Should MINUSCA Finally be Dissolved?
Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum, the UN’s Independent Expert on human rights in the Central African Republic, says that “MINUSCA seems to face serious challenges. This became evident when a crisis escalated six months ago as militants of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), led by former President François Bozizé, attempted to take Bangui by force.”
MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic, was originally sent to the conflict-ridden country in 2014 with the sole purpose of stabilising peace on the ground and protecting the civilian population from violence. After a deployment of almost 8 years, the inefficiency of MINUSCA is attracting increasing attention.
With more than 12,000 personnel deployed on the ground, the mission has still failed to prevent the formation of an armed terrorist coalition, that has launched attacks against civilians.
Although the key role of the UN peacekeeping mission has been the protection of civilians, they have failed to deliver. “Local people have reported that in the immediate vicinity of the Mission and practically before the eyes of the troops, CPC militants harass the population, rape women, and steal property,” says Bocoum. “Militants have unleashed mayhem and it has been possible to avoid genocide only due to the measures taken by the CAR government and its allies.”
Rebel attacks in early January, including one targeting Bangui, the capital, could have led to catastrophe, if not for the national army, supported by Russian mercenaries, and Rwandan troops.
The actions of the national army, rebuilt and reformed in recent years with the help of Russian mercenaries and other partners, have given hope to the local population and have shown that there is a way to stop the cycle of violence. In a relatively short period of time, the national army, Russian mercenaries, and Rwandan troops managed to launch a counterattack and regain most of the territory that had been lost to the rebels.
“Coherent efforts by the upgraded national military forces supported by allies from Rwanda and trained by Russian [mercenaries] have demonstrated that the problem of armed groups has a solution. MINUSCA’s inability to act promptly and effectively in the unraveling crisis could have led to an awful tragedy,” says Bocoum.
The inability of MINUSCA to protect local populations has led to protests against the UN presence in the country. The citizens of Bangui have been demonstrating almost on a weekly basis, to draw attention to their dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of the “casques bleus.”
One reason for their discontent lies with well-documented cases of collaboration between rebels and certain contingents of UN peacekeepers. Local investigative journalists have published photos and videos of ongoing liaisons between rebels and peacekeepers. They allege that MINUSCA is implicated in supplying rebels with food, medicine, and in some cases, weapons.
UN peacekeepers have also been accused of conducting illegal trade. MINUSCA has been fined by customs authorities for the illegal import of car parts. Officials allege that MINUSCA does not declare all goods imported into the country, claiming an exemption by virtue of their status. Porous African borders, combined with UN immunity, provides a tempting opportunity for traffickers.
MINUSCA is funded through a separate account approved by the UN General Assembly on an annual basis. MINUSCA has cost the United Nations billions of dollars and the costs keep rising. “It seems necessary to rethink the need for the Mission on the ground as the costs are incommensurate with the outcome, which has been starkly illustrated by the developments of the past six months,” Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum laments.
Another UN independent expert, Yao Agbetse, echoes her views: “[UN peacekeepers] showed their low efficiency in resolving the crisis in the country. More than 14,000 people of the MINUSCA contingent cost the international community [billions of dollars] and do not contribute to the restoration of peace in the [region].”
If we consider the low efficiency of MINUSCA in protecting civilians and the fact that peacekeepers themselves stand accused of contributing to the increasing levels of violence in the region, it becomes apparent that MINUSCA, as it was designed, is outdated and doesn’t benefit locals on the ground.
By contrast, the national army is now fully capable of protecting their national territory and civilians. Is it now perhaps time to dissolve MINUSCA?