What's In Blue

Posted Thu 11 Nov 2021

Central African Republic: MINUSCA Mandate Renewal*

Tomorrow (12 November), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution renewing for another year the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the authorisation for French forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) to use all means to support MINUSCA at the request of the Secretary-General.

Since the Council last renewed MINUSCA’s mandate through resolution 2552 of 12 November 2020, the CAR has experienced a period of political upheaval and faced considerable security challenges. During the presidential and legislative elections in late 2020 and early 2021, an outbreak of severe violence pitted the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and “bilaterally deployed and other security personnel” against armed opposition groups. (Some Council members have alleged that the “bilaterally deployed and other security personnel”, as they are described in the Secretary-General’s reports, include Russian military instructors and mercenaries.)

Recent weeks, however, have apparently witnessed some improvements in the situation. Most notably, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra announced on 15 October that his government would begin implementing a unilateral ceasefire. The announcement followed intense diplomatic efforts, including the adoption of a roadmap for CAR by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) on 16 September. Among other things, the roadmap called on all armed actors present in the CAR to commit to a ceasefire. During the Security Council’s 18 October meeting on the CAR, Touadéra requested Council members to renew MINUSCA’s mandate unanimously.

It seems that the most recent developments have had an overall positive influence on the negotiations on the mission’s renewal. France, the penholder on the CAR, circulated a first draft text to Council members on 2 November and a first round of negotiations was held on 4 November. An updated text was circulated on 5 November and another round of negotiations was held on 8 November. France then placed a draft text under silence yesterday (10 November), until this morning (11 November). It appears that China and Russia broke silence on that text. An amended text which apparently addresses some of China and Russia’s concerns was put in blue today (11 November).

The draft resolution in blue renews MINUSCA’s mandate for a period of one year within its existing troop ceiling of 14,400 military personnel and 2,420 police personnel. The draft text in blue retains the mission’s priority tasks which were outlined in resolution 2552, including the protection of civilians; good offices and support to the peace process and the Political Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR; and facilitation of the immediate, full, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The draft in blue welcomes the ceasefire and ICGLR roadmap and tasks the mission with providing support to the implementation of the ceasefire. Several other new tasks are outlined in the draft text in blue to address recent developments. These include the provision of assistance to the CAR authorities to organise upcoming local elections set to take place in 2022 and to deliver a “fully inclusive Republican Dialogue”. The latter process, which was inaugurated by Touadéra on 1 September, has seen limited progress to date.

Despite the improved atmosphere among Council members, several strongly divergent views on MINUSCA’s work arose during the negotiations. One of the most contentious issues centered on the human rights situation in the CAR and how the mission should prioritise its work on this matter. The draft text in blue retains the mission’s human rights functions, which include monitoring, investigating and reporting on human rights and international humanitarian law violations. It seems that several Council members sought for this year’s mandate renewal resolution to list human rights-related work as one of MINUSCA’s priority tasks. (Resolution 2552 lists these functions as one of the mission’s secondary tasks.) However, China, India and Russia opposed this proposal. Despite these members’ objections, the draft text which was placed under silence procedure listed the mission’s human rights functions as a priority task, leading China and Russia to break silence. In an apparent compromise, the draft resolution in blue retains the mission’s human rights functions as a secondary task but lists it as the first among those tasks (whereas it was fourth on the list in resolution 2552).

It seems that China and Russia also opposed a proposal to reference the 4 August joint report prepared by MINUSCA and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed in the CAR. The 4 August report says that from July 2020 to June 2021 the FACA and “other security personnel—including Russian military instructors…and private military contractors operating in the country” were responsible for 46 percent of the confirmed human rights violations in the country. Despite China and Russia’s objections, this reference was apparently retained in the text put in blue.

Another divisive issue was on language used to denote armed elements operating in the CAR. In earlier iterations of the draft text, language from resolution 2552, which referred to “all parties” to the conflict, was changed to “all armed actors”. Some Council members apparently understood the latter formulation as a means to express concern about the alleged presence of Russian mercenaries in the CAR. Although several Council members have said that mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military entity, are present in the CAR, and both the OHCHR Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries and an increasing number of media reports echo this, Russia has yet to directly address these allegations. Moscow has only acknowledged that Russian military instructors invited by the CAR government are present in the country. The references to “all armed actors” was also apparently a key impetus for Russia’s decision to break silence on a previous version of the draft text. The text in blue has been changed back to “all parties”.

Differences also emerged among Council members on how the mission should assist the CAR authorities on natural resource management. The draft in blue describes the “illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources” as a root cause of conflict in the CAR. In this regard, it requests the mission to support the CAR authorities in “address[ing] cross-border illicit trade in natural resources”. However, a provision from the zero draft requesting the mission to provide technical advice to the government on how to prevent armed groups from benefitting from the extraction, transport and trade of natural resources was removed due to objections raised by some Council members.

The illicit cross-border trade in the CAR’s natural resources has garnered increased attention in recent weeks. At the Council’s 18 October meeting on the CAR, France alleged that “the Wagner Group takes advantage of its position to carry out systematic exploitation of natural resources”. Moreover, on 8 November Portuguese authorities reportedly raided over 100 homes as part of an investigation into criminal activity that may have involved Portuguese peacekeepers serving in MINUSCA. The allegations against these peacekeepers include the smuggling of illicit goods from the CAR, such as gold and diamonds.

Finally, peacekeeper safety and security, including an alarming increase in Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) violations, was also discussed during negotiations. The Secretary-General’s 12 October report on the CAR describes an “unacceptable level of hostile incidents targeting MINUSCA” involving the FACA and “bilaterally deployed and other security personnel”. It also references organised disinformation campaigns against MINUSCA. Concerns about peacekeeper safety increased on 1 November, when Toudéra’s presidential guards fired on and injured ten newly-deployed and unarmed Egyptian peacekeepers outside the president’s residence. A young woman died in the incident. Details around the incident remain unclear; however, the CAR authorities have agreed to conduct a full investigation. The draft text strongly condemns both the SOFA violations and the disinformation campaigns and requests the Secretary-General to report on SOFA violations and on “efforts to hold perpetrators accountable”.

*Post-script: On 12 November, the Security Council adopted resolution 2605, renewing MINUSCA’s mandate for another 12 months. Thirteen Council members voted in favour, while China and Russia abstained.