Discussion on Commission of Inquiry Report on the Central African Republic
This afternoon (20 January), Council members will meet for an Informal Interactive Dialogue on the final report (S/2014/928) of the International Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the Central African Republic (CAR), established by the Council in resolution 2127 of 5 December 2013 to investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and abuses of human rights in the CAR. Council members will be briefed by two of the three commissioners, Fatimata M’Baye and Philip Alston. The chair of the CoI, Bernard Acho Muna, will not be present for scheduling reasons. It seems that the informal interactive dialogue format was chosen for this briefing as the mandate of the commissioners expired in December 2014 (this format is often used for meetings with high-level officials who are not part of the UN system).
The Council received the CoI’s final report on 19 December 2014. The report concluded that government forces under former President François Bozizé, as well as the Séléka and the anti-balaka groups were involved in serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross abuses of human rights. The Commission said that it could not establish genocidal intent by any party to the conflict but that this did not diminish the seriousness of crimes committed and documented in the report or give any reason to assume that in the future the risk of grave crimes, including genocide, had subsided. The CoI also concluded that a pattern of ethnic cleansing was executed by the anti-balaka in the areas in which Muslims had been living, amounting to a crime against humanity.
The report further emphasises the importance of accountability and makes several recommendations to the Council on measures to enhance the judicial system and accountability in the CAR. These include ensuring adequate support for a special criminal court within the legal system of the CAR, to be established with the assistance of the UN Mission in CAR (MINUSCA). Some members may have questions about the recommendations related to the setting up of a special criminal court, particularly in relation to how they see the Council’s role in its establishment and function. As the recommendations in the report do not specify particular actions for the Council, some members may want the commissioners to talk about whether they see a concrete role for the Council in relation to any of the recommendations.
During the briefing the two commissioners are likely to cover some of the major organisational hurdles they faced. The report highlights that the CoI started its work in April 2014 “under very difficult conditions, including a hostile and violent atmosphere that made it difficult for investigators to carry out their work, especially in the interior of the country”. Accordingly, the CoI was only able to conduct investigations in a limited fashion in the capital, Bangui. In addition, for five months the CoI functioned with just two commissioners, as Philip Alston was only appointed in August to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of one of the original commissioners.
The CoI’s preliminary report was circulated to Council members on 28 May. Council members raised concerns about the quality of the report and the lack of coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with respect to its publication. In response, the CoI requested that it be able to reissue the report to allow for updates on the situation on the ground and editing.
The reissued preliminary report was released on 26 June 2014 (S/2014/373). In addition to its conclusion that there is reason to believe that all parties to the conflict perpetrated serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law and abuses of human rights, it highlights that entire neighbourhoods were cleansed of its Muslim inhabitants due to constant threats and the targeted and systematic destruction of Muslim properties, and violent incidents. Furthermore, it notes that the inability of the government to ensure the security of the population, render services and enforce law meant that civilians were easy prey to armed groups.
It seems that some Council members who were keen to establish the Commission, are concerned that the difficulties faced by the CoI, including lack of access, made it difficult to produce strong written reports. These Council members may be eager to get a better understanding of how some of the problems faced by the CAR CoI can in the future be avoided by commissions of inquiry in other situations. No direct Council action is expected to follow this meeting, though the recommendations to the Council in the final report to support justice and accountability mechanisms and processes within the CAR may be relevant to future Council engagement on the issue.
Later this week the Council is scheduled to take on CAR again to adopt a resolution renewing the CAR sanctions regime (arms embargo, assets freeze and travel ban) until 29 January 2016 and the mandate of the panel of experts assisting the 2027 CAR sanctions Committee until 29 February 2016. Council experts have had two meetings (on 15 and 19 January) to discuss the draft text and it does not seem that contentious issues arose during the negotiations. It seems that the draft resolution does not make any significant changes to the current sanctions regime, and mostly consolidates the regime imposed by resolutions 2127 and 2134.