On 12 November 2020, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) renewed the mandate of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) for the next 12 months. Less than two months ahead of presidential and legislative elections in the Central African Republic (CAR), the negotiation of UNSC resolution 2552 (2020) occurred in a climate of uncertainty resulting from increasing polarized political competition and fear of possible instability.
Last year, the Security Council added two priority tasks to MINUSCA’s mandate to respond to two significant political developments – specifically the signing of the February 2019 peace agreement (Accord Politique pour la Paix et Reconciliation en Republique Centrafricaine’ (APPR-RCA)) and the planned December 2020 national elections. This year, however, the Security Council showed little appetite for substantial changes to the Mission’s mandate. As a result, the Security Council’s efforts focused on strengthening MINUSCA’s role in supporting elections, leaving other priority tasks unchanged.
While stability in the overall structure and prioritization of the mandate can be viewed as a positive outcome this year, the Security Council missed a valuable opportunity to strengthen MINUSCA’s protection of civilians (POC) mandate, including by improving the Mission’s early warning and rapid response mechanisms during the upcoming election period and its risks of violence. In de-prioritizing follow-up on a special investigation into MINUSCA’s performance, the Council also lost an opportunity to improve mission accountability and performance which could have helped address challenges in responding to protection threats across the country.
MINUSCA’s top priority remains the protection of civilians in CAR
The Security Council’s decision to retain POC as the first priority task in the Mission’s mandate recognizes that civilians in CAR continue to suffer from a longstanding protection crisis. Due to the nature of the crisis in CAR – a puzzle of local conflicts rather than a coherent national conflict – the implementation of political measures contained in the APPR-RCA has failed so far to reduce the vulnerability of civilians or address drivers of violence that cyclically affect civilian populations. Instead, ongoing negotiations around these political measures and competition related to the upcoming elections have created new incentives for armed groups to fight among each other and to expand their territory. As a result, while the State struggles to regain authority outside the capital, three quarters of the country remain under the de facto control of armed groups.
As elections approach in a highly polarized political landscape, they could lead to further instability. The Mission has increased its focus on election security, together with the national security and defense forces. Election-related risks to civilians will expand an already long list of existing seasonal threats. The elections will coincide with the dry season, when increased movements of armed groups seeking to control mining sites, transhumance corridors, and commercial axis, expose civilians to great risks – particularly in areas of difficult access where the Mission has little or no presence. In a recent statement, 21 international non-governmental organizations operating in CAR expressed similar concerns. Given the existing and anticipated insecurity and threats to civilians, the Security Council was right to maintain POC as a priority mission task, sending a clear message that MINUSCA’s focus and resources should continue to prioritize the protection of civilians.
A missed opportunity to strengthen MINUSCA’s early warning and rapid response mechanisms
In 2019, the Security Council strengthened MINUSCA’s protection of civilians responsibilities by defining and clarifying some key protection activities. These activities, which included community engagement and civilian harm mitigation, remain highly relevant for MINUSCA in the year ahead. For example, effective community engagement will play a significant role in ensuring the Mission’s situational awareness and in supporting local-led mediation efforts. Language on civilian harm mitigation could help MINUSCA to mitigate harm that could result from its police and military operations – including host state security force operations that MINUSCA may support – to prevent and respond to election-related and seasonal insecurity.
As violence often erupts in multiple hotspots at one time, and in hard-to-reach areas, MINUSCA needs to make continuous improvements to its core protection activities to fill the longstanding operational and resource gaps affecting the Mission’s flexibility and mobility. Mission mandate renewals are important opportunities for the Security Council to provide guidance and encourage missions to continue to strengthen their protection of civilians’ efforts.
One way to bridge the necessity for quick adaptation to changing situations and the endemic lack of adequate resources to adopt a flexible posture is to improve the Mission’s early warning and rapid responses systems. Over the last three years (2016-2019), the Security Council took initial steps in this direction by including language in MINUSCA’s mandate to encourage the Mission to take a preventive posture to preempt escalation of violence rather than simply respond to incidents. In 2019, MINUSCA developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to support the prevention of and rapid response to emerging threats to civilians through early warning and rapid response mechanisms.
To encourage additional steps, the Security Council could have directed MINUSCA to further strengthen the Mission’s early warning and rapid response mechanisms by calling on the Mission to systematically record and analyze its response rate to early warnings. Recording the response rate could help MINUSCA more easily identify, analyze, and address gaps in existing early warning and response mechanisms, including insufficient resources. This same approach was used in the recent resolution re-authorizing the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
A mixed message on performance and accountability
UN peacekeeping mission mandate renewals are also an opportunity and have been used to provide context-specific guidance to missions to improve accountability and performance. Resolution 2552 does this by adding a new operative paragraph (OP) 37 requesting implementation of the new Security Council resolution on peacekeeper safety and security, resolution 2518 (2020). MINUSCA’s new mandate also expands the paragraph on gender parity (OP 39) by referencing the recent resolution 2538 (2020) on women in peacekeeping.
At the same time, however, the Security Council decided to remove the brief but critical OP 40 of the previous mandate, which encouraged MINUSCA “to continue implementing the recommendations of the independent investigation led by Brigadier General Amoussou to improve MINUSCA’s response to protect civilians.” The Amoussou investigation was conducted in response to MINUSCA’s failure to proactively respond to violence against civilians on several occasions in 2017 and provided recommendations to address shortcomings. CIVIC’s research in CAR suggests that many of the recommendations of the Amoussou report remain highly relevant today. Challenges persist in responding effectively to protection threats in many parts of the country.
The deletion of this language sends a signal that the Security Council is not concerned about following up on the results of the special investigation. It should be noted that the UN Secretariat never officially shared findings and recommendations of the investigation with the Security Council and as such, Security Council members may not be fully aware of what recommendations have and haven’t been implemented. The deletion of OP 40 highlights why it is important for the UN Secretariat to improve transparency around such investigations and at a minimum share the findings, recommendations, and remedial measures with Security Council members and concerned troop and police contributing countries.
Over the next year, MINUSCA will continue to have a strong mandate to carry out its comprehensive protection of civilians task, while also providing increasing political and technical support for national elections and the implementation of the peace agreement. The reluctance of the Security Council to further strengthen or clarify parts of the protection mandate should not prevent the Mission from refining its approach to protecting civilians over the coming months. Despite the Council shedding its reference to the Amoussou investigation, MINUSCA should also redouble efforts to improve performance and ensure accountability for protecting civilians at all levels of the Mission.
 For example, since May, over 15,000 civilians have been displaced as a result of violence perpetrated by the group 3R in the North-West, where MINUSCA and FACA launched a military operation to respond to increased threats to civilians. – Report of the Secretary General (S/2020/994), October 2020.  S/RES/2531 (2020) OP 28(c)(ii)