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Arria-Formula Meeting with CAR Religious Leaders

Tomorrow (14 March), Security Council members are set to hold an “Arria-formula meeting” chaired by France and Nigeria, focusing on the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), in particular on communal and religious tensions and violence. (Arria-formula meetings are an informal format that enables Council members to interact with civil society, relevant international organisations or member states to exchange views within a flexible procedural framework.)

The panelists for tomorrow’s Arria meeting will be leaders of the main religious communities in the CAR: Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the CAR Islamic Community and Nicolas Guérékoyame Gbangou, President of the Alliance of Evangelicals of the CAR. Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide will also participate as a panelist. Tomorrow’s meeting will provide an opportunity for members of the Security Council to hear their analysis of the situation on the ground and of actions recommended to halt the downward spiral of sectarian conflict. While in New York, the religious leaders will meet with the Secretary-General and some members of the Council and will be in Washington D.C. next week.

The three religious leaders have come with several clear messages. They intend to emphasise the importance of social inclusion and national reconciliation in addressing the deterioration of an already precarious humanitarian situation. They also are likely to stress that the surge of acts of violence although not initially faith-based, havs been portrayed as essentially religion-based. They are likely to argue that while some groups, for political purposes, have questioned the religious harmony that existed in the CAR, the underlying causes of violence are not religious. The religious leaders are also expected to call for the strengthening of the criminal justice system to end impunity. These leaders have created the Inter-Religious Platform of Central Africa to facilitate dialogue between communities.

In a letter sent on 3 December 2013, the religious leaders asked Council members to urgently transform the African-led International Support Mission to the CAR (MISCA) into a UN peacekeeping mission in light of the humanitarian crisis and the inter-communal violence between Christians and Muslims. It seems that they are of the view that a UN mission is needed as the AU does not have the resources and the French forces are too few in number to handle the serious situation on the ground. The religious leaders are likely to be interested in getting Council members views on how quickly a peacekeeping mission might be mandated and deployed.

Thousands are estimated to have been killed in the CAR in the last year. Since the resignation of interim President Michel Djotodia on 10 January, there has been an increase in violence against Muslims, who comprise roughly 15 percent of the the 4.5 million population. Christian anti-balaka militias 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 to the north, where most of the Muslim population resides. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, some 833,000 people have been internally displaced across the country. The UN Refugee Agency reported on 12 February that an additional 268,779 people are seeking refuge in Cameroon, Chad, Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Half of the population is reportedly in need of humanitarian assistance. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres addressing the Council on 6 March said the situation was a “humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions” and that “massive ethno-religious cleansing is continuing”.

The Arria-formula meeting comes as Council members are about to commence negotiations over a draft text for a resolution establishing a UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR to take over from the AU and French troops already on the ground and the soon to be deployed EU troops. This follows the most recent report of the Secretary-General that states that in light of the complete breakdown of state authority, security and law and order, the Council should establish a multidimensional peacekeeping operation with an authorised strength of 10,000 military personnel and 1,820 police personnel. Deployed with a significant civilian component, the existing UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the CAR would then be incorporated into the mission. The tasks of the mission are laid out in the report and include protection of civilians, support to the restoration of state authority and institutions, and the protection of human rights (S/2014/142). This Arria meeting may provide Council members with details about the situation on the ground that could be useful in developing the mission’s mandate, particularly in relation to the protection of civilians and humanitarian and human rights aspects.

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