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Democratic Gains in Central African Republic Must Be Preserved by Completing Electoral Process, Peace Operations Chief Tells Security Council

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Nearly two months after holding its first round of presidential elections, the Central African Republic continues to suffer from vicious attacks by armed groups and asphyxiated supply routes, officials told the Security Council today in a videoconference meeting, as delegations weighed whether to further reinforce the United Nations peacekeeping presence in the conflict-affected country.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, told the 15-member Council that the Central African Republic continues to suffer from violence despite the successful conclusion of the first round of the presidential election in December. Citing important progress in recent weeks in combating the armed coalition group known as Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, he said the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is providing security to thousands of internally displaced persons who sought protection from the violence, while also supporting efforts to safeguard the democratic order.

Stressing that the armed group coalition continues to attempt to asphyxiate the country by cutting of its economic lifeline — namely, a critical road connecting Bangui to Cameroon — he said the humanitarian situation remains alarming. Some progress has been seen on that front in recent weeks, with the arrival of the first humanitarian aid convoys in Bangui since the violence started. However, still other convoys remain blocked at the border with Cameroon due to the insecurity. The Central African Republic has now become the most dangerous place for humanitarian work, with over 46 per cent of worldwide incidents registered by international non-governmental organizations reported in the country.

“Despite this very fragile situation, the country is on track to successfully conclude a democratic transfer of power within the constitutional timeline, which is a major achievement,” he said, turning to the political situation. It is now essential that democratic gains are preserved by completing the electoral process and advancing a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Two years since its signing, the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic remains the only viable framework for peace, he stressed, urging stakeholders to turn the corner and begin healing the national trauma through inclusive dialogue without delay. Such a process will also be crucial to create the conditions for a peaceful second and new rounds of legislative elections, scheduled for 14 March.

Meanwhile, he said, MINUSCA has continued to serve as the main guarantor of security for the civilian population. The Mission repeatedly repelled armed group attacks, including on the capital, and protected prisons in Bangui to prevent the escape of high-profile prisoners. Thanking the Council for its decision to grant an extension of the Mission’s temporary reinforcement — which proved vital — he said those reinforcements will continue to play a crucial role and help provide security for the March legislative elections. “However, the risk of mission overstretch extends beyond this period, as all of [its] capabilities remain fully engaged to address the volatile security situation and respond to increased security and protection needs,” he said, noting the Secretary-General’s recommendation that MINUSCA be further strengthened with an increase of 2,750 military and 940 police personnel.

“The request for additional military and police capabilities is not intended as a means for a military solution to the present challenges,” he said, noting that MINUSCA has factored in both its existing capacity and its ongoing efforts to optimize performance. As the tide turns on the security situation, efforts to advance peaceful dialogue must be coupled with renewed investment in the fight against impunity, including for grave crimes committed in the electoral period. He noted that the number of human rights violations have tripled since mid-December, with substantial increases in abductions and killing of civilians, attacks against humanitarian workers, destructions of homes, extrajudicial executions and conflict-related sexual violence. The electoral period also laid bare the important shared work that remains ahead in ensuring that national institutions can assume their sovereign responsibilities to keep the population safe from harm, he said.

Rita Laranjinha, Managing Director for Africa of the European External Action Service, agreed that the Central African Republic is facing a critical situation with significant political tensions and a new security crisis. Collective efforts must focus on drawing all parties together, she said, adding that restoring security is a particular priority in view of the remaining steps of the electoral process. Stressing that the holding of free, fair and transparent elections is of paramount importance, she said they must take place in the best possible conditions, paving the way for inclusivity and political stability over the next five years.

For its part, she said, MINSUCA must be able mobilize all necessary means to fulfil its mandate. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s recommendation to reinforce the Mission with military and police resources, she strongly condemned destabilizing acts by signatories of the 2019 peace agreement and the rebel coalition supported by the former President. “Violence as a means to raise and solve grievances cannot be accepted,” she said, stressing that the fight against impunity, as well as respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, must be at heart of stabilization efforts.

Welcoming Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s commitment to hold a political dialogue with participation from the Government, the democratic opposition and civil society, she echoed calls to relaunch the country’s peace and reconciliation process. A political agreement is the only viable framework for lasting peace, she said, noting that two years after its signature, the peace agreement must also be revitalized, starting with an evaluation of its implementation. Reengagement by the Government and armed groups, and greater participation by civil society — especially women and youth — are essential for the peace agreement to be credible, and fighting impunity for serious crimes is the only way to restore trust among the population and to stop the spiral of violence.

Kessy Martine Ekomo-Soignet, Director of the youth-led peacebuilding organization URU, described the situation in the Central African Republic as complex, tense and difficult. “We live in fear” of losing our lives and loved ones because of armed violence, or of not having the economic means to survive, she said. Her message today, on behalf of the Central African people, is that “our hopes are stronger than our fears”. It is indeed possible to move beyond the instability, with the support of partners.

Emphasizing that Central Africans have always chosen peace and unity in the face of destabilization and division, she said they are ready to turn the page on these repeated crises. This point was repeatedly expressed during the 2015 Bangui Forum — it is a “cris de coeur” still heard six years later. Their trauma is real, hidden under a determination to live together, to transform their country and to rise as a united people. She denounced the nebulous Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement coalition, which has worsened security and humanitarian conditions, and compromised the right to education for thousands. The curfew and state of emergency also have affected the country and its largely informal economy.

She drew attention to the spike in sexual and gender-based violence, pointing out that the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation is being compromised. Calling for efforts to revitalize the peace process, she said a 2020 analysis of the needs and aspirations of young people — who represent 70 per cent of the population — found that the free movement of goods and people is a top priority. Eighty-six per cent of young people want to remain in the country and succeed. The freedoms of expression and thought are at the heart of their work for peace, she stressed, adding that “my people want justice” for the countless lives wasted, for the girls and women who have been raped and for the property that has been destroyed.

As Council members took the floor, many paid tribute to United Nations peacekeepers who recently lost their lives in the Central African Republic and elsewhere, while strongly condemning the violence which has also forced more than 240,000 people to flee their homes since mid-December. Speakers voiced support for MINUSCA’s work, in particular in protecting civilians, and echoed the Secretary-General’s calls for troop reinforcements. However, some delegates called for a more careful consideration of that request, while others voiced concern that some troops may be failing to act in accordance with United Nations standards.

The representative of France, stressing that only a political solution can end the crisis in the Central African Republic, urged national stakeholders to do everything possible to bring about that end. He called on MINUSCA, as well as all regional actors, to support the prompt relaunching of an inclusive political dialogue process, while advocating for sanctions to be imposed against those who have attempted to derail it. Hailing MINUSCA for its efforts during the tense recent period, he expressed support for the request to further augment the Mission, noting that France intends to draft a Council resolution to that effect. It is unacceptable that the number of attacks against civilians and peacekeepers have risen to their highest number ever, he stressed, emphasizing that the perpetrators — including those who have committed crimes against children — must be held to account. He went on to note that the arms embargo imposed on the Central African Republic was not created to impede the re-creation of the country’s armed forces. As such, he voiced support for requests by some in the region for the Council to meet soon to review those measures, while noting that developments in the sanctions regime — including changes in weapons controls — must be part of a wider process taking into account the views of those on the ground.

The representative of Norway expressed deep concern about the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic, urging all parties to stop the attacks and put down arms. Noting reports about national security forces committing human rights violations as well as abuses by non-State armed groups, she underlined the need for a renewed focus on security sector reform, thorough vetting, and risk assessment. Through its training mission, the European Union plays an important role in security sector reform. As there is no military solution to the conflict, an inclusive dialogue must start as soon as possible — one involving the voices of women and youth as well as religious leaders. Dialogue should go hand in hand with reconciliation efforts and confidence-building measures.

The representative of Mexico expressed deep concern over the humanitarian consequences of the escalating conflict in the Central African Republic, which requires an urgent response from the international community. The attacks by the Coalition of Patriots for Change, and the blocking of the main road between Bangui and Cameroon, impact the lives of civilians and are unacceptable. The high number of desertions from the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, meanwhile, is another worrying indicator. Condemning all crimes committed against women, boys and girls, he called upon all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. Recent indictments of perpetrators of serious crimes in the International Criminal Court should serve as a reminder of the consequences of such actions, he warned. Calling on the Council to carefully study and consider the recommendations put forward in the recent Secretary-General’s report, he said all allegations of violations by MINUSCA troops must be thoroughly investigated, while access to justice for all victims of violence remains a crucial necessity.

The representative of Estonia condemned the targeting and killing of civilians, humanitarian workers, security personnel and United Nations peacekeepers by armed groups, noting that his delegation looks favourably at the request to increase the personnel for MINUSCA to improve its ability to fulfil its mandate in the current volatile circumstances. Despite the risk of violence, the people of the Central African Republic went out to vote and will do so again soon. Their decisions must be accepted and respected by all political actors and any disputes regarding the electoral results must be settled peacefully and lawfully. Joining the calls for an immediate ceasefire and the revitalization of political dialogue and the reconciliation process, he emphasized that with half of all registered voters being women, it is evident that the country can only benefit from the full and meaningful participation of women in political and peace processes.

The representative of China, calling for an end to the violence and on all parties to refrain from actions that escalate tensions, said the peace agreement cannot be abandoned. All parties must implement the accord and resolve their difference through dialogue, with a view to restoring stability. In addition, MINUSCA must be supported in performing its duties, while the Council should consider efforts by regional organizations and ensure the Mission is equipped with the resources needed. The international community should support the Central African Republic in strengthening its security forces. Calling also for a lifting of the arms embargo, he said regional mediation efforts by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region should be supported. He also expressed support for the idea of “African solutions to African problems by Africans themselves”, adding that people’s livelihoods must be ensured. He pointed to poverty as a cause of persistent violence, noting that 2.8 million people need assistance and pressing the international community to step up its efforts on that front. When the security situation stabilizes, it must also boost its cooperation, notably in the areas of infrastructure building and energy and mineral resources exploration.

The representative of Niger, speaking also for Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, known informally as the “A3+1”, encouraged Central African authorities to pursue those responsible for recent attacks in the country. Attempts to obstruct the political process, coupled with a resurgence in violence, has sorely tested the peace process. “Elections remain the only legitimate way to access power,” he assured, stressing that dialogue among Central Africans — with support from the African Union, the United Nations and the international community — is the key to exiting the crisis. He called on all parties to respect the results, encouraging the President to promote an inclusive dialogue with the opposition, armed group signatories to the peace agreement and civil society, and to relaunch the process for implementing the 2019 accord. The Government also must better implement institutional reforms, in particular security sector reform, which remains a major challenge. Coordinated action by the international community is likewise needed to facilitate aid access, as there are 2.8 million people in need of assistance, 1.9 million of whom need it urgently. This scenario should prompt the Council to consider how solve the root causes of the violence. Turning to the arms embargo, which is highly political in nature, he said the “A3+1” understands the concerns of the Central African Republic and regional and subregional organizations, and welcomed that some Council members are favourable to exemptions. His delegation is ready to work with the Council on measures that could consider these aspects in order to arrive at a lasting solution. He concluded by expressing support for adjusting MINUSCA’s troop and police forces.

The representative of India joined other speakers in condemning recent deadly attacks against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, which is “passing through a critical phase” in its history. The implementation of the country’s Political Agreement is the only viable way forward, he stressed, welcoming the recent call by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra for the launch of a national dialogue. The continuing violence by armed groups, which have now forced the country to declare a state of emergency for six months, highlights the imperative of pressing forward with security sector reform and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process. He commended the holding of the first round of presidential elections in December, adding that the process must continue with support from all stakeholders. Expressing concern over the deteriorated humanitarian situation, he said that while the idea of reinforcing MINUSCA is indeed important, the Council should also focus on building the capacity of the Central African Republic’s own security forces. India continues to support the country in several ways, including extending credit, assisting with Internet connectivity and providing scholarship opportunities for students, he said.

The representative of Viet Nam expressed regret that the critical period, in which the Central African Republic people cast their ballots to decide their own future, is marred by violence, urging all political actors to resolve differences in a most peaceful manner. This effort towards political stability and reconciliation must go hand in hand with the promotion of trust and confidence. The participation of women and youth should be given high priority in this process, he added, stressing that the peace agreement is the most feasible way to achieve peace and stability. Viet Nam will continue to encourage the recent efforts of regional and subregional organizations, including the African Union, ECCAS and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, to support the Central African Republic. Noting that MINUSCA has been providing exceptional assistance in the past years and particularly during the current critical juncture, he expressed support for the discussion on further enhancing the ability of the Mission.

The representative of Ireland said the increase in violence and targeted attacks on MINUSCA have cost the lives of seven peacekeepers, underlining the urgency for the Council to ensure that MINUSCA is adequately resourced and to augment the Mission’s numbers. She likewise underscored the vital importance of protecting civilians, more broadly calling on all parties to engage in dialogue to achieve reconciliation. Ireland knows from its own experience that “the more inclusive the process, the more durable the result”. She therefore called for the full, equal and meaningful participation of women, in both peace talks and Government, including in appointments to the Council of Ministers. She urged the Security Council to engage with ECCAS, the African Union and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, calling on all parties — including the national defence and internal security forces — to respect international humanitarian law.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed concern over the regrouping of fighters and provision of support “from outside”. To prevent the smuggling of weapons into the Central African Republic, its neighbours must increase their border control. International support for Bangui should continue in a comprehensive and coordinated manner, while efforts by the Economic Community, the International Conference, the United Nations and foreign partners should be carried out with the Government’s participation. Drawing attention to efforts by the Heads of the International Conference and the Economic Community to organize an open dialogue with the Council on the prospects for supporting Bangui, he affirmed the 2019 peace agreement as the basis for achieving lasting peace in the Central African Republic. Unilateral attempts to water down or replace it are unacceptable. A message must be sent to those armed groups that have deviated from the agreement on the need to return to their obligations. He encouraged parties to create the conditions for parliamentary elections and the formation of a new legislature, expressing support for Bangui’s call to loosen the arms embargo, which would allow authorities to counter armed groups. The sanctions must be adapted in a timely manner and proceed from the objective of allowing Bangui to spread its power across the country. On the proposal to send additional peacekeepers, it is important to bear in mind the host country’s position, he said, noting that Bangui will work with the United Nations to agree to the modalities for MINUSCA. When the conflict escalated in December 2020, security forces sustained a heavy blow, but with support from bilateral partners and Blue Helmets, the authorities guaranteed that elections would be held. Noting that any long-term solution will require building the capacity of the national armed forces, he said the Russian Federation is ready work with international partners, Bangui and MINUSCA to provide support to the Government and the country.

The representative of the United States voiced regret that elements still exist in the Central African Republic who seek to derail the next round of presidential elections in March. Welcoming the recent ECCAS decision to appoint a mediator dedicated to that situation, he echoed other speakers in describing the 2019 peace agreement as the only agreed way forward. Discarding that agreement for the sake of creating a new process will only set the country back, he warned. Noting the request by the Secretary-General to increase MINUSCA’s troop and civilian personnel ceilings, he echoed the need to prevent any further deterioration of the situation, but expressed concern over the activities of troops from Rwanda and the Russian Federation that seem to be operating with only minimal guidance from Central African Republic authorities. In that vein, he cautioned that the lack of operational coordination, should it continue, could put MINUSCA staff and others in harm’s way. Any deployed troops must act in strict accordance with United Nations standards and the Council should be wary of any proposals to bypass the Organization’s deployment process. He also expressed concern about proposals to extend the deployment of units against whom allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse have been levelled.

The representative of the United Kingdom condemned violence by armed groups in the strongest terms, stressing that all those who commit atrocities and violate the 2019 peace agreement must be held accountable. He likewise expressed concern over reported human rights violations by members of the national armed forces, urging the Government to investigate all such allegations and all political actors to enter into an inclusive national dialogue towards reconciliation. More broadly, he called urgently on all actors to respect the principles of humanitarian access, including the protection of humanitarian workers, in line with resolution 2417 (2018), expressing agreement with the Secretary-General that strengthening the Mission is no substitute for the Central African authorities advancing a political settlement. “This can be the only route to a lasting peace,” he assured.

For information media. Not an official record.