Central African Republic: MINUSCA Mandate Renewal*
Tomorrow afternoon (14 November), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) for another year, until 15 November 2023.
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 3,020 police personnel. It also retains the mission’s priority tasks, which were most recently outlined in resolution 2605 of 12 November 2021. These tasks include the protection of civilians; good offices and support to the peace process and the 6 February 2019 Political Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic (CAR); and facilitation of the immediate, full, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance.
It appears that the negotiations were difficult. France, the penholder on the CAR, circulated an initial draft to Council members on 31 October and convened two rounds of negotiations, on 2 and 8 November. A revised text was then placed under silence procedure on 9 November. Russia and the A3 members (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) broke silence on two issues that were contentious during the negotiation process: language related to restrictions on night flights and the use of the phrase “all parties to the conflict”. This necessitated a further revision of the text, which was then placed under a second silence procedure until mid-day Friday (11 November). China and Russia then broke silence over the issue of night flights, among other matters. However, the penholder then placed the draft in blue on Friday afternoon without making further changes to the text.
It seems that the penholder initially sought to have a straightforward renewal of the mission’s mandate to facilitate a unanimous renewal. France had also apparently engaged with the CAR authorities in Bangui ahead of the mandate renewal process and tried to accommodate the host country’s concerns. It seems that the penholder also worked closely with the A3 before and during the negotiations to incorporate their comments as much as possible. However, many disagreements arose during the negotiations, and it seems that China and Russia may abstain on tomorrow’s vote, as they did last year.
The CAR’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Francophonie and the Diaspora, Sylvie Valérie Baïpo Temon, criticised the draft text, including during a 7 November interview with Radio Ndeke Luka, a local CAR radio station. In a 5 November letter to the President of the Security Council, Temon lamented that the issues and concerns raised by her country were not reflected in the draft text circulated by France.
One of the issues that Temon raised in her letter was the phrase “all parties to the conflict” used in the draft text, which she argued, “equates rebels with legitimately elected authorities”. This issue was also contentious during last year’s negotiations. (For background, see our 11 November 2021 What’s in Blue story.) It appears that the A3 and some other Council members supported the CAR’s concerns about this language. Other members, however, insisted on the need to maintain the phrase, arguing that all parties—including the CAR armed forces (FACA) and the Wagner group, a Russian private security company—have been implicated in human rights abuses. The penholder apparently proposed a compromise formulation, referencing “all parties to the conflict, particularly armed groups”, which is reflected in the draft text in blue.
The other divisive issue during the negotiations was language on night flight restrictions, which have apparently been in place for the past several years for the purpose of deconfliction with flights operated by the Wagner group. The Secretary-General’s latest report on MINUSCA, dated 13 October, expressed concern about the challenges that the mission has been facing because of these restrictions. At the Security Council’s latest meeting on the CAR, which took place on 19 October, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the CAR and head of MINUSCA Valentine Rugwabiza requested the CAR authorities to lift the restrictions on night flights, which she said are critical for the safety and security of peacekeepers. The request followed a 3 October incident in which three Bangladeshi peacekeepers were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. It seems that MINUSCA was unable to evacuate the peacekeepers immediately after they were injured in the attack because of the night flight restrictions.
Temon denied claims about the restrictions at the 19 October Council meeting and asserted that her country’s sovereignty should be respected. In her 5 November letter to the Council, she indicated that the CAR’s National Civil Aviation Agency is willing to engage with MINUSCA to resolve the issue. It seems that China and Russia support this suggestion and have tried to encourage dialogue between the host country and MINUSCA. Other Council members, however, apparently felt that the draft text should address the night flight restrictions, claiming that it is a significant issue for MINUSCA and its troop-contributing countries. It seems that some members were surprised that China—one of the initiators of the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of Peacekeepers—did not support language addressing this issue.
China and Russia broke silence twice over references to the night flight restrictions. The penholder retained these references in the draft resolution in blue, despite these members’ objections. The draft text in blue strongly condemns the violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), including the ban on night flights, and requests the CAR authorities to take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety, security and freedom of movement of MINUSCA’s personnel with unhindered and immediate access throughout the CAR.
During the negotiations, the A3 apparently raised issues with a preambular paragraph which refers to the primary responsibility of the CAR authorities to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It seems that these members argued that this should no longer be a concern in light of the fact that there is now a legitimately elected government. But other Council members insisted on maintaining the paragraph, which has been included in MINUSCA’s mandate renewal resolutions since the mission’s establishment, noting its relevance to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). In an apparent compromise, the draft text in blue replaced the reference to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity with the term “international crimes”.
The A3 also apparently suggested changes to MINUSCA’s tasks. These members requested the removal of “support for the extension of state authority” as a priority task, which is listed under “other tasks” that the mission performs in the draft text in blue. Some Council members also backed this proposal, but others were apparently not comfortable making changes to the list of priority tasks. As a compromise, the penholder moved the issue to the top of “other tasks” in the draft text in blue (whereas it was third on the list in resolution 2605).
Since 2014, the Security Council has been authorising French forces in the CAR to use all means to support MINUSCA in conjunction with MINUSCA’s mandate renewal, at the request of the Secretary-General. In her 5 November letter, however, Temon requested the removal of an operative paragraph which “[a]uthorises French armed forces, within the provisions of their existing bilateral agreement with the CAR and the limits of their capacities and areas of deployment…to use all the means to provide operational support to elements of MINUSCA when under serious threat”. She argued that this paragraph does not have a legal basis as the bilateral defence agreement between the CAR and France has been suspended since June 2021. In an apparent reference to Russia, Temon also stated that “[t]he Government of the Central African Republic has other partners with whom a security and military agreement is still in effect and therefore legally valid”. The penholder accepted her request and removed the paragraph from the draft text in blue.
In her letter, Temon also criticised MINUSCA’s performance and questioned the compatibility of its mandate with the reality on the ground. She argued that the mission should be given a robust mandate to enforce the peace and gradually draw down its personnel in favour of strengthening FACA. In an apparent attempt to address this issue, the draft text in blue expresses the Council’s intention to request an independent strategic review of MINUSCA to assess the challenges to peace and security in the CAR and constraints facing the mission’s operations, but does not specify a timeline within which the Council will do so. (Four years have passed since the last strategic review of MINUSCA.) The review is expected to provide recommendations “on the continued relevance of all mandate tasks, priorities and related resources, realistic, relevant and clearly measurable benchmarks and indicators to assess progress toward MINUSCA’s multiyear strategic vision, and options for adapting MINUSCA’s configuration of its civilian, police and military components”.
*Post-script: On 14 November, the Security Council adopted resolution 2659, renewing the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) for another year, until 15 November 2023. Twelve members voted in favour of the resolution and three abstained (China, Gabon and Russia).