In response to escalating violence and widespread human rights abuses in CAR, the Security Council unanimously adopted UNSCR 2127 on 5 December 2013 which: 1) imposed an embargo on the supply of arms and related material of all types with certain exceptions (UN authorized international military forces and CAR security forces, if approved in advance by the Sanctions Committee); 2) authorized states to seize and dispose of prohibited items; and 3) established a Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts to monitor sanctions implementation. It also expressed the UN’s “strong intent” to consider imposing “targeted measures, including travel bans, and asset freezes, against individuals who act to undermine the peace, stability and security.”
The resolution also authorized the deployment of the Africa-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) and French troops already present in the country to protect civilians, stabilize the country and create conditions conducive to providing humanitarian assistance, and neutralize armed groups. There was fear that the communal violence could turn into genocide and the Secretary-General was asked to undertake contingency preparations for MISCA's possible transformation into a UN peacekeeping operation.
Following street battles between Muslim ex-Séléka and Christian anti-Balaka militias in the CAR capital, Bangui, in December 2013, the ECCAS summoned President Djotodia and his Prime Minister to the Chadian capital on 9 January 2014 and forced them to resign. The National Transition Council, which was set up as a temporary parliament after the 2012/2013 Séleka coup, validated the resignations and on 20 January 2014, designated a new head of state, Catherine Samba-Panza, former mayor of Bangui. An International Commission of Inquiry was appointed to investigate human rights abuses. UNSCR 2134 was adopted on 28 January 2014: 1) extending BINUCA; 2) authorizing the use of force by EU troops; and 3) authorizing travel bans and asset freezes against individuals undermining peace, threatening the transitional political process, and committing atrocities.
In February 2014, sectarian violence by Christian anti-Balaka militias against the minority Muslim population increased. On 10 April 2014, UNSCR 2149 was adopted, replacing the Africa-led military support mission to CAR (MISCA) with a UN PKO (MINUSCA), giving it authority to take “urgent temporary measures” to maintain peace and security as well as to monitor the arms imports embargo implementation, including inspection, seizure, and disposal of any such arms.
In May 2014, the first individual designations (asset freeze and travel ban) were made on 3 individuals, one on each side of the conflict (ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka), and the third on former President Bozizé, who was allegedly trying to undermine the government and return to power from his exile in Uganda.
Peace talks were convened in Brazzaville in late July 2014, and a ceasefire involving the ex-Séléka and the anti-Balaka was signed, but largely ignored subsequently. In December 2014, there were reports of a continuation of gross human rights violations and a resurgence of violence by both groups, not only in Bangui, but also throughout the country. The transitional government was having difficulty securing control over the country, DDRR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Repatriation) was limited, and according to the Panel of Experts, armed groups were financing themselves with taxes on export of diamonds and gold.
UNSCR 2196 (22 January 2015) extended the sanctions and mandate of the Committee and its Panel of Experts for another year, and in late January 2015, another truce was signed (this time in Nairobi) between anti-Balaka and ex-Séléka officials. Once again, however, it appeared to have little effect on the ground, as violence continued.
Additional designations were made on 20 August 2015 (3 more individuals and one entity, a diamond mining company). Again, the designations were made on both anti-Balaka and former Séléka. Presidential elections were initially scheduled for October 2015, however, an escalation in violence in September and October 2015 led to their postponement. International peacekeepers succeeded in halting pro-Muslim ex-Séléka and pro-Christian anti-Balaka marches towards Bangui, and the visit of Pope Francis to Bangui in late November 2015 prompted a short-lived period of dialogue between Christian and Muslim communities in Bangui. A referendum on the adoption of a new constitution was held in December 2015. The electoral process received the support of former Séléka group leader Noureddine Adam and the new constitution was approved by 93 percent of voters. Nevertheless, Adam proclaimed the Autonomous Republic of Logone the day after the plebiscite, announcing a possible future attempt at creating an independent state. MINUSCA threatened to employ force, if necessary, to resist any separatist attempt.
The first round of presidential and legislative elections was held in December 2015. The electoral process was sullied by sporadic episodes of violence and allegations of electoral fraud and misconduct. The National Electoral Authority decided to hold new rounds of legislative elections in February 2016, with run-offs in March 2016. Independent candidate Faustin Archange Touadera, who ran on a platform to “make the CAR a united country,” was elected with 63 percent of the votes cast.
While there was some improvement in the security situation in early 2016 following the election of President Touadera, it was short-lived. The ex-Séléka factions maintained their fighting capacity and continued to control large portions of territory. The anti-Balaka took on a lower profile role, since it was easier to integrate some of them into the new government’s DDRR program, but they remained actively engaged in conflict in some areas of the north.
The beginning of 2016 also saw an increase in activity of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the south-eastern part of the country. The Panel of Experts report from December 2015 argued that Joseph Kony and his inner circle encouraged military commanders of LRA to loot and poach inside the CAR, Uganda, and northern DRC from an enclave bordering South Sudan and the CAR. Chadian military forces as well as Sudanese poachers, often competing with the LRA, have also trespassed into CAR territory committing human rights violations against Central African nationals and illegally extracting natural resources such as ivory, gold and diamonds from the country. In March 2016, the Sanctions Committee added the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony to the CAR sanctions list.
Anti-Balaka, ex-Séléka, and the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) insurgents which controlled parts of the country, continued to extract illicit revenue from trade in natural resources and agricultural products, taxation, and racketeering. Cross-border trafficking of arms (particularly from Cameroon) as well as looting of improperly stored weapons stockpiles of the CAR security forces became the largest sources of arms for non-governmental forces. The government attempted to engage in dialogue with armed groups and establish state authority throughout the CAR while engaging in DDRR.
A Panel of Experts report noted persistent violations of the UN travel ban, with sanctioned ex-Séléka leader Nourredine Adam travelling to Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda, and former President Bozize travelling twice to South Africa, once to Kenya and to the DRC. The LRA and two more individuals associated with the LRA (Kony family members) were added to the list in 2016, and an additional name was added in 2017. The Panel of Experts observed in early 2016 that sanctioned individuals continued to represent a major threat to peace and stability in the CAR, and that some sanctioned individuals were elected as members of the new parliament, representing a significant setback to the international community's fight against impunity.
Sanctions did not appear to be effective in constraining the violence during 2016. The Panel of Experts reported arms trafficking from Chad, the LRA continued to attack civilian populations in the southeast, and while the Panel argued that individual targeted measures had an “important signaling effect,” they were poorly implemented. Even the CAR judiciary failed to issue arrest warrants for known perpetrators of violence (including against UN peacekeepers). By the end of 2016, some government officials began to blame the arms embargo for the deteriorating security situation in the country, claiming that not enough arms and munitions were available to government military and police forces (despite the presence of conditional exemptions for the government). There were demonstrations against MINUSCA on UN Da7y in October 2016.
A ceasefire agreement mediated by the EU and the Catholic Church was signed by a number of armed groups in Rome in June 2017. This was the fifth such agreement signed in four years, but no real ceasefire ensued. The Panel reported that most of the territory of the country was under the control of various armed groups: in the northwest, ex-Séléka factions and anti-Balaka militias, in the east, the LRA remained active, and in areas around Bangui, anti-Balaka groups and various self-defense groups. Despite the presence of nearly 12,000 peacekeepers, half a million people were displaced from their homes by the violence. Arms continued to flow into the country from Chad, Sudan, and the DRC, travel ban violations continued, and the CAR government itself refused to implement the asset freeze against listed individuals elected to office or holding senior government positions. The African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR and the roadmap it produced in Libreville in July 2017 raised hopes about a possible mediated settlement, but they were not realized.
The security situation continued to deteriorate in late 2017. The Christian anti-Balaka groups continued to target Muslim populations, and self-defense groups affiliated with the anti-Balaka engaged in incitement against Muslims, raising concerns about religious-based conflict. The UN itself became the focus of attacks, and there was no improvement in the enforcement of sanctions. Violence between Christians and Muslims flared in Bangui during the first half of 2018, and attacks on UN peacekeepers continued. The International Crisis Group argued in May 2018 that the peacekeepers had failed to change the balance of power on the ground, the government had failed to halt inter-communal tensions in the country, and that competing mediation initiatives had complicated the situation.
In addition to the AU-mediated talks, Russia and Sudan convened meetings with the parties to the conflict in Khartoum in July and August 2018. Following two particularly violent confrontations, both involving ex-Séléka groups, in October and November 2018, the AU was galvanized to incorporate the Russian-Sudanese initiative into its own mediation efforts. This culminated in the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR (“the agreement”) between the government of CAR and fourteen armed groups, signed in Bangui on 6 February 2019.
Under the agreement, the CAR agreed to form a more inclusive government, which entailed the controversial inclusion of individuals and groups accused of attacks on civilians. Armed groups gained one-third of the ministerial posts in the new cabinet and two prefects (out of sixteen) in areas under their control. The agreement also called for the application of sanctions on those who violate its terms and who commit acts of violence, and it created “Mixed Special Security Units” to achieve DDR and SSR goals.
One year after the signing of the agreement, the SG’s Report of 14 February 2020 argued that although intermittent acts of violence continue, there has been an overall decrease in violence in the country and an extension of state authority to all sixteen prefects in the country. It warned, however, that there was a “persistent lack of good faith” among the parties, that the disarmament and demobilization goals had not been met, and that there had been no progress on SSR. As part of the agreement, former presidents Bozizé and Djotadia have both returned to the country. Bozizé retains some influence over the anti-Balaka and Djotadia over the ex-Séléka factions. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission met for the first time on 6 June 2019.
The Security Council passed resolutions in January 2018 and 2019 renewing the existing sanctions for one year, but when the renewals came up again in January 2020, it only agreed to a six month extension to July 2020. The government of the CAR has been requesting a lifting of the arms embargo, and although UNSCR 2507 (31 January 2020) contained language easing the arms embargo, both China and Russia abstained, arguing that they wanted to see a further easing of the arms restrictions and that a one-year renewal to January 2021 would fall in between the presidential elections scheduled for December 2020 and the legislative elections scheduled for March 2021. When the six month extension came to a conclusion in July 2020, the Security Council extended the measures for another year in a unanimous vote on UNSCR 2536 (28 July 2020). The resolution eased restrictions on arms imports for government forces and its text enabled a further step-by-step easing of the measures, based on a review of key benchmarks, before the end of June 2021 (an apparent compromise among members of the Security Council).
The most recent Panel of Experts Report (8 July 2020) concluded that while there was a nominal commitment to implement the 2019 Political Agreement, armed groups continue to impede the restoration of state authority and have engaged in many violations of the agreement. It also expressed concerns that although most of the fighting in the past year has been among armed groups, the prospects that former President Bozizé might be a candidate for president “triggered a rise in tensions” between the government and the opposition. According to the Panel, the upcoming elections have created an incentive for armed groups to expand their presence on the ground in the hope of improving their chances of influencing the outcome of the elections. Arms embargo violations continued in 2020, along with attacks on peacekeeping forces (with MINUSCA fatalities), exploitation of natural resources by armed groups, the abuse of social media by individuals associated with the government to defame UN personnel, and travel ban violations by Nourredine Adam (former leader of Séléka and alleged director of ex-Séléka).
Coerce individuals and groups to cease committing acts of violence and threatening the political process of stabilization and reconciliation.
Constrain parties (especially former Séléka and anti-Balaka militia groups, as well as the LRA) from engaging in violence.
Signal support for regional and UN mediation and peacekeeping operations (AU/France/EU, UN (MINUSCA), and ECCAS)
Arms imports embargo (conditionally exempting Government forces with Committee approval). Travel ban against individuals and assets freeze against individuals or entities undermining peace and stability, threatening transitional agreements, or fueling violence (from January 2014).
Current and maximum number of designees during the episode: 12 individuals (former President Bozizé, 3 ex-Séléka leaders, 3 anti-Balaka leaders, 2 heads of armed groups (1 linked to ex-Séléka), and 3 LRA) and 2 entities (a Belgian-based diamond firm and the LRA).
UN sanctions can have some non-discriminating impact on the general population, since they include arms embargoes, diplomatic sanctions, and/or restrictions on the conduct of particular activities or the export of specific commodities.
Sanctions were imposed for a limited time period (1 year) and have been renewed periodically. Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts were created. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated. PKO has enforcement role.
The February 2019 Agreement is a significant development, but key elements, particularly with regard to the creation of Mixed Special Security Units, have yet to be implemented.
Sanctions are limited to a modest number of leaders and are not being fully enforced; regional diplomatic negotiations (AU and ECCAS) and the presence of military forces on the ground (MINUSCA and French forces) are more significant to the outcome.
The ex-Séléka, anti-Balaka, and other armed groups continue to have access to financial resources (through trade in natural resources, human trafficking, and local “taxation”) and arms and ammunition are widely available from neighboring countries and raids on police facilities.
Region is awash in arms and the arms embargo is not being enforced; presence of military forces on the ground is more significant to the outcome; travel ban has been violated by designees on both sides of the conflict and not enforced against individuals who hold positions in the parliament.
UN authorization of African-led Mission (MINUSCA) signaled support for regional (AU and ECCAS) peacekeeping operations, and reinforced transitional and peace agreements. Specific naming of Séléka and the anti-Balaka militias and designation of their leaders provided some stigmatization.
Sending UN peacekeeping mission and AU negotiation efforts that prompted the February 2019 Agreement were more significant to the outcome.
Decline in the credibility and/or legitimacy of UN Security Council, rise in criminality, particularly with regard to illicit natural resource trafficking.