Violence Continues to Threaten Stability in Central Africa, Special Representative Tells Security Council, Calling for Greater International Efforts
Despite gains in Central Africa, from fostering peace to fighting the COVID‑19 pandemic, tensions and pockets of continued violence continue to threaten stability and civilian safety, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the subregion told the Security Council today.
Addressing these multiple threats — from terrorist attacks to border skirmishes — requires coordinated efforts and strong support from the international community, said François Louncény Fall, who also serves as Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). Briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest situation report (document S/2021/517), he highlighted recent developments, providing a snapshot of pressing challenges and outlining how UNOCA is helping Governments to address them.
He commended efforts to overcome such challenges as elections and border tensions between Chad and the Central African Republic, including the outcomes of meetings of the African Union Peace and Security Council, United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Commission. For its part, UNOCA is working with Governments and partners, including with Cameroon, to foster dialogue to address ongoing clashes in the country’s north-west and south-west. The situation in Chad following the death of President Idriss Déby Itno reflects similar challenges facing the subregion in addressing the consequences of unexpected changes in Government. In this vein, the United Nations priority will be to support the efforts of the African Union and ECCAS to accompany the transition.
Turning to other concerns, he said a recent technical mission to the four countries affected by Boko Haram (Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria) found that coordination between the affected States must be strengthened amid the current deteriorating security situation. Efforts must also focus on the increased insecurity seen in maritime areas and the chronic threats posed by the Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Islamic State West Africa Province.
While the pandemic continues to impact these and other ongoing efforts, he said the situation is improving in the subregion, which has the continent’s lowest number of infections and deaths. Echoing the Secretary-General’s recommendation for a three-year extension for UNOCA, he said that given these recent developments, extending the mandate can help States to overcome security challenges, promote the involvement of women, youth and civil society in various efforts and combat climate change threats.
In the ensuing debate, Council members roundly commended ongoing initiatives to broker peace and work towards restoring stability in affected States. Some raised concerns about ongoing threats, including interfering with State affairs. Many delegates voiced support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation to renew the UNOCA mandate, which expires on 31 August, and commended related regional efforts, including those led by the African Union.
Expressing concern at Boko Haram attacks, Niger’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, agreed with the Secretary-General’s recommendation for more cooperation to counter threats posed by that group as well as address the root causes of conflict. As conflict and terrorist attacks have displaced millions cross the subregion, he called on the United Nations, UNOCA, ECCAS and others to mobilize more humanitarian funding, while also praising increased cooperation among regional leaders, including the decision by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to refer their border dispute to the International Court of Justice.
The representative of China, noting that the situation in Cameroon is an internal matter, said the international community should continue to respect the sovereignty and leadership of States in the region, support their development and encourage regional and subregional organizations to play a greater role.
The United States delegate remained concerned about the Russian Federation being involved with human rights violations in the subregion, adding that his delegation supports regional efforts to address the many challenges it faces.
The representative of the Russian Federation, highlighting what she said were baseless remarks made by her United States counterpart, recalled that the Western intervention in Libya in 2011 and the ensuing conflict led to the very tragic situation in the region today. Echoing a concern frequently voiced today about the situation in the Gulf of Guinea, she recommended that United Nations mechanisms become more actively involved to counter piracy and maritime crime.
Some delegates spotlighted the threat of terrorist activities, with Mexico’s representative stressing the importance of implementing a regional strategy for combating such threats in the Lake Chad Basin region and other areas.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, India, Norway, France, Viet Nam, Ireland and Estonia.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m.
FRANÇOIS LOUNCÉNY FALL, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), briefing on the Report of the Secretary-General on the situation there and the activities of UNOCA (document S/2021/517), said that during the reporting period, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact its work, but the situation is gradually improving. Governments have implemented immunization and prevention programmes, he said, highlighting efforts of the subregion, which has the continent’s lowest number of infections and deaths — 222,882 reported cases and 3,635 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. He pointed to the 28 May meeting of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa (UNSAC), convened by the Government of Burundi, as a testament to the resilience of the region’s States. Going forward, they must further coordinate national responses and harmonize policies, guided by the regional strategy adopted in 2020 by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Heads of State and Government.
With regard to elections and easing tensions, he said the Standing Committee meeting also addressed the issue of electoral processes, recommending the development of a subregional protocol. Noting recent elections in the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, he encouraged national authorities and stakeholders to promote continued dialogue for upcoming elections, notably in Sao Tome and Principe on 18 July. The ECCAS Commission has continued to demonstrate its commitment to promoting peace and stability in the subregion, he said, highlighting regional initiatives to address the situation in the Central African Republic and Chad. Commending the authorities of the Central African Republic and Chad for their collective diplomatic efforts to resolve their differences through dialogue, he took note of their joint communiqué, dated 1 June, informing of their decision to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to examine recent incidents.
The situation in Chad following the death of President Idriss Déby Itno underlines the challenges facing the subregion in addressing the consequences of unexpected changes in Government, he said. The United Nations priority will be to support the efforts of the African Union and ECCAS to accompany the transition in Chad in light of the position adopted by the African Union Peace and Security Council and the Summit of ECCAS Heads of State and Government held on 4 June. UNOCA will work with relevant partners to support inclusive dialogue. His consultations with national authorities and international partners in Burundi highlighted national efforts to address its fragilities and move forward. Noting that Burundi assumed the six-month rotating presidency of UNSAC and is currently chairing the African Union Peace and Security Council for the month of June, he said the international community’s assistance would be necessary in support of national efforts to resume cooperation with partners, promote national reconciliation and unity, address COVID-19, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, promote human rights, tackle the illicit circulation of small arms and light weapons, and address climate security challenges.
Recent developments in Chad have underlined the interlinkages between the security situation in that country and in the subregion, he said. The security dynamics in neighbouring countries and activities of terrorist groups in the Lake Chad Basin region could negatively affect the internal dynamics in Chad. The United Nations and the international community should continue to engage these countries. The increased and compounding threat posed by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin region remains a great concern, especially with reports showing that the terrorist group has been fighting against Islamic State West Africa Province over control of the region. A recent technical mission to the four countries affected by Boko Haram found that, as the security situation in the region has been deteriorating, coordination between the four countries needs to be strengthened. In addition, humanitarian needs have increased against declining resources.
Citing other security concerns, he said he will continue to engage with key actors in Cameroon to address continued violence in the country’s north-west and south-west regions, calling upon all parties to demonstrate their commitment through concrete actions on the ground. Non-State armed groups continue to represent a region-wide threat to peace and security, with a horrendous impact on civilian populations. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remains a threat to the stability, in view of its alliances with other armed groups in the subregion and its operations in areas with very little State presence, he said, pledging to work closely with the African Union and ECCAS to further consult and agree on a common vision to facilitate a smooth transfer of responsibility from the African Union Regional Task Force to ECCAS. Highlighting other concerns, he said the maritime region has also seen increased insecurity, and climate change has contributed to tensions. As UNOCA faces its expiry date, he said the Secretary-General recommended a three-year extension. Given recent developments, extending the UNOCA mandate can help States to overcome security challenges, promote the involvement of women, youth and civil society in various efforts and combat climate change threats.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom), noting that the subregion continues to face many challenges, exacerbated by COVID-19, said the next steps needed include ensuring safe, fair elections in Chad. All actors must support the de-escalation of tensions between Chad and the Central African Republic, with full respect for humanitarian rights and needs. In Cameroon, he encouraged the Government to make every effort to reduce violence at a time when 1 million have been displaced and 2 million need humanitarian support. Accountability must be ensured, he said, urging all parties to end this protracted conflict. Acknowledging the threats of terrorist attacks in the Lake Chad Basin region, he expressed support for the multinational initiative to combat Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa.
DAI BING (China) said that the international community should continue to respect the sovereignty and leadership of States in the region, support their development and encourage regional and subregional organizations to play a greater role. The situation in Cameroon is an internal matter and China is confident of its ability to deal with it. The security situation in the Central African Republic has improved and the Council should lift the arms embargo on that country. Climate change is mainly a development issue and the international community, especially developed countries, should help the region’s adaptation and mitigation efforts. He went on to say that the international community should scale up its support to Central Africa to fight the pandemic and encourage post-pandemic recovery, adding that China supports the renewal of UNOCA’s mandate.
T. S. TIRUMURTI (India) said that elections in the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo reflected the positive trend of democracy taking root in the region. However, greater political legitimacy and inclusivity in governance and decision-making needs to be ensured. He welcomed the African Union’s support for the transition process in Chad and hoped that the Transitional Military Council will adhere to the commitments made. He also stressed the urgent need for an integrated and multi-country response to Boko Haram, including by finalizing the Regional Strategy for the Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience of the Boko Haram-affected Areas in the Lake Chad Basin region and the implementation of territorial Action Plans. “Needless to add, the countries in the region should continue to keep the pressure on the Lord’s Resistance Army.” Turning to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, he said that Indian sailors have been most affected by kidnappings in its waters. Tackling the problem will require more maritime security surveillance through increased international collaboration, he said.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that regional efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and launch vaccination campaigns will pave the way for a post-pandemic economic recovery. The International Monetary Fund’s predictions for economic growth in Central African are a strong sign of the continent’s resilience. On the situation in Chad, he encouraged the transitional authorities to promote inclusive dialogue and respect the timetable for a return to democracy. In Cameroon, priority must be given to dialogue, he said, condemning violence by separatist armed groups which has prompted large-scale displacements. Expressing concern at Boka Haram attacks, he agreed with the Secretary-General’s recommendation for more cooperation to counter threats posed by that group as well as the root causes of conflict. He welcomed the International Criminal Court’s decision to sentence an LRA commander to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. That marked a turning point for international justice, as the offenses included forced pregnancy and forced marriage.
Expressing concern at attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Guinea, he welcomed efforts by ECCAS to address the situation. On the humanitarian front, and citing United Nations statistics, he noted that 4.4 million people need assistance, yet the $262 million humanitarian response plan is only 18 per cent funding. The situation is worse in Chad where 5.5 million urgently need help, while an influx of displaced persons from the Central African Republic into Congo continues. The eruption of Mount Nyiragongo has further complicated matters. He called on the United Nations, UNOCA, ECCAS and others to mobilize to generate more humanitarian funding, while also praising increased cooperation among regional leaders, including the decision by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to refer their border dispute to the International Court of Justice. He concluded by supporting the proposed three-year renewal of UNOCA’s mandate.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) said his delegation supports African Union initiatives to help Chad in addressing a range of issues, including election processes and reform. Expressing support for efforts to reduce violence in Cameroon, he urged the Cameroonian diaspora to use its influence and promote peaceful change, adding that: “It is time to end the fighting.” Turning to the situation in the Central African Republic, he encouraged UNOCA to support dialogue to reduce violence and secure shared borders. He also raised concerns about the Russian Federation being involved with human rights violations. Given that Burundi has improved international relations with neighbours and addressed human rights-related concerns, he encouraged the Government to continue to make forward progress.
TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) said that while some of the subregion’s States are not on the Council’s agenda, this should not prevent members from having conversations on how conflicts can be prevented. Citing other issues that can guide the Council’s discussion on mandate renewals, she said maritime security must be addressed and welcomed UNOCA and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) for their increased cooperation. Turning to the effects of climate change and natural resources on security, she welcomed and anticipated further findings from the UNOCA related project to strengthen knowledge on interlinkages. Amid often complex and interconnected developments in the region, she remained encouraged by the increasing engagement of ECCAS and noted that there is untapped potential for even stronger cooperation between UNOCA and the African Union. When actors like ECCAS, UNOCA and the Union work closely together on key issues, progress will happen, she said.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), supporting the Secretary-General’s recommendation to renew UNOCA’s mandate for a further three years, said that the situation in the region is still very complex. In Chad, the President’s death risks having far-reaching consequences for peace and security not only in the region, but across the continent. Recalling that the Western intervention in Libya in 2011 and the ensuing conflict led to the very tragic situation in the region today, she said that her country supports the African Union’s efforts to restore normality in Chad, which should create a joint commission with the Central African Republic to deal with border issues. Turning to the territorial expansion of Boko Haram, Islamic State in West Africa and other jihadist groups, she urged the international community to do more to help countries to identify and block terrorist supply channels. Expressing grave concern about the situation in the Gulf of Guinea, she recommended that United Nations mechanisms become more actively involved to counter-piracy and maritime crime. She went on to respond to remarks made by the representative of the United States, describing them as baseless, unfounded and part of a coordinated campaign to give her country a bad name.
SHERAZ GASRI (France) said regional cooperation is key to ensure security and stability. Regional initiatives to address conflicts and tensions among countries in the subregion must fully respect humanitarian law and human rights. Raising concerns about persistent violence in Cameroon, she said crimes against civilians must not go unpunished. More broadly, international support is needed to help the subregion overcome the current health crisis, she said, noting that the COVAX facility has delivered COVID-19 vaccines to 43 African countries. Turning to other issues, she said measures to break debt cycles were discussed at a recent meeting in Paris. UNOCA plays an important role, and synergies with other United Nations offices must be strengthened, she said, expressing support for a three-year renewal of the Regional Office’s mandate.
PHAM HAI ANH (Viet Nam) said that the root causes of instability must be addressed in a pragmatic and comprehensive manner. That means supporting ongoing diplomatic and political efforts, enhancing reconciliation efforts, addressing threats posed by armed groups and terrorists, strengthening the governance of natural resources and providing equitable development opportunities. He emphasized that regional and subregional cooperation contribute significantly to achieving peace, stability and development. He also welcomed regional efforts to respond to the pandemic and urged international partners and relevant United Nations entities to provide sustained technical and financial assistance to countries in the region.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) said preventive diplomacy must address the situations in several States in the subregion, including in Cameroon. Terrorist groups continue to threaten the civilian population and State institutions, she said, stressing the importance of implementing a regional strategy for combating such threats in the Lake Chad Basin region. She called on all States in the region to continue to cooperate with the International Criminal Court on related cases. Underlining the importance of upholding international humanitarian law, she called on national authorities to support efforts to deliver aid to those in need. Conflicts in the region are exacerbated by transnational crime networks, which fund armed groups and perpetuate the cycle of violence, she said, adding that UNOCA could provide helpful assistance to ECCAS to combat these threats.
MARTIN GALLAGHER (Ireland) appealed to the Central African Republic authorities and all parties on the ground to coordinate and engage fully with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), to end impediments to the Mission’s work and to investigate those that have occurred. The safety and security of peacekeepers and United Nations personnel is not optional, but a necessity, he said. In Cameroon, all parties must facilitate humanitarian access and to pursue inclusive political dialogue to solve the crisis in the country’s north-west and south-west regions. Turning to the sentencing of LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, he said that it is important that the International Criminal Court has addressed, for the first time, the crimes of forced pregnancy and forced marriage. The prosecution of conflict-related sexual violence must be carried out on an equal basis with other war crimes and crimes against humanity. He went on to say that Ireland will continue to work across the Council to recognize and act on climate-related security risks, which will only become more pressing in the years to come.
GERT AUVÄÄRT (Estonia), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, condemning attacks against peacekeepers and humanitarian workers amid a worrying trend that has seen a flare of violence. It has been encouraging to witness active regional cooperation in meeting these challenges, he said, highlighting the great value of all such initiatives which contribute to silencing guns, promoting civil rights and ensuring constitutional order. Neighbourly cooperation is essential for maintaining regional peace and security, ensuring safe and secure borders and mitigating the pandemic’s impact. The complex and fragile situation in Central Africa continues to be adversely impacted by the destructive effects of climate change. There is no denying that climate change is affecting and will continue to have effects on international peace and security. This threat will continue to grow without focused action to tackle it, he said, commending UNOCA for addressing this issue in the report.