of women’s participation in achieving and sustaining peace.

DAI BING (China) described the situation in the Central African Republic as “generally improving”, commending the Government for its efforts. With the republican dialogues about to begin and local elections to be held, he called for infusing new momentum into the peace process. Safeguarding territorial integrity is critical, he said, urging respect for the independence of State forces. The arms embargo is the main impediment to improving the security situation and therefore must be lifted. For its part, MINUSCA must heed the opinions of the country, he said, expressing hope that it will work with the authorities in the same direction.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) underscored the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation as the “base document for peace and security” and called for the republican dialogues to be inclusive. While welcoming efforts by ECCAS and ICGLR to stabilize the situation, she stated that any mediation in the subregional format must be agreed with the Government and adhere to priorities outlined during the Council meeting on 18 October 2021. These priorities included the dissolution of illegal armed groups; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration measures; security sector reform; the strengthening of the border; and advancements in the political process. She expressed concern about the activities of armed groups, such as the Coalition of Patriots for Change and its splinter elements, which have acquired high-tech weapons and have gone so far as to seize power by force. She called for greater cooperation between MINUSCA and Bangui, as well as bilateral partners on the ground, and expressed hope that the change in Mission leadership will have a positive effect. Recalling her country’s abstention from voting on resolution 2605 (2021), she said this action was to signal the need for the Mission to overcome its shortcomings, including by ensuring proper cooperation with Bangui authorities. Stressing that the Mission cannot replace efforts by national authorities in restoring peace and protecting civilians, she pointed out that such a task is impeded by the arms embargo. Turning to the activities of Russian instructors, she said the campaign to discredit them is “bewildering” as they are present at the request of Government authorities. Further, she said accusations towards them are hypocritical, adding that while some alliances with countries in Africa are condoned, in other cases, in which “partners do not suit Western colleagues, they become hysterical”. Certain countries which offered military to African States and Afghanistan proceeded to “throw them to the wolves”, she continued, adding that nobody has been punished or is considered guilty for air strikes carried out in places including Kabul and Iraq.

SYLVIE VALÉRIE BAIPO-TEMON, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Francophonie and Central Africans abroad of the Central African Republic, said the Government has taken “courageous” steps in implementing the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation and the Joint Road Map, including through the declaration of unilateral ceasefire, suspension of certain criminal prosecutions, acceleration of the republican dialogue and preparation for the upcoming municipal elections. Underlining the Government’s commitment to provide a better future for its people, she called on partners to support the Central African Republic without conditions attached. The success of the Joint Road Map depends on the ability to overcome differences. All stakeholders should emerge as winners, she said, urging the international community to support the proper functioning of that blueprint.

Stressing the importance of national ownership without external interference, she said her country is making progress towards stability. Perpetrators of attacks are being tried in court, she said, rejecting impunity. The Special Criminal Court will open for cases in March. She went on to emphasize that United Nations reports of human rights violations must be exhaustive and impartial, covering all actors. They should exclude disinformation. The Central African Republic must learn from the past and look to the future to achieve durable peace and development. “This is not a dream,” she assured, as others have shown that it is possible. She went on to call for complete lifting of the arms embargoes against her country, describing them as unfair and ineffective. The need for support for the Central African Republic has never been called into question, and the Mission must become more effective in meeting its needs, including by training the national defence security forces.

For information media. Not an official record.

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