UN renews CAR mission amid growing feud over Russian mercenaries 

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Monday, 15 November 2021 17:58

A United Nations peacekeeping soldier provides security during a food aid delivery in the village of Makunzi Wali, Central African Republic
A United Nations peacekeeping soldier provides security during a food aid delivery by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and world food program in the village of Makunzi Wali, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The UN Security Council voted Friday to renew its peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) despite a bitter feud over the role of Russian mercenaries in the country.

The vote on the French-drafted resolution was 13 to 0, with Russia and China abstaining, in the latest sign of growing tensions with western powers over how to engage with the continent.

Last year’s renewal vote was unanimous.

The French resolution extends the mission of the 7-year-old Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) until 15 November 2022, while maintaining current troop levels of up to 14,400 military personnel, 3,020 police personnel and 108 corrections officers.

At the heart of the Security Council dispute is Russia’s military support for the government in Bangui, particularly its use of Wagner Group mercenaries who have been popping up in Libya, Sudan and other African countries in recent years.

It also contains language supporting the protection of civilians and the government’s new Special Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, following the elections that saw President Faustin-Archange Touadera re-elected in March.

The renewal drew praise from human rights advocates. “The new mandate strengthens some of the provisions around the protection of civilians, as well as the human rights work MINUSCA conducts,” said Josh Jorgensen, the UN and peacekeeping adviser at the Washington-based Center for Civilians in Conflict.

“These adjustments are a recognition of the changed context in CAR and should help the mission protect civilians from the many sources of harm they are facing,” he said.

Touadera is credited with agreeing to a unilateral cease-fire last month, but in the long-running fight with rebels linked to deposed President Francois Bozize, he is also accused of human rights violations and cracking down on political opponents.

“The democratic space in CAR is shrinking,” says a human rights advocate in CAR. “[…] so there is this sort of debate over whether stability needs to be achieved through more inclusive ways, or through a very strong state at the expense of citizens’ freedom and rights.”

Spotlight on Russia

Much of the western ire has been aimed at Russia, who Bangui invited into the country to help fight the insurgency.

In August, a joint report by the UN Human Rights Office and MINUSCA found that the Central African Armed Forces, internal security forces as well as Russian military instructors and mercenaries were responsible for almost half of 526 documented incidents of human rights abuses between the July 2020 to June 2021.

We call on both the Central African Republic and Russian governments to fully investigate abuses by Russian-supported actors and Central African soldiers and to hold those responsible accountable.

A group of armed groups called the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement was deemed responsible for 54 % of incidents, including attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers.

Last month, UN experts called on the CAR government to “end all relationships with private military and security personnel, particularly the Wagner Group.” The US echoed similar sentiments during Friday’s vote, while bemoaning that the resolution was silent on alleged Russian abuses in the conflict.

Deputy US Representative to the UN Richard Mills said his country considered the phrase “all parties to the conflict” to cover the Wagner Group. Russian contractors, he said, “must respect international humanitarian law, and it is imperative that they respect the human rights of all Central Africans. We call on both the Central African Republic and Russian governments to fully investigate abuses by Russian-supported actors and Central African soldiers and to hold those responsible accountable.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s deputy UN envoy Anna Evstigneeva denounced what she called “unfounded, egregious accusations” against Russian “specialists” in the country, without ever mentioning Wagner. She said Russian advisers had been invited into the country by Bangui and credited them with helping ”stabilise” the situation.

Evstigneeva said Russia abstained because the resolution failed to include “a number of fundamental points” requested by Touadera’s government, which she did not enumerate. She noted accusations against UN peacekeepers, such as sexual abuse, diamond trafficking and other scandals.

“We believe that a first step that should have been taken a long time ago is taking [into] consideration the consent of the host country and establishing mutually respectful trust with Bangui, without which it’s not possible to fully implement the peacekeeping mission’s mandate,” she said.

The Central African Republic declined to comment at the UN meeting.

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