posted on Wed 10 Jun 2015 5:08 PM
Briefing and Consultations on the UN Office for Central Africa and Lord’s Resistance Army

Tomorrow morning (11 June), Abdoulaye Bathily, the Special Representative and head of UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), will brief the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s report on UNOCA and the UN regional strategy on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) (S/2015/339). The briefing will be followed by consultations. As has been the practice, the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement at the meeting.

The Secretary-General’s report notes that the LRA is estimated to total between 150 and 200 members and was responsible for fewer than 20 civilian deaths in 2014 compared to 76 the previous year. (A recent OCHA update attributed 36 deaths to the LRA in 2014 compared to 73 in 2013). The report does highlight an increase in the abduction of adults to serve as temporary porters, and the group’s involvement in natural resource trafficking in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and border areas of southern Darfur and western South Sudan. A positive development was the surrender and transfer to the International Criminal Court of Dominic Ongwen, in January. During tomorrow’s meeting, members will likely welcome progress in combating the group, while stressing the need to sustain efforts that have led to these positive developments.

During his briefing, Bathily is expected to highlight some of the other major challenges facing the region. This includes the threat of Boko Haram, in particular to Cameroon and Chad. Attacks by Boko Haram in northern Cameroon have displaced, according to the Secretary-General’s report, 96,000 people. In addition, an estimated 74,000 Nigerian refugees have fled to Cameroon. In Chad, there are now estimated to be 20,000 Nigerian refugees, 8,500 returnees and 14,500 internally displaced persons. The threat posed by Boko Haram to the two countries, along with the deterioration in Nigeria, led to Chad deploying forces to Cameroon in January, and its subsequent intervention in Nigeria’s northeast.

Members will likely be interested in Bathily’s insights into regional efforts to combat the group, including progress towards forming the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), to be made up of forces from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Bathily was in N’Djamena on 25 May when the MNJTF headquarters was officially inaugurated in the Chadian capital. He also travelled in mid-April with the head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) Mohammed Ibn Chambas to each of the MNJTF-contributing countries, meeting all five countries’ leaders, as well as then Nigerian president-elect Muhammadu Buhari. UNOCA support to regional efforts has also included its participation at the expert level meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon, to develop the MNJTF’s concept of operations, and the extraordinary summit on Boko Haram of the Council for Peace and Security in Central Africa also held in Yaoundé in February. Bathily’s views on these regional efforts could be particularly useful for members, as the Council may soon begin negotiating a presidential statement that Chad circulated last week welcoming regional initiatives to combat Boko Haram and calling on the international community to support the MNJTF.

Bathily, who is also the Secretary-General’s representative to the international mediation efforts for the CAR, will also likely cover the situation there. He chaired the Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation last month from 4 to 11 May and attended the summit of the Economic Community of Central African States on 25 May in N’Djamena, which endorsed the Bangui Forum recommendation to postpone elections and extend the transition from August until the end of 2015. When members visited the CAR in March, they received a briefing from Bathily, and they will be keen to hear his views on recent developments. Bathily, as well as some members, may highlight significant funding gaps that remain for the elections and the disarmament process. The funding gap for the elections – a $21 million shortfall – is an issue that was the focus of an 8 June meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission’s country-configuration for CAR, which was briefed by Bathily.

UNOCA has also been monitoring tensions related to the upcoming elections in the sub-region. Burundi, which the Council has been following closely due to the controversy over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s intention to seek a third term, is part of UNOCA’s political mandate and the office has been coordinating with Said Djinnit, the UN mediator to Burundi. The issue of presidential third terms is also creating tensions over elections scheduled in 2016 in the DRC and the Republic of the Congo. Protests in Gabon, which also has presidential elections in 2016, has led to UNOCA playing a mediating role between the government and opposition. These are all situations that members may want to discuss with Bathily. Other issues that may be raised are regional and transnational criminal threats such as poaching and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

The Council traditionally adopts a presidential statement at its biannual briefings on Central Africa and the LRA, which, have largely focused on the LRA and efforts to combat the group. Its 10 December 2014 presidential statement on Central Africa and the LRA (S/PRST/2014/25), however, reflected the expanding activities of UNOCA and evolving regional threats by including for the first time separate paragraphs related to the mediation process in the CAR, Boko Haram and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The current draft presidential statement, circulated by the UK on 5 June, further reflects the changing nature of threats to the region and UNOCA’s work. The paragraphs on the CAR and Boko Haram now precede sections on the LRA, reflecting the decreasing significance of the LRA issue in these discussions.

In light of the upcoming mandate renewal for UNOCA in August (which is done through an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Council), the draft presidential statement also welcomes the Secretary-General’s recommendations in his report based on the March 2015 strategic review. The recommendations focus primarily on expanding UNOCA’s capacity, including establishing an analytical unit within the office. In being ready to welcome the recommendations, it seems members recognise that UNOCA’s role and the tasks expected of it have grown since it was officially launched in March 2011. Additionally the Secretary-General’s report proposed increasing the periodicity of the renewal of the office’s mandate, from currently 18 months to three years, which would provide it with the same authorisation cycle as UNOWA.

Lastly, the draft presidential statement requests the UN to report every six months on the situation. The proposed establishment of a regular six-month reporting cycle is new, and would remove the need for a presidential statement at these biannual meetings requesting the next report.
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Postscript (12 June): The Council adopted S/PRST/2015/12 at the meeting.