Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Stakeout on the Central African Republic, December 5, 2013

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
New York, NY
December 5, 2013


Ambassador Power: Hi, everybody. Today’s UN resolution marks a very important moment in the Council’s response to the crisis in the Central African Republic. It reflects our shared belief that immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in the Central African Republic. Let me begin by thanking the African Union and the French government. One cannot overstate how important French leadership and this new military contribution is going to be. We commend and we support the robust efforts that are being made by countries who are putting their troops on the line to try to prevent atrocities and save lives in the CAR.

The U.S. government is deeply disturbed by the ongoing reports of brutality in the Central African Republic, including some of the instances that you all have referenced already, the horrific reports of violence overnight. Just yesterday, as you know, there were reports of gruesome machete attacks north of Bangui.

We have heard the accounts of tens of thousands of Christians sheltering in a church outside Bossangoa, with thousands of their Muslim neighbors huddled similarly in a nearby mosque, all of them fearing the possibility of an attack on their lives.

We know there are nearly 400,000 people displaced by violence – that’s almost 10 percent of the country’s total population – and we know that nearly half the population is affected by this crisis. It is clear that urgent action is required to save lives.

There are—these are the harrowing facts that this Security Council has deliberated in considering how best to move out in saving lives and how best to address the country’s immediate needs as quickly as possible. Achieving these goals requires a credible military force with a robust mandate to engage in peace enforcement activities. Today’s resolution gives us that. The deployment of MISCA and French forces with a Chapter VII mandate provides the most immediate vehicle to protect civilians, prevent atrocities, and restore humanitarian access that has been lost.

The Security Council has rightly recognized that the situation in CAR is desperate and it is dynamic. What is necessary today may not be what is necessary tomorrow. As such, this resolution asks the UN Secretary General to begin contingency planning on the possible transition from MISCA to a UN peacekeeping operation if conditions warrant.

Some seem to hold the view that this Council is faced with deciding between the deployment of an African mission on the one hand or a UN mission on the other. This is a false choice. The fact is that should a UN peacekeeping mission be required in the future, the core of those forces are likely to be formed of the same African peacekeepers who have put their troops forward to try to save lives now. It is essential that these troops—the troops on the ground and the troops that are coming in to the Central African Republic—be properly equipped and properly mandated.

With that in mind, the United States pressed for, and achieved together with the Council, a resolution that strengthens the AU mission and joins it with this new infusion of French troops. The United States has already pledged an initial $40 million in support to MISCA. We now call once more on others to join in pledging the required financial and logistic support required for MISCA to ensure it has what it needs to protect civilians.

Beyond the CAR’s immediate needs, I am pleased that this resolution also reflects broad U.S. thinking on other tracks that will stabilize the situation and promote accountability for atrocities over the long-term. The resolution puts in a place a sanctions regime that establishes an arms embargo and that lays down a marker that the Council is prepared to impose measures that target both political spoilers and human rights abusers. The resolution also establishes a Commission of Inquiry, which should gather information that could point to criminal responsibility for use in future judicial cases.

Let us be clear here. This is an atrocities prevention situation, and our response will be based on what is most appropriate for saving lives. What matters right now to the civilians whose lives are hanging in the balance is actually not the color of the helmet of those tasked to protect them. What matters is whether the troops there move out aggressively to protect civilians and to restore security.

We need to employ the option today that will halt the carnage in the CAR the most quickly. We believe that involves giving our full support to our African and French colleagues who are stepping up to do so.

Thank you. And I’d be happy to take just a couple questions, because I gotta run back into the Council.

Reporter: Thanks, Ambassador. Are you concerned that the Council is perhaps acting a bit too late? And perhaps if you could explain a little more in detail your concerns about the Muslim-Christian element? I mean, it’s something that has been coming up but it hasn’t received a lot of airplay.

Ambassador Power: Well, let me just say that I think one cannot overstate the urgency. As you know, there have been atrocities committed already. I suspect that when the MISCA troops and the French troops move out of Bangui, that we will learn more, even, about some of the disturbing events that have unfolded. But it is, again, extremely important that France is putting its troops on the line, and I would come back to an earlier question and just stress, on the basis of my very close consultations with my French colleagues here, this is about one thing, for France, and that is preventing atrocities against civilians. And we can only commend their willingness, particularly so soon after Mali, to get involved in something that has just a pure humanitarian and human rights objective.

So, the urgency, I think, we cannot overstate. The speed of getting MISCA now to full strength and getting them to move out with this full Chapter VII mandate, you know, yesterday is too late. So urgency is everything. And that’s certainly the spirit of the discussions that we have had both here in New York and of course in capitals.

In terms of the religious dimension, you know, we hear and learn a lot from our Central African Republican colleagues here, in New York. And it is very tragic to hear about the tradition of co-existence and tolerance and the ways in which Muslims and Christians lived together until so very recently, but there’s no doubt—both from what we know, through the important work the journalists are doing—and we’re very eager to see more journalists deploy to the Central African Republic—that those days of easy co-existence, you know, are not with us right now, at least in certain parts of the country; that extremists on both sides, in an environment of lawlessness, in an environment of state failure, have taken advantage of that vacuum and have stoked religious animosities, again that, if you ask our Central African Republican friends, were not ones that have marred the Central African Republican story in this way before. So the hope is, again, with the restoration of security and the return to some semblance of the rule of law, that these tensions that have been unleashed can be mitigated, blunted and that the tradition, again, that the people that we engage with here are so proud of, can resurface.

Again, in insecure times—we’ve seen this in many places around the world, not just in Africa—but also in the heart of Europe, in insecure environments when fear is unleashed, people can cling to identities that, prior to state breakdown were not very salient. It’s very important, again, to your first question, that these issues be addressed urgently, because the more time that these kinds of tensions are on the loose, the more people can get caught up in that kind of fervor.

Reporter: When the Secretary General made his recommendations to the Security Council, among the options was the option that he had to form a peacekeeping mission. He said in a less than permissive environment—and that’s what you could perhaps say now—he’d need 9,000 troops. This resolution is providing about half that. Have you got enough troops for the job?

Ambassador Power: We are, in this resolution, walking and chewing gum at the same time. We are both strengthening the mandate, and then working through our funding and our bilateral relationships also to strengthen the preparedness of those troops that are on the ground. As you know, the number of Africans on the ground is increasing, but they’re not yet up to full speed. We need to address that immediately. That’s going to happen by mid-December. And of course the French infusion is very important. And most peacekeeping missions around the world don’t enjoy the presence, also, of such a strong and well-established military like that of France. So we think—and I think the French agree—that given the kinds of perpetrators of violence on the ground, that having, you know, a strong-armed France alongside the newly mandated, more aggressive MISCA, you know, can at least allow the forces to move out of the Capital to the parts of the country that haven’t been accessed; break down the barriers, I mean, quite literally, the checkpoints that have made so many parts of the county inaccessible. And at that point, we’ll be in a much better position, I think, even than the UN team that was there but that could only access parts of the country, to make a proper assessment about the proper troops-to-task ratio is.

But, I—again I want to be very clear, we are aware of how much we don’t know. We are aware of how urgent and how grave the circumstances are and we are aware that what we have settled upon today, as I suggested in my remarks, may well prove sufficient in light of, again, who some of the thugs are that Gerard referred to. Or, it may, as we learn more, it may only underscore that we’re going to need to supplement what’s on the ground with something else.

Thank you. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to run to the Council. Sorry. Thank you.


PRN: 2013/254