On 15 November 2019, the Security Council unanimously adopted S/RES/2499 and renewed the mandate of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). While the protection of civilians (POC) remains the Mission’s first priority task for the year ahead, additional tasks have been added by the Council to support the peace process and elections. In the context of strained resources, Member States should ensure adequate support for MINUSCA to avoid the Mission making trade-offs that undermine its ability to protect civilians.

Despite the signature of a peace agreement between the Central African Government and 14 armed groups in February 2019, civilians continue to suffer from ongoing violence and pervasive insecurity in the country. While the death toll related to the conflict may have decreased since February, dozens of violations of the peace agreement are recorded on a weekly basis,1See for example UN INFO, ‘En RCA, entre 50 et 70 violations de l’accord de paix sont rapportées chaque semaine (ONU)’. https://news.un.org/fr/story/2019/06/1046021. new armed actors have emerged,2In May 2019, a splinter faction of the Rassemblement Patriotique pour le Renouveau de la Centrafrique (RPRC) group established a new armed group called the ‘Parti pour le Rassemblement de la Nation Centrafricaine’ (PRNC) in Vakaga. The group has already been active in fighting along the side of Le Mouvement des Libérateurs Centrafricains pour la Justice (MLCJ), for example in recent clashes against the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique (FPRC) that occurred in September and October 2019. new areas of the country have experienced violent conflict,3The destabilization of Vakaga Prefecture, following clashes between MLCJ/PRNC coalition and FPRC, is the most worrisome development. As a result of MLCJ/PRNC attacks on the FPRC positions in Birao, Tissi, and Am Dafok, more than 25,000 people have been displaced and are now leaving in precarious conditions in IDP camps in Birao. and targeted attacks have been carried out against civilians.4In May 2019, the Retour, Réclamation, Réhabilitation (3R) group deliberately killed more than 40 people in the Ouham-Pendé Prefecture; in September the same 3R group detained and tortured civilians, including local authorities in Nana-Mambéré. In Ouaka and Basse Kotto, at least 20 people have lost their lives as result of clashes between Anti-Balaka and Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) groups in the last months. Amid this challenging context, MINUSCA continues to be the only actor capable of providing security and protecting civilians in many parts of the country.

When the Security Council passed Resolution 2499, renewing MINUSCA’s mandate, it made two changes that could impact whether and how the Mission will protect civilians. First, the Security Council clarified how MINUSCA should protect civilians. Second, while the Security Council maintained POC as the Mission’s priority task,5The protection of civilians has been MINUSCA’s priority task since the mission was established in 2014. it added other tasks without adding personnel. The Mission’s new responsibilities have been added at a time when peacekeeping mission budgets are being cut, which could undermine the Mission’s ability to protect civilians in the coming years.

I. Clarifying POC responsibilities

Responding to all threats against civilians

In the POC section of MINUSCA’s mandate, the Security Council provided clearer guidance to the Mission by recognizing that sources of violence against civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) can arise from different actors. Resolution 2499 authorizes MINUSCA to anticipate, deter, and stop, “all armed groups, signatories of the Peace Agreement and non-signatories, and local militias from inflicting violence on the populations.”6S/Res/2448, Para 32(a)(ii), November 15, 2019. MINUSCA’s previous mandate, authorized under Resolution 2448, did not include a list of actors that may pose threats to civilians.7S/Res/2448, Para 39(a)(i and ii), December 13, 2018.

Recognizing the multiple sources of threats and violence against civilians sends a message to all actors that they are not immune from Mission efforts to protect just because they are parties to the peace agreement, which could serve as a deterrent. It also sends a message to MINUSCA that they should determine where they focus political and uniformed presence based on risk assessments of violence against civilians when weighing competing priorities within the mandate. This is particularly important as threats to civilians may change as political competition between actors increases in the lead up to the 2020 elections.

Strengthening protection through community engagement

Another important element of the new MINUSCA mandate is the Council’s emphasis on community engagement. The Council tasks MINUSCA to ensure that its efforts to protect civilians from the actors mentioned above are done in consultation with local communities, and further emphasizes the importance of supporting local mediation efforts to prevent escalation of violence. Resolution 2499 also maintains important elements of MINUSCA’s previous mandate, particularly on the need to enhance the Mission’s interaction with civilians, and to strengthen local community engagement and empowerment. These are essential tasks given both the localized nature of conflict in CAR and the ongoing challenges with the implementation of critically important sub-national aspects of the peace agreement.

Mitigating civilian harm

The last welcome change to the POC task in MINUSCA’s mandate is more detailed language on how the Mission should ensure that its own operations do not cause unintentional harm to civilians. MINUSCA’s previous mandate had already recognized the risks of unintentional harm that could arise from the Mission’s operations.8S/Res/2448, Para 39(a)(ii), December 13, 2018. However, Resolution 2499 spells out the steps that the Mission should take to effectively implement this task during military and police operations by “tracking, preventing, minimizing, and addressing civilian harm,” including during operations in support of national security forces.9S/Res/2499, Para 32(a)(ii), November 15,2019. Since 2013, the responsibility of mitigating harm to civilians has been included in a number of mandates authorizing UN peacekeeping missions and is integrated into UN policy, such as the previous and newly revised DPO policy, “The Protection of Civilians in United Nations Peacekeeping” issued November 1, 2019. MINUSCA has already taken explicit steps to include civilian harm mitigation in its own internal policies and procedures. The renewed mandate will require the Mission to strengthen policies and mechanisms in this area.

II. Matching mandates with resources and capabilities

The Security Council made two other significant amendments to MINUSCA’s priority tasks in Resolution 2499.  These include MINUSCA supporting the implementation of the peace agreement10S/Res/2499, Para 32(b), November 15, 2019. and assisting the “CAR authorities in the preparation and delivery of peaceful presidential, legislative and local elections of 2020/2021.”11S/Res/2499, Para 32(c), November 15, 2019.

The addition of these new priority tasks is understandable. The Mission has already been assisting with the implementation of the peace agreement. Moreover, Security Council members likely see few other options beyond MINUSCA that could provide the support needed for the agreement’s implementation and the elections. However, these tasks have been added to MINUSCA’s mandate without the provision of any additional resources and capabilities.  This is another example of the Council not following through on commitments “to pursue clear, focused, sequenced, prioritized and achievable mandates by the Security Council matched by appropriate resources,” in the context of the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) reform initiative.

The failure to commit additional resources is problematic for two additional – and more important – reasons. First, in July of this year, the UN’s Fifth Committee reduced the budget of MINUSCA by $20M USD compared to the previous year. In fact, MINUSCA took the biggest cut of any peacekeeping mission – $15.4M – to its proposed budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. This has compounded the Mission’s long-running resource and capability constraints, and raises questions as to whether MINUSCA has what it needs to deliver on an expanded mandate. 

Second, without additional support to deliver on additional priority tasks, the Mission could get caught between the expectations and pressure of both international and national actors to deliver on political elements of its mandate, forcing potentially difficult trade-offs between priority tasks, including the protection of civilians. The provision of security, operational, and logistical support to the elections, including the facilitation of access to remote areas, for example, could be problematic for a peacekeeping operation already struggling with flexibility and mobility, particularly in responding to protection threats.

To avoid such trade-offs, Member States, particularly Security Council members, and the Secretariat will need to find ways to ensure MINUSCA has the resources and capabilities it requires to implement Resolution 2499. This will be difficult in the current political and financial climate facing the UN and its peacekeeping operations. But this is what is required to ensure MINUSCA can succeed in protecting civilians and helping the people of the Central African Republic bring a peaceful and sustainable end to the conflict.


[1] See for example UN INFO, ‘En RCA, entre 50 et 70 violations de l’accord de paix sont rapportées chaque semaine (ONU)’.  https://news.un.org/fr/story/2019/06/1046021.

[2] In May 2019, a splinter faction of the Rassemblement Patriotique pour le Renouveau de la Centrafrique (RPRC) group established a new armed group called the ‘Parti pour le Rassemblement de la Nation Centrafricaine’ (PRNC) in Vakaga. The group has already been active in fighting along the side of Le Mouvement des Libérateurs Centrafricains pour la Justice (MLCJ), for example in recent clashes against the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique (FPRC) that occurred in September and October 2019.

[3] The destabilization of Vakaga Prefecture, following clashes between MLCJ/PRNC coalition and FPRC, is the most worrisome development. As a result of MLCJ/PRNC attacks on the FPRC positions in Birao, Tissi, and Am Dafok, more than 25,000 people have been displaced and are now leaving in precarious conditions in IDP camps in Birao. 

[4] In May 2019, the Retour, Réclamation, Réhabilitation (3R) group deliberately killed more than 40 people in the Ouham-Pendé Prefecture; in September the same 3R group detained and tortured civilians, including local authorities in Nana-Mambéré. In Ouaka and Basse Kotto, at least 20 people have lost their lives as result of clashes between Anti-Balaka and Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) groups in the last months.

[5] The protection of civilians has been MINUSCA’s priority task since the mission was established in 2014. 

[6] S/Res/2448, Para 32(a)(ii), November 15, 2019.

[7] S/Res/2448, Para 39(a)(i and ii), December 13, 2018.

[8] S/Res/2448, Para 39(a)(ii), December 13, 2018.

[9] S/Res/2499, Para 32(a)(ii), November 15,2019. Since 2013, the responsibility of mitigating harm to civilians has been included in a number of mandates authorizing UN peacekeeping missions and is integrated into UN policy, such as the previous and newly revised DPO policy, “The Protection of Civilians in United Nations Peacekeeping” issued November 1, 2019.

[10] S/Res/2499, Para 32(b), November 15, 2019.

[11] S/Res/2499, Para 32(c), November 15, 2019.

 

Image courtesy of UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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