Planned Elections Rare Chance to Move Central African Republic Forward, Officials Tell Security Council, Noting Increasing Attacks by Armed Groups
Bangui’s Foreign Minister Calls for Lifting of ‘Unfair Sanctions’, Warns Proxy War Being Waged against Government, People of Central African Republic
Upcoming local elections — the first planned in the Central African Republic since 1988 — present the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to advance the country’s peace and political process, senior officials told the Security Council today, as members highlighted the deteriorating security and socioeconomic situations and their heavy toll on civilians.
Valentine Rugwabiza, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), said that following a period of relative calm during the rainy season, armed groups have increased their activities and attacks in the country in recent months. New developments in the modus operandi of armed groups — such as the use of explosive devices and drones — are negatively impacting civilians, national security forces and humanitarian actors. She also voiced concern over the resurgence of tensions at the country’s borders, especially in resource-rich hotspots in the north-west, north-east and centre-south.
These new and evolving threats require MINUSCA to maintain flexibility and mobility, she said, drawing attention to the acute lack of infrastructure across the country, including roads and bridges. Other factors constraining the Mission’s ability to act effectively include the lack of sufficient military helicopters and sporadic restrictions on its movements. Against that backdrop, she welcomed the Government’s lifting of its ban on MINUSCA night flights and voiced concern over a newly imposed ban on unmanned flights. In addition, she sounded alarm over the country’s worsening humanitarian crisis, reporting that the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity will increase to 49 per cent in 2023 amid a deep economic contraction.
Also briefing the Council was Omar Hilale, the Chairperson of the Central African Republic configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, who cited several positive developments. Among other things, he drew attention to the revitalization and national ownership of the peace process, including the implementation of commitments in line with the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation and the Luanda Joint Road Map for Peace.
Noting that peacebuilding can only be effective if it is accompanied by efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for serious crimes and human rights violations, he highlighted the Government’s strategy of engagement with armed groups, citing in particular the official dissolution on 6 December 2022 of four armed groups who had been signatories of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. He described the move as a “further step towards stabilizing the political and security climate, expanding democratic space, and keeping [the country] on the path to sustainable peace”.
As Council members took the floor, several condemned the rise in attacks by armed groups against civilians, the Central African armed forces and MINUSCA in recent weeks. One such speaker, the representative of France, expressed support for the Central African authorities’ efforts — with the support of MINUSCA and regional countries — to implement the country’s political agreement and the Luanda Road Map. Dialogue between MINUSCA and the Government enabled lifting the ban on night flights, he noted, calling on the latter to also lift its ban on the use of drones for the security of peacekeepers.
The representative of China, calling for the full implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, noted that preparations for local elections remain underfunded and urged the international community to provide support. Stressing the need to curb the threat posed by armed groups, he supported the Government’s efforts to implement a national defence policy and address security threats. He also called for the lifting of the Council’s sanctions, expressing support for MINUSCA’s efforts to strengthen coordination among groups and protect civilians.
Gabon’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Ghana and Mozambique, commended an 8 February tripartite summit — attended by officials from the Central African Republic, Angola and Chad — which was devoted to improving the former’s political and security situations and consolidating security at the borders. Amid the upsurge in violence by armed groups and insecurity in localities outside urban centres, the humanitarian crisis in the country continues to worsen, he warned. “There is no military solution to the crisis in [the Central African Republic], there are only political solutions,” he said, adding that economic restoration of basic services must be financially supported.
The representative of Albania welcomed the Government’s decision to lift the ban on MINUSCA’s night flights. However, she expressed concern about a ban on all unmanned aerial vehicle flights in the country, except those of the national defence and security forces. This restricts the Mission’s freedom of movement and undermines its effectiveness, she asserted. She also welcomed the renewal until 2028 of the country’s Special Criminal Court and called on the Government to create a more democratic space for women and children to engage in the planned local elections.
Also addressing the Council was Sylvie Valerie Baipo Temon, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Central African Republic, who stressed that armed groups are waging a proxy war against her country’s people and institutions by exploiting natural resources and destabilizing the country. In the grips of such tyranny, people are forced to live in unacceptable situations of precarity, she said, noting that abuses committed by armed groups obstruct people from accessing land. Noting that the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation fails to focus on the most essential issues, she said the global community needs to face facts and work together for peace — not simply talk about it. MINUSCA’s primary goal is far from being reached, she said, calling for the lifting of “unfair sanctions” imposed on the Government which legitimize armed groups to the detriment of the legitimate authorities.
Also speaking were representatives of Switzerland, Brazil, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, Russian Federation and Malta.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:23 p.m.
OMAR HILALE (Morocco), Chairperson of the Central African Republic configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, warned the Council that the resurgence of armed groups’ activities in certain parts of that country — along with pressure on the country’s public finances — are leading to a deterioration of the security and socioeconomic environments and inflicting a heavy toll on civilians. Citing positive developments, he drew attention to political will demonstrated by the Central African authorities for the revitalization and national ownership of the peace process. That has included the implementation of commitments in line with the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic and the Luanda Joint Road Map for Peace. Turning to the implementation of the strategy of engagement with armed groups, he welcomed the official dissolution on 6 December 2022 of four armed groups who were signatories of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, describing the move as a “further step towards stabilizing the political and security climate, expanding democratic space, and keeping [the country] on the path to sustainable peace”.
Emphasizing that peacebuilding can only be effective if it is accompanied by efforts to demobilize armed groups and hold accountable those responsible for serious crimes and human rights violations, he went on to note the strong regional imprint on the situation in the Central African Republic and commended regional and subregional organizations — as well as the Heads of State of neighbouring countries — for their commitment and action. He called on all regional actors to address cross-border threats to peace, while also stressing the importance of continued constructive engagement from international financial institutions, regional development banks and bilateral partners. Describing the lack of technical and financial capacity as one of the main challenges facing the country, he said the Peacebuilding Fund — whose current portfolio in the Central African Republic includes nine projects worth $18 million — is an example of how investments in peacebuilding are catalytic in nature.
He went on to underline that the local elections, scheduled for July and October 2023, represent a unique opportunity to promote local governance with elected officials who are directly accountable to citizens — thus contributing to the advancement of decentralization and addressing one of the root causes of the country’s political and security crises. However, the insufficiency of funding for those elections is very worrying, he cautioned, calling on States and partners to mobilize the necessary funds to fill the budgetary gap of nearly $7 million. He further underscored that access to justice and the fight against impunity are a sine qua non condition for the stabilization of the Central African Republic and the success of any national reconciliation project and welcomed the work of the Central African Republic Special Criminal Court and the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission, thanks to the combined efforts of the Government and MINUSCA. These are essential mechanisms for addressing human rights violations and ensuring accountability of perpetrators and reparation for victims, he said.
On the economic front, he said the bleak current global outlook and the widespread food and energy crises — coupled with supply chain constraints — have had a negative impact on the Central African Republic’s budget and revenue generation for its national peacebuilding plan. Investments in socioeconomic recovery and development in the country remain critical to the consolidation of peacebuilding dividends, which are intrinsically linked to sustainable peace. Concluding, he welcomed the continued dialogue between the Government and international financial institutions, particularly with the facilitation of MINUSCA.
VALENTINE RUGWABIZA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), said the country’s peace and political process has advanced in line with both the 2019 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and the 2021 Luanda Road Map. “We are seeing progress as a result of the Government’s increased ownership, such as in the preparations for the local elections, the reform of the security sector, the extension of State authority and the adoption of an operational framework for border management,” she reported.
However, she noted that the Central African population faces myriad challenges, compounded by a worsening socioeconomic situation. Addressing violence is at the heart of the country’s peace process. Noting that four armed groups that were signatories to the country’s political agreement were dissolved in December 2022, she said such a success shows that political engagement — coupled with real incentives and alternatives for armed groups — can create positive momentum to inclusive and constructive dialogue. Additional opportunities to advance the peace and political process include upcoming local elections — the first since 1988 — for which the authorities are making preparations, including by developing a legal framework and updating the electoral code to encourage women’s participation. In addition, she — along with the Prime Minister and the President of the National Electoral Commission — recently signed an integrated security plan for the elections. Nevertheless, local elections face challenges including an acute financial shortfall, she said, calling on partners to provide support.
Turning to the security situation, she said armed groups have increased their activities and attacks since December, following a period of relative stability and calm during the rainy season. New developments in the modus operandi of armed groups — such as the use of explosive devices and drones — are negatively impacting civilians, national security forces, humanitarian actors and peacekeepers. These new and evolving threats require MINUSCA to maintain flexibility and mobility, she said, pointing out that the acute lack of infrastructure across the country, including roads and bridges, poses a major challenge. Other factors, such as the lack of sufficient military helicopters and sporadic restrictions on MINUSCA’s movements, have constrained its ability to act effectively and consistently. Against that backdrop, she welcomed the Government’s lifting of its ban on MINUSCA night flights and voiced concern over a newly imposed ban on unmanned flights.
She went on to note that the resurgence of tensions at the country’s borders has highlighted the regional dimension of Central African Republic’s security crisis, especially in resource-rich hotspots in the north-west, north-east and centre-south. “These zones are large, volatile and porous,” she said, noting that regional organizations and the United Nations can play important roles in supporting concerted action by the Central African Republic and neighbouring countries to stem the tide of rebel activity. MINUSCA is using available means to mobilize regional efforts on critical border issues in coordination with the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). Turning to the issues of human rights and justice, she said no significant improvements have been seen since her last briefing. The international community must collectively support the Government in strengthening its police, justice and penitentiary system. MINUSCA has provided valuable support to the Special Criminal Court, whose mandate was renewed after consultation with the country’s president.
Emphasizing that the country’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen, she said the World Food Programme (WFP) projects that the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity will increase from 44 per cent of the population in 2022 — already one of the highest in the world — to 49 per cent in 2023. Most of the population depends on humanitarian aid for survival. While the Joint Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023 aims to mobilize $465 million, budgetary reductions for 2023, compared to 2022, show a deep economic contraction. MINUSCA will continue to support the Central African Republic, “but [it] cannot do it alone”, she said, calling on bilateral and multilateral partners to help consolidate security gains and seize the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” presented by local elections to help propel the country forward.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), condemning the increase in attacks by armed groups against civilians, the Central African armed forces and MINUSCA in recent weeks, said those attacks underscore the need for the peace process to produce tangible results. He expressed support for the Central African authorities’ efforts, with the support of MINUSCA and regional countries, to implement the political agreement and the Luanda Road Map. Voicing hope that the recent dissolution of four armed groups will create a dynamic propitious for negotiations with other factions, he stressed that creating real socioeconomic opportunities and protection for demobilized combatants is crucial. Condemning acts of violence perpetrated against civilians by armed groups — as well as by the Central African armed forces and Wagner Group mercenaries, who are responsible for the majority of the abuses documented in the Secretary-General’s report — he also expressed concern over narrowing civic space, constant threats against the opposition and civil society and the proliferation of hate speech. He further welcomed dialogue between MINUSCA and the Government, which has made it possible to lift the ban on night flights, and called on the latter to lift its ban on the use of drones for the security of peacekeepers.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking on behalf of Ghana and Mozambique, encouraged the Central African authorities to continue dialogue with all political actors. Noting that the international community’s financial support is crucial for the effective holding of local elections, he said the overall budget for the organization of those votes is estimated at around $11 million, of which the Government has committed $4.56 million. At the regional level, he welcomed the holding on 8 February of the tripartite summit comprising the Central African Republic, Angola and Chad, which is devoted to improving the former’s political and security situations. That meeting is a considerable step forward in strengthening bilateral relations between the Central African Republic and Chad, which is crucial for the consolidation of security at the borders that separate these two countries, he said.
Voicing deep concern over the continuous cycle of violence to which armed groups are subjecting the civilian population, and over asymmetrical attacks against MINUSCA and the Central African Armed Forces, he stressed: “There is no military solution to the crisis in [the Central African Republic], there are only political solutions.” However, there is no solution at all if there is no answer to the root causes of instability, he said, noting that economic restoration of basic services must be financially supported. He also welcomed resolution 2648 (2022) on the lifting of the arms embargo, which will enable the country to protect its populations and defend its territory. In light of multidimensional challenges facing the Central African Republic, support from partners is necessary, he stressed, adding that the humanitarian crisis in the country continues to worsen amid the upsurge in violence by armed groups and insecurity in localities outside urban centres.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) said relations between all parties should be based on mutual trust. Welcoming the Government’s decision to lift the ban on MINUSCA’s night flights, she nevertheless voiced concerned over a ban on all unmanned aerial vehicle flights in the country, except those of the national defence and security forces. That restriction on the Mission’s freedom of movement undermines its effectiveness, she stressed, also expressing concern over continued reports of human rights violations, including of grave abuses against women and children. The Peace and Reconciliation Agreement must be implemented through the Joint Road Map, she said, commending the dissolution of four armed groups and calling on the Government to bring all remaining armed groups to the table. She further called on the Government to deepen its engagement with neighbouring countries and called on all armed groups to work towards peace. In addition, she welcomed the renewal, until 2028, of the country’s Special Criminal Court, and called on the Government to create a more democratic space for women and children to engage in local elections.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland), joining others in welcoming the recent dissolution of four armed groups in the Central African Republic, encouraged the Government to maintain a sincere dialogue with the armed groups and neighbouring countries to consolidate the security gains made. For peace to take root, combatants must lay down their arms and return to civilian life in a sustainable manner, and civil society — especially women — must be at the forefront of implementing the political agreement. Improvements in the security situation in some parts of the country are offset by the spike in violence in the west and north. Calling on all parties — including Government forces, the Wagner Group and armed factions — to respect international law, she voiced concern about the spread of hate speech and the numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions by the defence and security forces. The Government must protect civic space and ensure inclusive democratic processes, including with the opposition. In 2022, Switzerland strengthened its engagement in the Central African Republic by opening an office in Bangui, allowing it to work more closely with the communities and with the Central African authorities, she added.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil), stressing the need to help MINUSCA fulfil its mandate and provide better protection to its peacekeepers and civil personnel, voiced concern over the ongoing security and humanitarian challenges on the ground. He drew attention to incidents with explosive ordnance, including improvised explosive devices, and the risk they pose to the safety of peacekeepers and civilians. Highlighting the key role played by the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes in the implementation of the 2019 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, he underscored the importance of advancing the national recovery plan and providing a socioeconomic foundation to the peace process. Turning to the contribution of regional organizations to the peace process, he commended the renewed engagement of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region in supporting the September 2021 road map for peace and praised the initiative of Africa-based Special Representatives and Special Envoys regarding a common strategic vision on regional issues.
YAMANAKA OSAMU (Japan) said reconciliation through inclusive and constructive dialogue among all stakeholders, including armed groups, should be at the core of the Government’s efforts to achieve peace and stability. Demonstrating success stories in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration — and the benefits of reconciliation — is essential, she said, noting that the majority of the Central African Republic’s armed groups have not yet laid down their weapons. Meanwhile, regional arrangements must play a more active role in addressing the region’s fragility. He encouraged the leadership and engagement of Angola, as Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, as well as the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the African Union as guarantors, and said the agreed quarterly monitoring process should be used to boost regional cooperation. The cross-border flows of armed combatants, arms and conflict minerals must also be urgently addressed, and the Central African Republic and its neighbours should unite to strengthen border controls. Moreover, the security of voters in the upcoming local elections must be ensured, he said, welcoming the recent elections security plan signed by the Government and MINUSCA.
DAI BING (China) applauded major strides in the Central African Republic’s peace and political process and urged the international community to provide support. Calling for the full implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, he welcomed the recent dissolution of four armed groups and called on all armed factions to join the political process. He noted that preparations for local elections remain underfunded, urging the international community to provide support while respecting local ownership. As the country’s peace process is related to conditions across the region, subregional groups can play an important role. There is a need to curb the threat posed by armed groups, he said, voicing support for the Government’s efforts to implement a national defence policy and address security threats. The Council’s sanctions should be lifted, he stressed, expressing support for MINUSCA’s efforts to strengthen coordination among groups and protect civilians and calling on donors to step up their provision of humanitarian assistance.
ALICE JACOBS (United Kingdom), describing the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement as the only viable option to end conflict and crisis in the Central African Republic, underscored the need for all parties to renew their commitments to it. In that context, she called on the Government, with the support of the region and MINUSCA, to ensure meaningful engagement with all political actors. Voicing concern over the increased number of human rights violations and abuses over the last year, she said the Central African forces and Wagner Group personnel, through their joint operations, are now responsible for the majority of such violations. Put simply, the Government must do better to protect the civilian population, and in particular the Fulani and Muslim communities. Noting that MINUSCA must be able to implement its mandate without interference, she called on the authorities to maintain the Mission’s full freedom of movement by allowing unhindered access throughout the territory. She further expressed concern about the removal of MINUSCA’s airport surveillance camera and the Government’s recent ban on unmanned aerial systems, both of which undermine the Mission’s surveillance capability.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States), outlining some of the support his country provides to MINUSCA’s troop contributors, said it recently helped train a Peruvian engineering unit that rehabilitated a road linking Bossangoa and Bossembélé, and supported Zambia as it prepared an infantry battalion for MINUSCA deployment. He welcomed the reauthorization of unrestricted United Nations night flights, but pointed out that new restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles directly hinder MINUSCA’s ability to fulfil its mandate. Voicing concern about the reported increase in armed group activity, he encouraged all regional actors to play a constructive role in helping to stabilize the Central African Republic. Some predatory entities in the country seek to destabilize it to further exploit its wealth for their own gain, he pointed out, noting that the Wagner Group perpetrates numerous human rights abuses as part of its campaign to control the Central African Republic’s sovereign natural resources. “We are disappointed the Secretariat continues to self-censor by using euphemisms to refer to Wagner, when it is clear that Wagner forces are responsible for many of these abuses,” he said, stressing that without accountability the Central African Republic will not be able to achieve peace or unlock its vast potential.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) acknowledged the progress made by the Government and people of the Central African Republic, despite many complex challenges, including plans for elections in 2023 and efforts to build institutions and provide basic services. “All of these represent delicate improvements that must be safeguarded,” she said, urging the Council, Member States, regional actors and the United Nations to continue supporting the country. Protecting civilians must remain at the heart of all responses and special attention is needed to protect women and girls from rampant sexual violence. Women must be full, equal and meaningful participants in the country’s political processes. Noting the expansion of activities by armed groups, she urged Bangui and its neighbours to work together, alongside multinational and regional actors, to counter the threat. She also drew attention to the links between climate change and conflict, noting that the Central African Republic’s dry season is accompanied by increased activity among armed groups. As co-Chair of the Informal Expert Group of Members of the Security Council on Climate and Security and President of the next United Nations Conference on Climate Change, the United Arab Emirates intends to convene critical discussions to address that issue.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador), noting that insecurity and violence in the Central African Republic have made it impossible to reverse human displacement, said the country’s political and security challenges remain complex. Welcoming progress made, he called for the lifting of a ban on the use of drones necessary for MINUSCA’s work. He underscored the pivotal importance of territorial control for strengthening of the rule of law, welcoming the recent dissolution of four armed groups and stressing the importance of including women as leaders in the political arena. Voicing concern about explosive ordinance incidents, he said MINUSCA’s capacity-building work is timely. Meanwhile, he warned that organized criminal networks have become involved in the trafficking of natural resources and called for the implementation of a national strategy against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Coordination between the Government and MINUSCA to support the holding of local elections is also necessary to ensure that the latter are held within the established timeline. “Peace cannot be maintained with force,” he asserted, calling for dialogue to prevail and urging more support from the United Nations and regional financial institutions.
DMITRY POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the security situation in the Central African Republic is generally under the control of Government forces, which weakens the potential activities of armed groups. Calling for more decisive steps by the Council to fully lift its arms embargo — which would allow Bangui to increase is defence capability and prepare for upcoming elections — he said the African Union and other regional actors support such a lifting. Noting that the 2019 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement remains the basis for achieving stability and security, he said the Russian Federation is providing support as the Central African Republic strengthens its defence capabilities. With the knowledge of the sanctions committee, military products were delivered to the country and Russian instructors are successfully working on the ground upon request by legitimate authorities. Noting many recent strides, he said MINUSCA should use its resources to help the Government establish State control and counter armed groups. He also voiced concern that nationals of the Russian Federation have been subject to terrorist attacks and called on regional group to end the illegal border crossings of armed groups.
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta) condemned all violations perpetrated by armed groups, Central African armed forces and other security personnel, namely the Wagner Group. She welcomed the first verdict of the Special Criminal Court on 31 October, which found the defendants guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the extension of the Court’s mandate until 2028. She also welcomed the decision by the Government to create a strategic committee to prevent and respond to gender-based violence linked to conflict and further urged the development of a strategy to prevent and eliminate the six grave violations against children as recognized by the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict. Inclusive, free and fair elections, and creating a civic space which represents all stakeholders, is crucial. Among other things, she voiced concern over reports of challenges faced by the authorities in the holding of local elections and praised MINUSCA’s efforts to raise awareness about its mandate, which is fundamental to fighting misinformation.
SYLVIE VALERIE BAIPO TEMON, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Central African Republic, also addressed the Council, calling for improvements through coordinated work. The rights and dignity of 5 million inhabitants of her country continue to be trampled upon by the lawless enemies of peace who wage a proxy war against its people and institutions. Noting that armed groups are exploiting natural resources and destabilizing the country, she said that — in the grips of such tyranny — people are forced to live in unacceptable situations of precarity. Abuses committed by armed groups obstruct people from accessing land. Meanwhile, a demonization campaign is being waged to benefit the geostrategic interests of Powers motivated by economic and strategic pursuits. Moreover, she said, a negative campaign is under way which aims to hold hostage the people of the Central African Republic by cutting off support from the country’s authorities to suffocate the people and to spark a social crisis.
Stressing that the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation fails to focus on the most essential issues, she said the global community needs to face facts and work together for peace — not simply talk about it or focus on arbitrarily selected facts. Underscoring the urgent need to lay the foundation for peace, she called for tangible solutions to her country’s root challenges. With regard to restrictions on MINUSCA’s night flights, she said the primary goal of the Mission is far from being reached. Turning to the security situation, she voiced concern over the spike in armed group attacks and the use of explosive ordinance, also decrying instances of incitement to hatred on social media. Concluding, she expressed concern that the country’s financial and social challenges are worsening the already alarming humanitarian situation and called for lifting unfair sanctions imposed on the Government which legitimize armed groups to the detriment of the legitimate authorities.