posted on Fri 16 Oct 2020 7:04 PM
Central African Republic: Briefing and Consultations

On Monday (19 October), the Security Council will meet for a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Secretary-General’s latest report (S/2020/994) on the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Special Representative for the Central African Republic and head of MINUSCA Mankeur Ndiaye; Matias Bertino Matondo, AU Special Representative and head of the AU Office in the Central African Republic; and Koen Vervaeke, Managing Director for Africa at the European External Action Service, are to brief.

The briefers are likely to take stock of the political and security situations in the Central African Republic (CAR), especially in the context of upcoming elections. The first round of presidential elections is scheduled for 27 December, as are legislative and local elections, with a possible second round of presidential elections in February 2021. According to the Secretary-General’s 9 October report, the CAR’s political environment is “increasingly characterized by tension and mistrust” as the elections approach. On 23 September, CAR’s National Assembly passed legislation that amended the electoral code and extended the registration deadline by a month without delaying the 27 December election date. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the registration process had been delayed due to “insecurity and obstruction by a number of armed groups”, including the 3R (Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation) group and the anti-Balaka.

The National Assembly’s recent amendments to the electoral code failed to include a provision allowing Central African refugees outside of the country to vote in the upcoming elections, however, despite a recommendation from the CAR’s multi-stakeholder consultative framework on the elections, as well as advocacy from the United Nations, to include such a provision. Council members may raise concerns about the disenfranchisement of approximately 250,000 Central African refugees, and are likely to want to know what effect this may have on the electoral process.

At a 1 October virtual High-Level Ministerial Meeting on CAR held in the margins of the General Assembly, CAR’s President Faustin Touadéra, speaking about the elections, said that permitting refugee participation presented “insurmountable obstacles”. However, he assured the meeting that the country was committed to “meeting constitutional deadlines and to holding free, fair, transparent, inclusive, and credible elections”.

Council members may want to hear about the role envisioned for MINUSCA regarding security for the elections. On 2 October, CAR’s Prime Minister signed a security plan for the elections, which covers the roles that the country’s security actors (as well as MINUSCA) will play during the electoral period.

Council members may also want to learn what steps are being taken to ensure that a funding shortage does not jeopardize the elections process. The Secretary-General’s report notes that a UNDP-managed fund created to support presidential, legislative and local elections in the CAR through 2022 faces an overall shortfall of $19.5 million, including a gap of $5.7 million for the upcoming presidential and legislative elections in 2020 and 2021 in the CAR.

International stakeholders at the 1 October high-level meeting, for their part, appeared unified in their support for the CAR. At the conclusion of the meeting, the co-chairs stressed the need for “peaceful, credible, transparent and inclusive elections within the constitutional timelines”, while offering their “unwavering commitment” to supporting the CAR. The co-chairs were: President Touadéra, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the President of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Commission, Gilberto Da Piedade Veríssimo.

The briefers and Council members may also focus on potential political instability in the run-up to the elections and their aftermath. Political tensions have increased in recent weeks. CAR analysts have noted that the return of former presidents François Bozizé and Michel Djotodia to the CAR late last year and in early 2020, respectively, could have a destabilising effect on the already fragile political climate in the country. A 25 July announcement by Bozizé that he would run in the upcoming presidential elections may exacerbate tensions; Bozizé was listed under Security Council sanctions in 2014, including a travel ban, for “engaging in or providing support for acts that undermine the peace, stability or security of CAR”. In addition, on 5 September, Djotodia announced in Bangui that he had “definitively” returned to CAR; after his initial return to CAR in January, he subsequently travelled outside the country. At the time of writing, Djotodia had not announced that he would compete in the upcoming elections. Fifteen candidates, including three women and the incumbent Touadéra, have so far announced their intention to compete in the presidential elections.

Some Council members may also raise concerns that any deterioration of the electoral dynamics might undermine the implementation of the peace agreement. The Secretary-General’s report notes that there has been both an increase in violations of the peace agreement over the last four months and a “resurgence in violence” in the CAR’s north-west. The situation in CAR’s north-east remains stable, despite an earlier upswing in violence. In response to the violence, and in support of its protection of civilians mandate, MINUSCA has undertaken a series of operations in recent months, including one launched on 17 May in the town of Ndélé in the north of the country, to help stabilise the situation, and another, launched in coordination with the Central African armed forces (FACA) on 17 June, to end violence against civilians in north-west CAR committed by the 3R armed group. Some Council members may wish to learn more about the status of these operations.

The humanitarian situation in the CAR is another anticipated focus of the briefers. According to OCHA, CAR’s humanitarian situation remains worrisome. Approximately 2.6 million people require humanitarian assistance in CAR and 2.36 million people are considered food insecure. According to the Secretary-General, intercommunal tensions and attacks against civilians have had a detrimental impact on the humanitarian situation. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the country’s socioeconomic situation. While the overall number of those infected with the coronavirus remains relatively low (as at 10 October, there were officially 4,850 cases), CAR suffers from limited testing capacity, potentially masking the actual figures. According to the World Health Organization, CAR is “one of the least prepared countries to face the COVID-19 outbreak”.

Council members are also likely to highlight the fact that the humanitarian situation in CAR has recently been compounded by a spate of attacks on humanitarian workers. In 2020, there have been 267 attacks on humanitarian workers to date, resulting in two deaths and 20 persons injured. The persistence of such attacks is likely to result in Council members arguing for steps to be taken to address this ongoing problem. Council members may echo the conclusions of the 1 October high-level meeting on the CAR, which called on the CAR government not only to publicly condemn these attacks, but also to “identify and bring to justice the perpetrators and instigators of these crimes”.

As MINUSCA’s mandate expires on 15 November and negotiations on its renewal are likely to begin imminently, Council members may use the opportunity of closed consultations to initiate a discussion on the mandate renewal. With the upcoming elections, and in the context of rising violence and potential political instability, most Council members are likely to emphasise the need for an uncontentious mandate renewal to send a strong signal to the CAR authorities and armed groups that the Council is unified around its approach to the country. In July, the Council managed to unanimously adopt resolution 2536 renewing the sanctions regime, even though differences of view on CAR sanctions were evident during the Council’s negotiations on the sanctions regime in January and during the high-level summit on 1 October, where some members called for the lifting of the arms embargo.