posted on Mon 12 Jan 2015 5:40 PM
Briefing and Consultations on UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire and Sanctions

Tomorrow (13 January), Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) Aïchatou Mindaoudou will brief the Council on recent developments and the latest report of the Secretary General (S/2014/892); and 1572 Côte d’Ivoire Sanctions Committee Chair Ambassador Cristián Barros (Chile) will brief the Council regarding his trip to the country from 2 to 7 November 2014. Tomorrow’s briefing by Barros, at the initiative of Chile, is a follow-up to the last briefing and consultations on Côte d’Ivoire sanctions held 29 October, when Barros indicated he would report back to the Council (S/PV.7292). The briefings will be followed by consultations among Council members on UNOCI and sanctions.

Mindaoudou is likely to focus on preparations for the upcoming presidential elections in October, including the establishment of the Independent Electoral Commission on 18 June last year and any risks the election could pose for stability in Côte d’Ivoire. At the request of the country’s minister of interior, the Department of Political Affairs led an electoral needs assessment mission with the participation of representatives from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the UN Development Programme from 22 September to 2 October. The mission recommended that UNOCI should: deploy specialised expertise to assist the Special Representative’s good offices mandate, assist national authorities in developing an operational plan for securing the elections, and provide limited logistical support. This would require modification of UNOCI’s mandate, which does not currently include electoral assistance. While an initial discussion is probable during consultations, a decision on this is likely to be made only when UNOCI’s mandate comes up for renewal in June.

The 1572 Sanctions Committee delegation led by Barros met with President Alassane Ouattara and the ministries of foreign affairs, defence, mines and industry, interior and security, economy and finance, and justice. The delegation also met with the director of the Authority for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), the secretary of the National Security Council, the Group of Friends of Côte d’Ivoire, various offices within UNOCI and members of the Group of Experts supporting the 1572 Sanctions Committee.

During the visit, Barros also explored connections between natural resources and conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. He conveyed to the government of Côte d’Ivoire the Council’s ongoing concern regarding linkages between the illicit exploitation of natural resources (diamonds, gold and cocoa) and the financing of militias and mercenaries connected to former president Laurent Gbagbo, particularly along the border areas with Liberia. Council members may be interested in insights from the delegation’s two-day trip to the town of Séguéla, where Barros met with diamond miners, Kimberley Process officials, representatives of the SODEMI government mining company and local communities.

Incomplete security sector reform (SSR) and DDR processes remain a threat to stability in Côte d’Ivoire and are critical issues in both the peacekeeping and sanctions contexts. The difficulties of SSR were evident on 18 November 2014, when thousands of Forces républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI) soldiers protested over unpaid salaries and benefits, emptying their barracks and blocking streets in Abidjan, Bouaké and numerous other smaller cities. In Bouaké, the protesting soldiers took over state radio and television stations, broke into an FRCI armoury and looted police stations. The government negotiated with the soldiers on 19 and 20 November, agreeing to make payments to the troops initially projected by the government at $38 million (but estimated by foreign diplomats at $75 million), which ended the protest. The disaffected troops were largely former Forces nouvelles rebels who had helped put President Alassane Ouattara in power in April 2011 and were then incorporated into a reconfigured state military. Members may be interested in Mindaoudou’s views on whether the problem has been adequately resolved or if it could resurface in the run-up to elections later this year. As for the DDR process, according to government figures approximately 44,000 ex-combatants have benefitted to date, but another 24,000 remain to be incorporated into the program.

Interrelated issues of accountability and national reconciliation continue to be factors influencing the security situation in Côte d’Ivoire, including action by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC – which has been investigating post-election violence in 2010 and 2011. – has not yet brought charges against former members of Ouattara’s militia, contributing to perceptions of victor’s justice. On 11 October, the ICC affirmed that it has the authority to hear a case against Simone Gbagbo, the former president’s wife, on four counts of crimes against humanity. Despite an arrest warrant issued in February 2012, the Ivorian authorities have refused to hand her over to the ICC, arguing that she is being tried for similar charges in the national court system. The trial of Simone Gbagbo and 82 other supporters of the former president, which had originally been scheduled for 22 October, officially started on 26 December. On 17 November, the ICC set a trial date for Laurent Gbagbo of 7 July 2015. Council members may want to ask Mindaoudou about her assessment of how these trials might affect stability in Côte d’Ivoire during a presidential election year.

The briefings and consultations tomorrow will serve to inform Council decision making on sanctions and peacekeeping later this year. UN sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire-which constitute a partial arms embargo, targeted travel ban and targeted asset freeze-remain in effect until 30 April, while UNOCI’s current mandate extends until 30 June. The government has advocated lifting the sanctions regime and extending UNOCI’s mandate. While the latter is highly unlikely to be controversial, the former would require very careful consideration by the Council, particularly given the probable security challenges that may arise in the period leading to the presidential election in October.