What's In Blue

Posted Wed 20 Jan 2021

Central African Republic: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (21 January) Security Council members will discuss the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) in an open videoconference (VTC). Special Representative and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) Mankeur Ndiaye will brief. CAR Foreign Minister Sylvie Baïpo-Temon is also expected to participate in tomorrow’s meeting. A closed VTC will follow.

Tomorrow’s meeting follows ongoing violence in the country, precipitated by contentious presidential elections held on 27 December 2020, and comes just a week after the Council discussed CAR under “any other business” on 13 January. During that meeting, all Council members expressed strong support for the work of MINUSCA and indicated that the Council stands ready to authorise further necessary resources to the mission to help it address the current crisis and its aftermath. On 23 December 2020, the Council approved Secretary-General António Guterres’ proposal to temporarily redeploy two infantry companies and two military utility helicopters from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to assist MINUSCA for a two-month period. Council members will be interested to hear from Ndiaye the status of these troop redeployments, as well as what specific additional resources MINUSCA may require in the current context.

While addressing the violence that has persisted over the last several weeks, Ndiaye is likely to focus on the events that have taken place since the Council last met. As the Council prepared to meet to discuss the CAR last week, armed groups further escalated their violence, with attacks centred around CAR’s capital, Bangui. According to MINUSCA, the attackers were repelled by UN peacekeepers working closely with the Central African armed forces (known by its French acronym, FACA). CAR’s Prime Minister Firmin Ngrébada confirmed these reports, noting on social media that “the attackers who came in large numbers to take Bangui have been vigorously pushed back”. Two days later, on 15 January, MINUSCA announced that two of its patrols had been attacked in Grimari, approximately 185 miles north-east of Bangui, resulting in the death of a Burundian peacekeeper and injuries to two Bangladeshi peacekeepers.

On 16 January, MINUSCA troops retook control of the town of Bangassou, some 450 miles east of Bangui, along CAR’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This followed the arrival of reinforcements earlier in the week, which allowed MINUSCA to push back armed groups from the town. Bangassou had initially been taken by several armed groups during a 3 January assault. According to international media reports, nearly 80 percent of Bangassou’s population were forced to flee. Upon retaking the town, MINUSCA troops offered protection to Bangassou’s civilian population, while also intervening to stop looting which occurred as armed groups retreated.

Two more MINUSCA peacekeepers—one from Gabon and another from Morocco—were killed on 18 January on the outskirts of Bangassou when their convoy was ambushed by armed groups. Council members issued a press statement expressing condolences to all of the families of the killed peacekeepers. The press statement also warned that “attacks against peacekeepers may constitute war crimes”, and reminded “all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law”.

According to the mission, since the recent unrest began, seven MINUSCA peacekeepers have been killed by armed groups launching “coordinated and simultaneous attacks” throughout the CAR. The CAR authorities have blamed the outbreak of violence on groups affiliated with former president François Bozizé, who announced on 25 July that he would run in the elections, but whose candidacy was rejected by CAR’s Supreme Court on 3 December. (Bozizé was listed under Security Council sanctions in 2014 for “engaging in or providing support for acts that undermine the peace, stability or security of CAR”.) MINUSCA, in a press release dated 18 January, also attributed the violence to “allies” of the former president.

The meeting is also likely to address the situation of those who have been displaced since the unrest began. According to UNHCR, the violence has resulted in 60,000 refugees fleeing across CAR’s border into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo and another 58,000 being displaced within CAR. Council members may also address the effect that the violence is having on access for humanitarian assistance. On 15 January, the Norwegian Refugee Council noted that its operations were “at a standstill due to ongoing election unrest and heightened insecurity” in several parts of the CAR, jeopardising 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

On 18 January, CAR’s Constitutional Court certified incumbent president Faustin-Archange Touadéra as the winner of the 27 December elections. Amidst reports that ballots had been burned and polling stations closed due to insecurity, ten of Touadéra’s challengers contended that the elections should be annulled and re-run, a request that was denied by the court. However, the court rejected the polling results from at least two towns due to reported irregularities. As a result, Touadéra was certified to have won 53.16 percent of the vote, slightly below the provisional results, which had Touadéra winning 53.9 percent of the vote.

CAR Foreign Minister Sylvie Baïpo-Temon will also address the Council. In addition to offering an update on the current situation in the country, she is likely to call on all signatories to the CAR’s February 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation to recommit to its implementation. She may also call for the Security Council to further ease the arms embargo that has been imposed on the CAR since the adoption of resolution 2127 in 2013. CAR government officials have been requesting the lifting of the arms embargo for several years, maintaining that it undermines the operations of their armed forces.

Lifting the arms embargo has become a contentious issue for the Council. During negotiations in January 2020 on the renewal of the CAR sanctions regime, China and Russia took the view that the Council should go further in amending the arms embargo towards its complete lifting. A number of other Council members argued that there was little room for further adjustments in light of the political and security situations in the country and the limited progress that had been made on achieving the benchmarks for progressively lifting or suspending the arms embargo, outlined in a presidential statement in July 2019 (S/PRST/2019/3). During negotiations on the issue this past July, these tensions were eased when a compromise was found that allowed for a move towards a limited, step-by-step easing of the arms embargo—a compromise between Russia and China, which maintained their view that the arms embargo should be removed more expeditiously, and other Council members, which have concerns lest the arms embargo be lifted too quickly. It is likely that Council members will again express these opposing views during the meeting.

Finally, Council members are expected to express strong support to the CAR authorities. They are likely to echo the sentiments expressed in a 19 January joint statement by UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix on behalf of the United Nations; Smaїl Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, for the African Union; Gilberto da Piedade Veríssimo as President of the Economic Community of Central African States; and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell for the European Union. Following up on their 5 January joint statement, they called on the CAR’s political actors “to respect the decision of the Constitutional Court and to reaffirm their commitment to the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in the CAR” and warned that “the perpetrators and sponsors of violence will have to answer for their criminal acts before national and international courts”.