The Secretary-General's Special Representative reported to the Security Council this morning that agreements, including a ceasefire, had just been signed in Libreville to contain the latest wave of rebellion in the Central African Republic and define the modalities for power sharing and political transition.
Speaking via videoconference, Margaret Vogt, who heads the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) - the latest configuration of a United Nations presence that dates back a decade - said the parties had agreed that President François Bozizé would remain in power, a Prime Minister from the opposition would be appointed, with full executive power, a Government of national unity would be established, and legislative elections would be organized within 12 months.
Also briefing the Council, in the chamber, was the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Central African Republic's Permanent Representative also addressed the 15-member body.
Ms. Vogt said she was hopeful that the three accords - a declaration of principles to resolve the political and security crisis, a ceasefire agreement and a political agreement - would contain the immediate flare-up, but she warned of "another meltdown a few years down the line" if, like previous accords, they were not implemented. Also crucial was clear investment in peace and development "to prevent [ Central African Republic] from falling down a slippery slope".
As 2012 drew to a close, she said, a coalition of rebel groups had launched an offensive against the Government, basically overrunning half the country. They had not faced much resistance from the national army, she said, attributing the failure to repel the aggression to the "depth of decay within the armed forces". The national army had lost cohesion and the will to fight, and many of the soldiers had "simply dropped their weapons and melted into the bushes".
In the face of that inability to act, the international community had decided to pull out its personnel, which "drove home to the regional leaders the critical security challenges in the [Central African Republic]" and the need to secure Bangui, she said. Subregional leaders responded quickly with troop reinforcements; South Africa deployed troops to Bangui, and France beefed up its forces. Newly deployed troops were mandated to aggressively defend their positions and Bangui, and the Mission for the consolidation of peace in Central African Republic (MICOPAX), led by the Economic Community of Central African States, had halted its plans to pull out.
Ms. Vogt, meanwhile, said she had embarked on intensive diplomatic efforts, and contrary to scepticism and the insistence by the rebel groups and political opposition that President Bozizé had lost all legitimacy, peace talks had begun, with all parties at the table. Regional leaders appeared determined not to allow rebel overrun of the country and to prevent a forceful removal of a democratically elected Government. They were equally hard on President Bozizé for his lack of openness. Backed into a corner, he had been forced to concessions and to fulfil his promise to establish a national unity Government, she said.
BINUCA had not anticipated the scope or pace of the rebel assault, she acknowledged, but noted that it had reported on divisions within the national army and political leadership, partly engendered by rumours that the President planned to change the Constitution to remain in power beyond the end of his mandate, in 2016. It also knew that the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, which was to have begun in January 2013, would not benefit all fighting forces in the north-east, where there was scant Government presence. Such an exercise in that area would need a regional approach involving neighbouring countries.
She felt that the dramatic events of the past week presented opportunities to "get the partners to dialogue and to consult on how to pull the country back from the brink". The opportunity must be seized to put in place an effective Government capable of addressing the country's myriad challenges.
Follow-up to the first Libreville Agreement, as well as the inclusive political dialogue, had stalled, the country had become an "aid orphan", and many of BINUCA's core activities remained underfunded, she said. Thus, she recommended that BINUCA lead a strategic assessment of priorities and needs, and the international community engage more forcefully, both diplomatically and financially, in the situation.
Topping the list of priorities was a functional and effective army and security force, and a State presence throughout the territory, she said. Also important was to pair disarmament, demobilization and reintegration with robust political engagement on the ground and within the region. Also, the Bretton Woods institutions should be engaged to cover post-conflict reconstruction and recovery.
Describing the Central African Republic a "forgotten conflict", Special Representative Zainab Bangura recalled her fact-finding mission to the country, from 5 to 13 December 2012, to see first-hand the challenges to tackling conflict-related sexual violence. The outbreak of violence had accentuated the need to implement the immediate protection commitments expressed in the two communiqués signed recently between Ms. Vogt and the Central African Republic Government.
"At this critical moment, the international community must send a strong and unequivocal message that sexual violence is unacceptable and those who commit, command or condone such crimes will be held to account," she said.
Her visits to and meetings with women and children, and national and local non-governmental organizations, in Bangui and the towns of Bria and Paoua revealed that both State and non-state actors, as well as the Lord's Resistance Army, were committing widespread sexual violence against women and that such violence was a fundamental security issue in need of an operational security response, she said. Women and girls were being raped and abducted, forced into sexual slavery and marriage. The situation was exacerbated by a deep "culture of silence" and denial fuelled by stigma and a "culture of acceptance".
The acute lack of comprehensive information on the character and scope of the violations made it difficult to assess and monitor the situation, punish perpetrators and aid victims, she said. Obtaining such information was critical. She also urged all armed forces and groups in the Central African Republic to issue clear orders regarding sexual violence through their respective chains of command, and investigate and hold perpetrators to account. They must also release women and children who had been forcibly recruited into the armed services.
"These protection measures must be prerequisite elements of any new ceasefire agreement," she said. "Sexual violence must be included as part of the definition of the ceasefire; and sexual violence crimes should be monitored as part of the subsequent ceasefire monitoring arrangement or mechanism."
While the 2008 Libreville Agreement made reference to human rights, none of the more than 100 recommendations emerging from the peace dialogue focused on human rights obligations and accountability for violations, she said. In meetings with her, representatives of the politico-military groups expressed a willingness to address sexual violence concerns. It was crucial to hold them to their word so that such commitments were not just "paper promises".
She recounted how during her visit to Bria, the Convention des Patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP) national rebel group, had agreed to release children in its custody to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). But, the day before the handover, most of the identified children were moved 30 kilometres from the handover location. Child protection teams were only able to access one boy and two girls. In the end, CPJP's cadres on the ground refused to release the two girls, which they claimed were "wives" of combatants. That incident illustrated the special challenges to securing the release of women and girls from armed groups.
United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations were struggling to work in a context of continued insecurity, she said. Few, if any, social services existed in the countryside. The local hospital in Paoua, which served 200,000 people, only had one doctor, and only one qualified lawyer was based outside of country's capital. Despite several steps, including important legislative reforms to address sexual violence, national institutions were ill-equipped and State authority and structures were absent in most areas outside Bangui.
She argued for a more strategic, concerted regional approach to the Central African Republic. Leaders and combatants of many of the politico-military groups had connections to Chad and were of Chadian origin. That challenged the sense of ownership and their commitment to the peace process. Her fact-finding trip aimed to deepen dialogue and cooperation with the Bangui Government to help it create national ownership, leadership and responsibility.
Ms. Bangura was working to ensure deployment to the Central African Republic in February or March of a team of rule of law experts to help BINUCA and the United Nations country team prepare an implementation strategy and plan to end sexual violence, pursuant to the Joint Communiqués. She urged the Council and Member States to prioritize and support deployment of a women protection adviser to BINUCA to help Ms. Vogt implement Council resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010) and the Joint Communiqués. She encouraged the Organization, particularly through the UN Action Network, to once again focus on advocacy and programmes to aid sexual violence victims in the Central African Republic and to monitor and report on violations. A greater global focus, more sustained donor aid and an integrated response were urgently needed.
Charles-Armel Doubane of the Central African Republic, welcomed the progress achieved, and said that, despite continuing difficulties, his Government had been establishing the rule of law until the offensive. However, by then, the international community was showing signs of fatigue; the videoconference with Ms. Vogt had reflected that fact. She had been governing from Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, and not from Bangui, and had submitted her report from Libreville.
The Government and people of his country were tired of the instability and insecurity caused by the abusive and easy use of the rifle to settle disputes, among other aspects of the situation, he declared. "Together we have said that we finally understand." The recent meeting of Heads of State of the Economic Community of Central African States discussed how to facilitate the Libreville Agreement and address challenges to implementing it.
Everyone was now convinced that the Libreville Agreement was "the only lifeline for the Central African Republic," he said. The fact that the people of Central African Republic and the entire international community favoured dialogue gave hope that the new Agreement would be put into practice. The signing of the Agreement had eased tensions somewhat. His Government was committed to follow-up and implementation of its recommendations and decisions. Parties were committed to national reconciliation. He thanked all, who despite many challenges, had continued to support Central African Republic's search for peace and stability.
For its consideration of the situation, the Council had before it today the latest report of the Secretary-General, issued on 21 December 2012, in which he recommends renewal of BINUCA's mandate for another year, until 31 January 2014 (document S/2012/956). Its current mandate is set to expire on 31 January.
The meeting was called to order at 10:07 a.m. and adjourned at 11:02 a.m.