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Central African Republic Briefing by the Secretary General and AU Commissioner

Tomorrow afternoon (20 February) the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon and the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, will brief the Council on the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). This will be followed by an interactive dialogue session between Council members and Chergui. On Friday (21 February) Council members will meet in consultations to have a further discussion on the CAR with members of the Department of Political Affairs. At press time Council members were not expecting any outcome.

Council members will be expecting the Secretary-General to provide them with the latest information on developments in the CAR. In his briefing to the Council on UN cooperation with the EU on 14 February, the Secretary-General stated that there is a crucial opportunity to fortify the collective efforts of the UN, AU and EU in the CAR. He added that as Secretary-General he was “duty-bound to bring to the Council” advice on how to address threats to international peace and security and would return to the Council on 18 February with recommendations for containing and then ending the crisis. (The briefing on 18 February was postponed until tomorrow to allow Chergui to attend.)

The situation in the CAR has worsened despite the deployment in December of the African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA) and Opération Sangaris by France, authorised in resolution 2127 of 5 December 2013. On 28 January, the Council in resolution 2134 further authorised an EU mission to the CAR for six months for the protection of civilians in cooperation with the other international forces on the ground and set up a sanction regime. On 14 February, France announced that it would strengthen its 1,600-troop operation by an additional 400 troops. Council members may be interested in any suggestions from the Secretary-General on how to strengthen the command and control of the armed forces on the ground.

The Secretary-General’s briefing is expected to focus on ways of curtailing the violence protecting human rights, and supporting the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Since March 2013 thousands are estimated to have been killed while some 833,000 people have been displaced from their homes. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported an additional 268,779 people have sought refuge in Cameroon, Chad, Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Half of the 4.6 million inhabitants are reportedly in need of humanitarian assistance.

A particularly worrying trend since the resignation of the interim president and ex-Séléka leader, Michel Djotodia on 10 January, is the increase of violence against the country’s Muslim minority, roughly 15 percent of the population. Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, have increased their attacks on Muslims as have mobs of civilians who have carried out gruesome killings of Muslims in recent weeks. As a result, thousands of Muslims have been fleeing north where the majority of the Muslim population resides. Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has referred to the situation as a “humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions. Massive ethno-religious cleansing is continuing”.

The possibility of establishing a UN peacekeeping operation continues to be the main topic of discussion among Council members. They are keen to have more information on the Secretary-General’s proposals on the possible transformation of MISCA into a UN peacekeeping operation, requested by resolution 2127, and due out as a report by 5 March. It is widely expected to recommend the transformation of MISCA into a UN peacekeeping operation in the near future. Tomorrow, the Secretary-General may provide more details of how he sees this happening and Council members are likely to have a further discussion on future options for MISCA during the consultations. On 11 February the Secretary-General informed the press that Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmund Mulet would be visiting the CAR to consult with AU representatives on the possible transformation of MISCA into a UN peacekeeping operation. However, he also noted that even if that change looks increasingly necessary, it would take time for it to happen. At tomorrow’s briefing the Secretary-General may have an update on the option of transforming MISCA to a UN peacekeeping operation following Mulet’s trip.

In previous discussions, the US, Russia and the African Council members took the position that MISCA and the other international forces should be given time to fulfil their mandates and restore security in the CAR, while close attention should be paid to ensuring the success of the transitional political process. The AU, on which a UN peacekeeping mission would likely be dependent for troops, also maintained that the establishment of a UN mission should wait for a future point in time. Chergui is expected to convey the AU’s current thinking on this issue during his briefing to the Council and at the interactive dialogue.

If the Secretary-General’s report recommends a UN peacekeeping operation, this may lead to serious discussion on this issue as it seems that there may be more openness to this option among those Council members who so far have been opposed. There is also a growing consensus that Council action on this issue is needed in the immediate future, with the understanding that even if an UN mission is authorised now it would need several months to become operational.

Council members will also be brought up-to-date on developments in the 2127 CAR Sanctions Committee on Friday (21 February) The Chair of the 2127 CAR Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaité (Lithuania), will brief on the work of the Committee in consultations. This briefing is expected to be technical in nature. Thus far, the Committee has adopted its guidelines and held an exchange of views on the implementation of the arms embargo with the countries of the region. The Panel of Experts assisting the Committee was appointed by the Secretary-General on 13 February.

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