Presidential Statement on deteriorating situation in the Central African Republic
Tomorrow morning (20 October), the Council is scheduled to adopt a presidential statement on the deteriorating situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). Council members have issued two press statements on the CAR in recent weeks. The first, on 28 September, expressed deep concerns about the upsurge in violence in Bangui, reiterating their support for the transitional authorities, and underlining the importance of holding free, fair and inclusive presidential and legislative elections before the end of the year (SC/12061). The second, issued on 7 October, condemned an attack on a MINUSCA convoy which resulted in the death of one Burundian peacekeeper the day before (SC/12070).
During a briefing on the CAR by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous under “any other business” on 7 October, France, the penholder on the CAR, said it would circulate another press statement on the situation, emphasising the need for the Council to react in a timely manner to the events on the ground. However, several Council members took the view that a presidential statement, which unlike a press statement, is a formal outcome of the Council, would carry more weight in getting across key messages. The draft presidential statement circulated on 9 October was negotiated through email exchanges which allowed Council members to provide inputs and suggest revisions. It went through several periods of silence but there did not appear to be great urgency to get it adopted over the last week.
The draft presidential statement is being adopted in the midst of a fluid and unstable security and political situation. The recent crisis was sparked in Bangui on 26 September, when the discovery of the body of a Muslim man led to violence between Muslims and Christians and attacks by armed gangs on civilians. Over 40 people were killed and roughly 40,000 people displaced. The difficult situation in Bangui and rumours of an attempted government overthrow prompted Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza to cut short her trip, returning on 28 September to the CAR from New York, where she was attending the UN General Assembly. On 11 October, it was reported that MINUSCA and French troops managed to halt the advance of rebels into the city from the north.
Over the past week, there have been a number of key developments in the political situation. Samba-Panza announced on 12 October that the elections scheduled for 18 October will be postponed, adding that all political parties must engage in dialogue to find a new suitable electoral timetable (the elections have already been postponed twice). The announcement came after the head of the National Elections Authority, Dieudonne Kombo Yaya, tendered his resignation on 9 October, citing political pressure from the transitional authorities and the international community concerning the timetable for the elections.
The draft presidential statement reiterates the “critical importance and urgency” of holding the referendum on the adoption of a draft constitution and the first round of free and fair presidential and legislative elections by the end of the year. It further expresses the Council’s deep concern over the escalating situation and its support for the transitional authorities, under the leadership of Samba-Panza. It calls on all parties to lay down their arms and abide by the 23 July 2014 agreement on the cessation of hostilities. In addition, the draft text encourages countries in the region to use their leverage and regional meetings to encourage progress on the transition and towards the elections, and to prevent spoilers, both from within and outside the CAR, from attempting to disrupt these processes.
Accountability is another focus of the draft presidential statement. It recalls that some of the recent violent events may amount to crimes under the ICC Statute, as the CAR is a party to the ICC and the ICC Prosecutor’s Office has been investigating alleged crimes committed in the country since 1 August 2012. The draft stresses the urgency of setting up the Special Criminal Court -which is to function within the domestic legal system with international support – and calls on MINUSCA to assist local authorities to achieve this goal, as mandated by resolution 2217.
The draft also expresses concerns about the reported participation of some elements of the Forces armées centrafricaines (FACA) in the recent incidents in Bangui, underlining the need for training and the importance of progress in reforming the security sector, including on vetting and on accountability.
The threat of additional targeted sanctions is a further element of the draft. The text signals the Council’s willingness to consider adding individuals responsible for the latest violence and who are undermining stability and peace in the CAR to the sanctions list. Recent attempts to include the threat of additional targeted sanctions in relation to Mali and South Sudan met with strong resistance from several Council members. However, there seemed to be no pushback in principle from any member on this issue in relation to the CAR, though the language on sanctions was slightly softened following comments from some members. In addition, the draft text expresses concern over reports that individuals sanctioned by the Council have been travelling in the region unobstructed, and that those who facilitate such travel may be listed as well.
Finally, the draft calls on troop contributing countries (TCCs) to expedite upgrading their troops’ capabilities in order to meet UN standards.
Some of the key elements of the presidential statement reflect points made by Ladsous during his 7 October briefing. Ladsous outlined a six-step plan for MINUSCA which includes a revised electoral calendar aiming for elections by the end of the year, strengthening TCC capabilities in order to address the security situation and enhancing MINUSCA’s capabilities to respond to similar situations in the future. He referred to the Economic Community of Central African States meeting, which was held on 14 October, and suggested that it should be seen as an opportunity by neighboring countries to apply pressure on local actors to adhere to the transitional process and that these countries must themselves abide by the sanctions regime imposed by the Council. In this context, Ladsous made a particular reference to the vocal presence of former CAR president François Bozizé in Uganda, in defiance of the travel ban placed on him. He also noted reports of the participation of FACA forces in some of the recent destabilising events.
Although there were not many disagreements over the draft text, Council members have different perspectives on how to address the situation, which led to bilateral negotiations between the French and others over the exact language of the text. France tends to emphasise the need to press for the completion of the transition period towards the end of the year, warning that otherwise the situation is likely to become further destabilised. Russia stresses that enhancing the security situation should be the priority of MINUSCA, and more funds should be diverted to disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration efforts as a key priority. Accordingly, additional language on institutional reforms was added to the draft text. Others see the need for a clear and realistic timeline for elections towards the end of the year or beginning of next year, and would like MINUSCA in the meantime to act to stabilise the security situation. It seems that there are members who are of the view that MINUSCA must fulfil its mandate to disarm rebel groups and agree with Ladsous that it should be given the capabilities to do so.