15 May 2013

Central African Republic: UN Envoy Urges Security Council to Bolster Security, Consider Sanctions Against Rebels

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Michel Djotodia, former rebel leader turned interim president.

A neutral security force is urgently needed to help restore the stability and counter the absence of law and order in the Central African Republic (CAR), a United Nations envoy today told the Security Council, while also calling on the body to consider sanctions against rebel groups for gross violations of human rights.

Margaret Vogt, Special Representative for the Secretary-General presented the UN chief's latest report to the Council, in which he describes the situation in CAR as "horrifying and intolerable." The report also urges the international community to "send a strong message to Séléka leaders that there is no impunity for murder, looting, and unconstitutional changes of Government."

Members of the rebel group are also accused of rape, maiming, recruitment of children and forced marriages constitute serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Ms. Vogt, which is also head of the Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA), said it was critical that the Council "unequivocally" pronounces itself on the need for these abuses to be stopped now and for perpetrators to be individually held accountable.

"We believe that the time is ripe for the Council to consider the imposition of individual sanctions against the architects and perpetrators of these gross violations," Ms. Vogt said. "We do not want a desperate people to be left with no choice but to take the law into their own hands."

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay and Secretary-General Ban have also expressed their concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the country.

In addition, Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) - an independent international body that is not part of the UN and tries those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes - has issued a warning that the ICC is closely scrutinizing the crimes committed against civilians in the country.

Fighting flared up in CAR in December 2012 when the Séléka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks. The fighters took control of major towns and were advancing on the capital, Bangui - home to 1.5 million out of the country's population of 4.5 million, before agreeing to start peace talks under the auspices of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

A peace agreement was reached on 11 January in Libreville, Gabon, resulting in a ceasefire agreement and creating a Government of national unity in which opposition figures were given key posts, but the rebels again seized Bangui in March forcing President François Bozizé to flee.

In her briefing based on Mr. Ban's report, Ms. Vogt called for additional forces in CAR to "contain the current state of anarchy" and which would force rebels to conform to the security framework signed in January as part of the Libreville Agreement. It includes stipulations that all security forces be cantoned/regrouped, disarmed, demobilized and screened for absorption into a reformed security force.

In his report, Mr. Ban noted that ECCAS has agreed to raise the troop levels on the group from 700 to 2,000, and urged the international community to support the effort.

Mr. Ban downplayed the possibility of a UN peacekeeping force being deployed to the country, noting that while preliminary discussions have been held with Government authorities, "there are many questions to be answered."

In addition to the insecurity, the humanitarian situation in CAR is reaching "horrific proportions," Mr. Ban said, especially in the medical areas, access to food, basic needs and services and the high risk of famine, if the current situation persists.

Since the Séléka's December offensive, 1.2 million people have been cut off from essential services and human rights violations have been widespread. More than 200,000 people have been displaced and more than 49,000 people have fled the country due to the violence, Ms. Vogt said.

She added that as Mr. Ban underlines, the State capacity and infrastructure in the CAR was already at a rudimentary state before the rebellion, while health services were at an emergency level similar to situation seen in countries that have been in conflict for a long time. "Now even these facilities have all but disappeared," she noted.

According to figures cited from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), more than 80,000 people - including 57,000 children under five years of age - are estimated to be at risk of severe food insecurity during the upcoming lean season from now to September. The numbers are likely to go up as food prices rise and as farming continues to be disrupted, Ms. Vogt noted, which could eventually lead to an acute food and nutritional insecurity.

The annual humanitarian appeal for the CAR, totalling $129 million, is 29 per cent funded as of 10 May, Ms. Vogt said. At least $42 million additionally will be required to respond to the new needs triggered by the crisis.

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