Exactly four months ahead of 27 December elections in the Central African Republic, the UN's Independent expert on human rights in that country has called on all sides - with the support of the international community - to ensure the vote can go ahead smoothly, and will be free and fair.
"For the elections to be peaceful, they must be preceded by a ceasefire and cooperation among all sides," said Yao Agbetse, Independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic (CAR). "Time is running short and there is much to be done in the four months before polling day."
"After so many years of instability, it is essential that this democratic exercise allow Central Africans to vote freely, to decide the direction their country should take, and strengthen the foundations for a return to peace, reconciliation, and respect for human rights," he said.
To ensure that is the case, Agbetse issued a series of wide-ranging recommendations for presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020-2021.
He called on armed groups to immediately lay down their arms as they committed to do under the 2019 Peace Agreement, to fully cooperate in the organization of the election and to respect the results.
Noting that the government controls less than 50% of the country amid ongoing political tension, Agbetse insisted on the reactivation of the existing inclusive dialogue space as an appropriate forum for discussions in which the government, the opposition and civil society organizations can agree on essential issues. "This kind of discussion is a prerequisite for restoring the confidence of the various actors in a peaceful way towards free and transparent elections that respect human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The independent expert recalls that any recourse to violence and any action to destabilize the electoral process entails the responsibility of the perpetrators, principals and accomplices, including before the Special Criminal Court or the International Criminal Court, depending on the circumstances. "I call on the guarantors and facilitators of the Peace Agreement and the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council to take diligent action against the armed groups in order to guarantee the security of persons and property throughout the national territory," he said.
He called on CAR authorities to do everything possible to ensure inclusive, free, credible and transparent elections. "Fair access to the public media is an indispensable component of fair elections," he said, adding that the independent media regulatory body, the High Council for Communication (Haut Conseil de la Communication - HCC), must be given the legal and technical resources it needs to conduct its monitoring activities, including on online and social media.
More than 1.1 people out of the country's five million were forced to flee their homes during the civil war, and Agbetse called on authorities to make sure refugees and displaced people will be able to vote.
He thanked the United Nations Integrated Multidimensional Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) peacekeeping mission, the United Nations country team as well as the international partners for their services and support especially considering constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I call on the international community to continue and strengthen its support for the organization of this and future presidential and legislative elections in the country," he said.