With the United Nations mission in Chad and Central African Republic (CAR) wrapping up by the end of the year, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that the humanitarian challenges are immense and some security issues give rise to concern.
The mission, known as MINURCAT, set up by the Security Council in 2007 to help protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian aid to thousands of people uprooted due to insecurity in the two countries and neighbouring Sudan, is being terminated at the request of the Chadian Government, which has pledged full responsibility for protecting civilians on its territory.
“The humanitarian needs in eastern Chad are immense,” Mr. Ban writes in his latest report to the Security Council on the mission, stressing that nearly 600,000 people – 255,000 refugees from the conflict in the Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan, more than 137,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs), some 43,000 returnees, and a host population of 150,000 – depend on assistance from 70 humanitarian organizations.
“The destruction of more than 104,000 hectares of crops during the rainy season rendered the population vulnerable in southern, central and eastern Chad. Across the Sahelian belt in Chad, an estimated 1.6 million people now face food insecurity and malnutrition,” he adds, calling on donors to urgently provide resources to meet the needs of refugees and IDPs and support programmes to promote durable solutions for them.
On CAR, he cites the recent attack by an armed opposition group in the Birao region, which led to the withdrawal of national security forces. “I am concerned by the limited capacity of the security forces in Birao to fend off potential attacks on their positions now that MINURCAT has departed,” he writes, urging bilateral partners to respond positively to the Government’s request for assistance.
He stresses the unique nature of MINURCAT, a multi-dimensional presence that had a maximum strength of 5,500 peacekeepers, in that it was devoted solely to helping protect civilians, without an explicit political mandate, and had tenuous host-Government consent since Chad repeatedly expressed a strong preference that any international presence be civilian in nature.
In requesting that it be removed, Chad pledged to take on responsibility for the protection of civilians with its Détachement intégré de sécurité (DIS), an integrated security unit which the UN has been helping to train and support.
But Mr. Ban writes: “With the Mission’s operations winding down, the ability to independently verify any progress made by the Government towards attaining the benchmarks established by the Security Council for the protection of civilians is extremely limited.
“The Mission is no longer in a position to visit the majority of refugee camps and sites for internally displaced persons or to observe the performance of the national security institutions, including DIS, providing protection for civilians.”
He adds with regard to CAR that security in the north-eastern region remains “stable, yet fragile,” with the latest UN findings showing that the risks are attributable to a variety of governance issues – ethnic, economic and political.
“Despite the notorious menace of LRA (rebel Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army), the threat posed by this single group is not assessed to be as significant as other internal factors,” he says. “The major source of insecurity comes from banditry and transients who bring arms to sell, but the most urgent threat stems from armed internal political opposition groups – especially the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP).”
Listing the lessons learned from the mission, Mr. Ban stresses that even when freely given, the consent of a host Government should be nurtured to ensure sustainability as consent is reversible, especially when conditions in the country and/or the sub-region change significantly.
“An operation such as MINURCAT, conceived and deployed under stress, in disregard of the foregoing observations, can become hostage to pressures and contradictions that will distract it from its intended objectives, impair its overall performance and erode its credibility,” he says.
He also notes that the mission suffered from the lack of a communications strategy and was therefore unable to properly manage the expectations of the Government and to some extent humanitarian actors, impairing its ability to narrow the gap between expectations and reality.
At the same time, he credits the mission with leaving behind a pool of skilled and trained national professionals whose experience with MINURCAT should benefit the development of the country.
“The deployment and conduct of operations in difficult, remote and landlocked areas such as eastern Chad and the north-eastern area of the Central African Republic is itself an achievement,” he adds.
“Notwithstanding the severe environmental and operational challenges, the MINURCAT force and DIS have managed to provide a measure of security for refugees, internally displaced persons and humanitarian actors. Local populations and beneficiaries of humanitarian aid generally expressed a positive view of DIS. Interviews highlighted the fact that the MINURCAT force built the trust of the population, especially women, in ‘uniformed men’.”