The Security Council today asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit his recommendations by the middle of next month on the possibility and scope of a formal United Nations presence in eastern Chad and the northeast of the Central African Republic (CAR) – where UN humanitarian officials are alarmed about the impact of increasingly frequent rebel attacks.
In a presidential statement issued after yesterday’s briefing by Lamine Cissé, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the CAR, and Toby Lanzer, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator to the same country, the Council called on Mr. Ban to deploy an advance mission to the CAR and Chad as soon as possible “to accelerate preparations for an early decision on the possible deployment of a multidimensional UN presence.”
The statement, read out by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency this month, noted the Chadian and Central African Governments are both in favour of such a mission.
Recent clashes between Government forces and rebel groups in the two countries have made their common border area highly unstable, and the situation has been exacerbated by the brutal conflict in Sudan’s neighbouring Darfur region. Thousands of refugees from each of the three nations have been forced to cross borders to try to escape fighting.
A technical assessment mission from the UN is expected to travel to the affected region within the next two weeks to complete its observations after an earlier visit had to be curtailed because of security concerns.
Once that mission is complete, Mr. Churkin said the Council hopes Mr. Ban will be able to submit “updated and finalized recommendations on the size, structure and mandate of a UN multidimensional presence.”
The world body already has a presence in the CAR through its Peacebuilding Office (known by its French acronym, BONUCA), established in 2000 with a mandate that includes supporting national reconciliation, strengthening democracy and promoting good governance. Its mandate runs through the end of this year.
Speaking to reporters today, Mr. Lanzer stressed that although the CAR had made some healthy progress on the political and economic fronts over the past year, the humanitarian situation in both the northwest and northeast had become increasingly grave.
More than 150,000 people are internally displaced, often widely dispersed in bushland outside towns as they try to escape “wave after wave after wave” of attacks by unidentified rebels and other armed groups, many of which have torched homes or even entire villages.
“It’s a violence which is unlike that previously seen in the country,” said Mr. Lanzer, who added that the preliminary findings of a recent UN-conducted survey on gender-based violence in the CAR indicate 38 per cent of women have been sexually assaulted. More than 40 per cent of those victims have then been banned from their communities or widely stigmatized.
The maternal mortality statistics in the northern CAR are also “deeply, deeply worrying,” Mr. Lanzer said, with 1355 mothers per 100,000 dying, a rate that is twice as high as that for Sudan.
The CAR ranks fourth last on the UN Human Development Index, and Mr. Lanzer said the combination of poverty and instability caused by the fighting had led to distressing scenes where some Central Africans were living in bushland without any clothing or blankets.
“It’s urgent now that we are in a position to provide the kind of assistance that will keep people alive,” he said.
A 15-member team from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) today left the capital Bangui for the remote northeast to assess the situation in some of the areas hardest hit by violence in recent months. Their efforts at distributing humanitarian relief have been hampered by the lack of paved roads and other basic infrastructure.
At the end of November, the UN appealed for $50 million to provide emergency assistance – including food aid, water and sanitation programmes, vaccination schemes and the distribution of seeds and tools – to one million people affected by fighting. So far just $184,000 has been awarded through the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
“There are compelling humanitarian reasons that are more than enough of a justification for countries to engage, but I think one of the difficulties here is that we are surrounded by Sudan, the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and Chad and those are places that are perhaps higher on the international agenda,” said Mr. Lanzer.
“I think in that sense the CAR really is squeezed between these three countries that tend to get a lot more attention.”