This week, as part of a broader tour of several African nations, the UN Security Council had a low-key visit in the Central African Republic, the first of its kind since the country descended into conflict two years ago. This visit comes as France – one of the CAR’s key international partners – begins its monthly rotating presidency of the Security Council. The visit, led by French ambassador François Delattre – was meant assess the progress made in stabilizing the country as well as the first months of operation of the UN peacekeeping operation, MINUSCA, launched in September 2014.
The Security Council delegation met with the head of the transitional authority, interim president Catherine Samba-Panza, and also traveled briefly to Bria, a town in the still insecure northeastern part of the country. In spite of the high level nature of the delegation, the 36 hour express visit received little attention from international media, revealing once again how under the radar this conflict remains as far as the international community is concerned. Meanwhile, the nature of the peacekeeping landscape continues to evolve. While the French Sangaris mission, present on the ground since December 2013, continues to wind down (this week, 300 of the 2,000 French troops will be returning home), the UN peacekeeping mission is working towards reaching its capacity of 5,200 forces.
One of the concerns raised by French ambassador Delattre during the tour was the need to restore state authority through the rebuilding of the Central African armed forces, hinting at the possibility of exemption measures which would allow the state to purchase armament internationally, despite the existing arms embargo. Indeed, as significant amounts of weaponry have fueled insecurity and violence in the CAR, the embargo is meant to reduce the flow of arms into the country. The succesful rebuilding of an effective, professional and trustworthy army, particularly in the context of eventually devolving the responsibility of the maintenance of peace and security to state actors, is crucial not just to the CAR’s long-term stability, but also its sovereignty.
However, this objective, as important as it is, shouldn’t be placed ahead of the short-term need to ensure that the upcoming national reconciliation forum – to be held this month – is representative and inclusive, and charts a path for free and fair elections to take place. International peacekeepers – as imperfect as they might be – are the best short to medium term solution to maintain a certain degree of security in the CAR. Strengthening the authority of the state is indeed an essential task, the success of which depends not only a reliable army, but also on its ability to represent the various majority and minority interests in the CAR – a delicate balancing exercise.
Prior to the UNSC delegation’s visit, Human Rights Watch released a statement exhorting council members to use this unique opportunity to speak out forcefully against the atrocities committed in the CAR. In particular, HRW highlighted the importance for the Security Council to denounce impunity and send a strong, clear message that perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity would be punished, particularly given the continued push by the ICC for a special tribunal to be set up in the CAR.
The UNSC visit to the CAR was the chance to focus the world’s attention on the plight of millions who have been living in fear and insecurity for years, and to signal the Council members’ commitment to supporting peace, reconciliation and justice in the Central African Republic. But the crisis in the CAR–while certainly better than it was a few months ago–is grinding on. The international community has a key role to play in laying the foundation for lasting peace and reconciliation. The historic visit by the Security Council, though little remarked in western media, was an important demonstration of global solidarity for CAR.