Central African Republic: Vote on Renewing the Sanctions Regime*
Tomorrow (29 July), the Security Council will vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the Central African Republic (CAR) sanctions regime until 31 July 2022 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the CAR Sanctions Committee until 31 August 2022. While last July’s CAR sanctions renewal was unanimous, it is unclear if consensus will be reached on the draft resolution in blue.
Background on the Political, Security and Humanitarian Situation
The renewal of the CAR sanctions regime comes in the context of a tumultuous period for the CAR since the previous renewal on 28 July 2020. Since December 2020, the CAR has seen a spike in violence, leading to a protracted political, security and humanitarian crisis. During a 23 June Council briefing, Mankeur Ndiaye, the Special Representative for the CAR and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), raised serious concerns about ongoing military counter-offensives carried out by both the CAR’s armed forces (FACA) as well as “bilateral forces and other security personnel”. The counter-offensives against the Coalition des patriotes pour le changement (CPC), an alliance of armed opposition groups responsible for significant violence in the CAR, have contributed to a high level of human rights violations in the country. Most recently, on 21 July, at least 13 civilians in the village of Bongboto were killed by unknown assailants. MINUSCA sent a team to establish the facts of the incident, while Yao Agbetse, the UN independent expert on the human rights situation in CAR, called on the government to impartially investigate the killings.
Some Council members have alleged that the “bilateral forces” are Russian military instructors and mercenaries. This assessment was also echoed by the Panel of Experts assisting the CAR sanctions committee, whose 20 May 2021 final report describes several incidents of “active participation of Russian instructors in combat operations on the ground” and alleges that FACA and Russian instructors violated international humanitarian law on several occasions between February and May 2021. Russia maintains that its instructors have been invited by the CAR government to work with the CAR armed forces and denies their involvement in any violations.
The arms embargo, which has been imposed on the CAR since 2013, was also a focus of the Council’s 23 June meeting. While arguing that the arms embargo was appropriate at the time of its imposition, Angolan President and Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, speaking on behalf of the ICGLR, requested the lifting of the arms embargo to “offer greater justice to a country that is shackled by a measure that is not in harmony with the prevailing situation today”. A representative of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) seemed to stop short of calling for a full lifting of the arms embargo, instead asking that the Council “adopt measures” that would allow the CAR’s defence and security forces to equip themselves and strengthening operational capacities.
Council members used the 23 June meeting to reaffirm their positions on the arms embargo. The “A3 plus one”—the three African members (Kenya, Niger and Tunisia) and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—expressed their readiness to review the measures based on the Secretary-General’s most recent report on arms embargo-related benchmarks. These benchmarks were laid out in a 9 April 2019 presidential statement, and included, among other measures, the effective implementation of the national programmes for Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration and Repatriation; government finalisation of an arms registration and management protocol for CAR defence and security forces; and efforts towards the effective storage of weapons and ammunition. In the statement, the Council indicated that it was ready to review the arms embargo, including by suspending or progressively lifting measures, based on progress in achieving the benchmarks. The Secretary-General’s report, published on 15 June 2021, noted that, overall, only “some progress” had been made and that further progress was needed. China and Russia both called for the lifting of the arms embargo during the 23 June meeting, while the UK and the US noted that the volatile situation did not warrant any easing of the arms embargo, and that the CAR government had not made adequate progress on its benchmarks.
Negotiations on the CAR Sanctions Regime
Negotiations on the renewal of the sanctions regime appear to have been challenging, but less contentious than many Council members anticipated, especially given the contrasting views recently offered by both regional actors and Council members.
On 19 July, France, the penholder on the CAR, circulated a zero draft to all Council members. The draft essentially provided for a rollover of the sanctions regime for another 12 months; however, it did contain several changes in the preambular paragraphs, including language that noted the lack of progress on the Secretary-General’s benchmarks and a lack of cooperation between the CAR government and MINUSCA and the Panel of Experts on arms embargo-related developments. Given the CAR’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, language was also added noting that measures imposed by the resolution are in full compliance with international humanitarian law and not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences, while recalling that states must comply with their obligations under international law as they implement the resolution. Two rounds of negotiations at the expert level were held during the week of 19 July.
Although they have publicly supported lifting the arms embargo, it appears that China and Russia argued in the negotiations for steps towards easing, rather than fully lifting, the embargo. It seems that China and Russia proposed an exemption for certain weapons, including mortars with calibres of 60 mm and 82 mm. The A3 plus one, while noting that the CAR authorities’ position of calling for the end of the arms embargo should not be ignored, nonetheless raised concern that little progress had been made on the benchmarks. As a result, it seems that they did not follow the ICGLR’s call for the arms embargo to be lifted, instead arguing during negotiations for an easing of the embargo. There were indications that the African members’ positions diverged slightly regarding how strongly they would support the Chinese and Russian positions on easing the embargo.
Apparently, some members also took issue with the preambular references to the CAR’s limited progress in implementing the benchmarks. While not disputing the need for the CAR authorities to do more in this regard, they wished to see more supportive language used. Language was subsequently added encouraging continued progress in the country’s SSR and DDRR processes, as well as in weapons and ammunition management reforms.
On 23 July, the penholder’s text was put under silence until 11:00 am on Monday, 26 July. Apparently, China and Russia were joined by Kenya in breaking silence, maintaining the position that a further easing of the arms embargo was warranted.
On 28 July, France circulated to members and put in blue a new draft text. The text takes note of CAR’s request to lift the arms embargo, as well as the views expressed by the ICGLR and ECCAS during the 23 June Council meeting. It also offers a compromise on the arms embargo: taking account of the views of China, Russia and the A3 plus one that a further easing of the embargo was appropriate, the draft resolution in blue exempts supplies to the CAR security forces of “mortars with a calibre of 60 mm and ammunition specially designed for such weapons”, following notification of the CAR Sanctions Committee. However, it did not include exemptions for 82 mm calibre mortars.
Post-script (28 July, 8:12 pm): In the evening of 28 July, following publication of this story, a revised text was circulated to Council members and put in blue by the penholder. It called for the addition of exemptions for 82 mm calibre mortars in addition to the exemptions on the 60 mm calibre mortars. This was in response to a request by Russia, which had apparently indicated that it would not accept a draft resolution that allowed the exemption for 60 mm calibre mortars only.
On 29 July, the Security Council adopted resolution 2588, which extended the CAR sanctions regime until 31 July 2022, including an arms embargo with some exemptions. Resolution 2588 also renewed the mandate of the CAR Panel of Experts, who assist the sanctions committee in overseeing the sanction measures, until 31 August 2022. Unlike last year’s unanimous adoption of the sanctions regime renewal, the Council adopted resolution 2588 with 14 votes in favour and one abstention (China).