Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, At a Press Conference in Bangui, Central African Republic

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
Bangui, Central African Republic
December 19, 2013


Hello, everybody. Thank you for coming out today and thank you for your patience.

President Obama asked me to travel to the Central African Republic in order to do two things: first, to show the people of the Central African Republic that America cares about what is going on here; that the United States is well aware of the suffering that has gone on across the country in recent weeks and months. But, second, also, that the United States wants to determine what it can do in order to support the path of stability, the path of reconciliation, and the path, of course, of a return to democracy in this country and the path to free and fair elections. This is a really important issue to the United States government and my visit here is just one reflection of the importance that we attach to this crisis and our desire to do what we can to support the efforts being made on the ground, again, to promote stability and reconciliation.

I'll just describe a little bit of what we did here today. Most recently, as you know, we met with the transitional authorities—the leaders of the transitional government—the President, the Prime Minister, and the head of the Transitional Council. In this meeting, we delivered very strong messages. The first message to all three leaders was on the importance of abiding by the Libreville and the N'djamena Accords, the importance of staging free and fair elections no later than February 2015. And, one of the things I want to convey to you is the same thing that I conveyed to the leaders: powerful people generally don't like giving up power. I think that’s probably many of your experience; certainly, my experience. It is extremely important that these powerful people—the President, the Prime Minister, and the head of the Council—have agreed to relinquish power as soon as those elections occur and they have agreed to hold those elections no later than February 2015. They reassured us of that commitment, and we in the international community intend to hold them to it. Very, very important. And we heard today from the people of Central African Republic just how important that is.

The second message that we delivered to the leadership is on the importance of accountability. Horrific abuses have been carried out in recent days, weeks, and months in this country. And, part of the problem right now is that, absent accountability, absent particular individuals being held responsible, being held accountable for the crimes that they [sic] have been committed, there is a real risk that whole groups will be held responsible; that whole groups will be made accountable; that people will start to resent all members of one religious community and all members of another religious community rather than those specific individuals who committed crimes.

Let me know if I need to stop, in terms of audio. Nope? Okay.

So I think this is a very, very important message. Obviously, the Central African Republic does not have in place right now or has not yet pursued the kinds of investigations and the kind of accountability that is needed, but we stressed that those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable. That is a very important element of preventing future violence and cycles of violence.

Before we met with the transitional leadership, we met also with members of civil society, with members of faith communities, with Christians and Muslims and with their religious leadership. We met with human rights activists, we met with displaced persons. And from them I just want to convey a few of the messages that we heard.

First, the very first thing almost everyone said to us was, “we have lived together in harmony for a very long time in this country. We have not had religious conflict in this country.” One man we met who was a Muslim said that his five Muslim children attended a Catholic school. Many of the people we met with described being in mixed marriages or being themselves children of mixed marriages. All of them described a level of intermingling and coexistence that they were clearly very, very proud of, and they wanted the United States and the American people and the rest of the world to know about. So, their message basically was, you know, “Yes, there are tensions now; yes, there are killings; but we can do better. We want to do better, we live intermingled and we have a tradition that we desperately want to preserve.” And that was the very, very important first message we heard from almost everyone we talked to.

Second, though, terrible atrocities have occurred. We met with one woman whose husband had been stabbed to death in front of her, his body doused in gasoline, and then set fire in front of her, in front of her very eyes. And part of what…and we saw people from another faith community who described equally brutal acts. Anti-balaka forces, Seleka fighters—ex-Seleka fighters—have committed atrocities. Lynchings. They have gone door to door. There is a tyranny of the mob that has taken hold here. And that is both horrific in its own right, but also something that can be hard to stop once it’s unleashed. And part of what these people are crying out for—those who have survived violence of this nature—is justice and is accountability. And part of their warning to us and their warning to their own leadership is, we need accountability or people will take justice into their own hands.

And so we hear that warning, and again, we pressed with the government the importance of accountability, the importance of holding perpetrators responsible for these crimes. We, the United States, and we know the rest of the international community, are eager to support the national commission of inquiry and broaden its mandate, as well as the new international commission of inquiry that is being established here. But, again, very important message of a desire for reconciliation, a desire for peace, but also great suffering and a need to see redress and a need to see that suffering taken into account.

In addition, as some of you know because you were here, I had the privilege of welcoming the Burundian troops who were airlifted into the Central African Republic by the United States on a US-C17. I was heartened to see them run off the plane with their gear on, seemingly ready to go. The Burundian commander that I spoke to said that they were very eager to become part of MISCA and to begin patrols, and to begin protecting civilians, who clearly again are living in a climate of fear, still.

We, as you know, the President of the United States has announced that we will make up to a hundred million dollars available to carry out such lift, but also to make sure that the troops that arrive here are equipped and ready when they get off the plane to perform the functions that have been assigned them by the African Union and by the UN Security Council. So, we are very eager to continue that partnership and the collaboration today. The encounter I had with the Burundians, I think is just one manifestation of what we are going to see going forward.

The United States is deploying a team of liaison officers at the request of the African Union to work with MISCA in order to ensure that we in the United States are doing what is needed in order to support this vital mission. We also met with the head of MISCA and the French commander in order to get some sense of how the patrols are going. And, again, the general assessment is that things are improving, but there is still a deep climate of mistrust, and so more patrols are needed. Every day, the troops are going further, every day more troops are arriving, as you saw today and will continue to see. And we intend to, out of this trip, to do what we can working with the African Union to ensure that MISCA gets up to its full troop strength as quickly as possible.

We've also announced as you know today, an additional $15 million in humanitarian assistance. It's clear just from meeting with the displaced people, even just here at the airport, how desperate the conditions are that many who have been displaced are living in. And we will work with our partners in the international community to improve, again, the international response on the humanitarian front; especially as humanitarian workers are able to move further out into the country, up country, to be in parts of the country that have not been accessed in some time, and, presumably large populations of displaced that have also not been accessed.

We are also providing an additional $7 million in additional programming that we hope can be used on reconciliation efforts and on dialogue on an interfaith basis. Also, perhaps, to support, again, these efforts at building a record of what happened here and the atrocities that were committed so that people feel that their losses are being heeded, that the international community is taking them seriously. We will work through, with our partners on the ground, again, just how those funds are spent. But, we all, like you, are placing a great emphasis on implementation of the Libreville and N'djamena Accords, on a return to stability and on a foundation of reconciliation and justice so that the people are able to return to the relative harmony and coexistence that they are insistent has existed in Central African Republic for a very long time.

With that let me take just a few questions.

Yes, sir.

Reporter: Do you think it sends a mixed message to stress the need for accountability with Djotodia still in office?

Ambassador Power: What is very important, I think, is that he and the other transitional leaders take steps to show the people that every crime committed here is one that this government takes seriously; whether that is a crime by Seleka militia or a crime by Anti-balaka. If those messages are not sent, there is a very real risk that the cycle of retribution and retaliation will take hold.

As I mentioned, we are very clear, the international community is very clear, that elections need to occur by February 2015, at the latest. And we are also very clear that the terms of those accords mean that none of the transitional figures will be in power on the backside of those accords. So, again, we are focused on how the individuals who, you know, through international and national negotiation and dialogue are in power now, how those individuals use that power for the good of their country.

Reporter: You essentially wrote a book about mass atrocities and genocide. Now you are actually in a government and are in a position of power to do something about it. Part of your book was about the Administrations’ reluctance to tackle such an issue. How is it different this time around? How is it being on the other side?

Ambassador Power: Well, let me say that all of us in the Obama Administration have different forms of experience dealing with mass atrocity. Yes, I was outside of government thinking about it for a long time. But, lots of people in our own government lived through Rwanda, lived through the crimes in the Balkans, are living now through the crimes in Syria. Every day we are thinking about which tools can we employ in order to try to prevent atrocity in the first instance, and then, again, these cycles of violence that very quickly can take hold; very quickly, there can be kerosene poured on a situation and then a match lit.

So, I think what we all know is that the sooner security is reestablished—and that's why the speed with which troops are being lifted into this country is very, very important—we recognize every day is a day where we need to be working with our African partners to be seeing who else can deploy, so that the troops can move further and reach more communities. We recognize that ultimately the source of the challenge here is political, and these political agreements need to be implemented in full. But, we also recognize that we have the ability to change the calculus of actors on the ground.

Part of the challenge in other atrocity situations is that people sometimes feel the world is not watching. They feel as if, irrespective of what they do, they will not be held accountable. And so part of the message that we are sending—seeking to get the transitional authorities to send this message as well, are seeing many of the religious leaders send this message, are hearing the African Union and many in the broader United Nations, and certainly the French sending—is that, you know, the benefits of choosing now a path of reconciliation and stability far exceed the risks of moving in that direction. But, right now, a lot of people don't believe us. And that’s why the longer we can, this sort of calm—shouldn't call it a calm; but relative calm, relative to how things were a couple of weeks ago, or within the last week—the more that that takes hold, the more that communities can be brought back together, the more that we are clear that people will be held accountable for those crimes so that they do not exact, again, collective violence and start to recall the days in which, again, which were so recent, where coexistence was the rule, the greater the likelihood that we will prevent the worst kinds of crimes.

Our responsibility is to look inside the toolbox—and this is something President Obama has said time and again: the choice for the United States is never between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. The choice is how do we use a whole host of tools, you know, at our disposal and how do we work with those countries—and, again, I commend France, I commend those troop contributors who have sent troops to comprise MISCA and before that FOMAC—they are putting their troops on the line here on the ground. And it is very much in the interest of the United States to do what we can to support them, again, as they try to bring about stabilization and reconciliation en route to democracy.

Thanks, everybody.


PRN: 2012/278