Security Council Videoconference on the Central African Republic
On Monday (22 June), Security Council members will convene an open videoconferencing (VTC) meeting, followed by a closed VTC session, on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix; Matias Bertino Matondo, AU Special Representative and head of the AU Office in the Central African Republic; and Koen Vervaeke, Managing Director for Africa at the European External Action Service.
Council members are likely to ask about the impact of COVID-19: the session will be the first held on the Central African Republic (CAR) and MINUSCA since the beginning of the global pandemic. According to the Secretary-General’s 15 June report, the impact of the pandemic on the population “has been considerable”, with border closures and reduced availability of food causing price increases and social distancing measures leading to the substantial rise of urban transportation costs. While the CAR government has put in place several mitigating measures and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases remains relatively low (as of 1 June, there were 1,069 cases), a wider outbreak would put a severe strain on the country’s overstretched healthcare system. Council members are also likely to ask about COVID-19’s impact on MINUSCA’s operations.
COVID-19 has also affected the political situation in the CAR, resulting in increased tensions. In early April, deputies from the CAR National Assembly put forward a bill that would have allowed President Faustin-Archange Touadéra to remain in power if presidential elections (currently planned for late December) were to be delayed because of COVID-19. Civil society organisations and the political opposition—including François Bozizé, who has not ruled out running for president—denounced the assembly bill, which was later withdrawn and remains suspended. The CAR Constitutional Court ruled on 5 June that the proposed amendment would be unconstitutional, emphasising, according to the Secretary-General’s recent report, “that any slippage of the electoral calendar should derive from broad national consultations seeking a consensual solution”. The Secretary-General also appealed to CAR’s political actors “to resist any temptation to politicize the pandemic”.
Council members will be interested to hear Lacroix’s assessment of the implementation of the Political Peace Agreement, which was signed in Bangui by the CAR government and 14 armed groups on 6 February 2019, and what steps both the government and MINUSCA are taking toward the agreement’s implementation. Among the challenges that the Secretary-General notes in his report are violent clashes that “risk deepening intercommunal tensions and fragmentation of some signatory armed groups along ethnic lines”, partially undermining the peace process.
While there continue to be reductions in violations of the Peace Agreement, with a decrease from 575 violations during the previous four-month reporting period to 504 during the most recent period, violent clashes between armed groups persist and have affected civilians, humanitarian workers, national armed forces, and UN peacekeepers. In recent months, there have been a number of violent clashes in the CAR’s north-east as well as violence in and around the towns of Bria and Ndélé. Inter-ethnic classes on 11 March in Ndélé resulted in at least 29 deaths and an ambush on MINUSCA on 15 March injured one peacekeeper. In a separate incident on 15 March, a MINUSCA peacekeeper was killed when elements of the anti-Balaka, one of the signatories to the peace agreement, attacked the central CAR town of Grimari. A civilian CAR national working for MINUSCA was also killed in Ndélé on 7 March. The Security Council issued a press statement on 16 March condemning the 7 March and 15 March attacks that led to the deaths of MINUSCA personnel.
Further clashes between rival armed groups in Ndélé, which began on 29 April and continued through 9 May, left at least 27 civilians dead, 56 people injured and over 2,000 displaced. MINUSCA announced on 17 May that it was launching Operation “Igana siriri“ (“Bringing Peace” in the local Sango language) in Ndélé to help stabilise the situation. According to the SG’s report, the operation, which was carried out jointly with Central African armed forces (FACA), prevented further violence, led to several arrests, and sent “a strong signal regarding the fight against impunity”. On 17 June, MINUSCA announced another operation in coordination with FACA to end violence against civilians in western CAR committed by the 3R (Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation) armed group. Council members are likely to ask to be updated on the status of MINUSCA’s operations and their impact on protecting civilians.
Council members may further inquire about the status of the Secretary-General’s 23 March global ceasefire call in the CAR. Three armed groups publicly declared their adherence to the ceasefire, although concrete action on the ground has yet to follow. Council members may want information on how MINUSCA is engaging with these groups and other signatories to the agreement in order to encourage them to observe the ceasefire.
The humanitarian situation also remains precarious and has been exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. According to OCHA, approximately 2.6 million people require humanitarian assistance throughout the CAR, 697,000 civilians have been internally displaced, and another 593,000 people have sought refuge outside the country. In early May, 14 attacks were perpetrated against humanitarian organisations in Ndélé alone, resulting in the temporary suspension of all humanitarian aid to the town. Approximately 17,000 internally displaced persons remain in need of assistance in Ndélé, of whom over 13,000 have sought refuge near MINUSCA premises. Throughout the CAR, during the recent reporting period, some 121 attacks against humanitarian workers were registered.
Finally, Council members will want to be briefed on the preparations for the CAR’s upcoming elections. Despite security concerns and an uptick in violence, presidential, legislative and local elections are scheduled for December 2020 and early 2021. At his Council briefing in October 2019, Mankeur Ndiaye, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the CAR and head of MINUSCA, warned that “a serious delay in holding the next elections could create a vacuum at the highest echelon of the State and lead to another political transition that…would be harmful to the consolidation of democracy, stability and peace”.
During his last Council briefing in February, Ndiaye asked the international community to help CAR fulfil its technical, logistical and financial needs so that the elections could be held “within the constitutional time frame”. The Secretary-General’s recent report notes that the elections “will be affected by the challenges of organizing a sensitive political process in the midst of a global pandemic” and commends the CAR’s electoral authorities for publishing a revised electoral calendar that clearly recognises these challenges while continuing to adhere to timelines prescribed in the constitution. On 16 May, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) announced that registration forms, critical to the authorities for establishing a voters’ list, had arrived at Bangui airport. Another 32 tonnes of registration materials were delivered to Bangui on 15 June.