Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Special Representative Moussa for your briefing and for all your efforts on behalf of peace in the Central African region.
Today marks a pivotal moment to reflect strategically on the myriad of growing concerns surrounding the Central African region, which risk its full implosion. Flanked by conflict from the Great Lakes to its immediate South, a struggling new nation to its East, burgeoning terror threats to its West, and an explosive religious conflict at its core, this region is one we must prioritize. We ignore these trend lines – and their ability to handicap this region’s trajectory toward growth – to our peril.
We view with horror and outrage the ongoing campaign of destruction perpetrated by Boko Haram, which is migrating East and knocking on Central Africa’s door. Boko Haram has primarily chosen targets who cannot fight back - students, hospital patients, teachers and other unarmed civilians. The abduction last month of more than 200 Nigerian school girls, and subsequent public threats to sell the girls into slavery has shocked us to the core - not only as diplomats and policy leaders, but also as parents and human beings. Boko Haram has no agenda other than cowardice, sadism, ignorance and death. As such, it has made itself the adversary of people everywhere. My government has pledged its support to the Nigerian government in helping to return these girls to their homes. We are prepared to assist the region in developing a comprehensive strategy to defeat Boko Haram, including by pursuing UN sanctions against this group and to hold its murderous leaders accountable for their actions. My Government has been in close communication with Nigerian officials, including Ambassador Owgu here in New York. And we will do all we can to support their efforts to ensure the missing school girls are returned safely to their homes.
Of course in stealing children, Boko Haram is mimicking tactics first used in the region by the Lord’s Resistance Army. For more than two decades, the LRA has ravaged the lives of tens of thousands of men, women, and children who have been displaced, maimed, abducted or killed across four countries. In the process, the LRA has compelled countless young people to serve as underage soldiers and sex slaves. Our goal has been and remains to bring this scourge to a complete and decisive end.
My government commends the AU Regional Task Force and its partners for making important progress. If defector reports are accurate, the LRA’s second-in-command, Okot Odhiambo, was killed late last year. As one of several prominent LRA leaders who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, this represents a substantial blow to what little remains of the LRA’s command structure.
In the past few years, military and political efforts combined with strong civil society advocacy have reduced LRA combatants from more than 1,000 to a small fraction of that amount. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of people killed by LRA attacks dropped by 75% and the level of abductions by 50%. Since 2012, more than 180 men, women and children have defected or been released. The decline in LRA terror has made it possible for hundreds of thousands to return to their homes, reducing the population displaced by the LRA from more than 320,000 at the end of last year to less than 160,000 now. This still huge and unacceptable number marks the lowest level in over a decade. Credit for these gains belongs to the African Union Regional Task Force, international peacekeepers, non-governmental organizations, and leaders of local civil society.
Because of this progress, the LRA is becoming less relevant. As the threat recedes further, we should place greater emphasis on working with local leaders to help affected communities recover. We urge UNOCA to coordinate with the AU, World Bank, national governments, and other stakeholders to advance a plan for the long-term stabilization of these areas. Over the past five years, the U.S. government has provided more than $87 million to enhance food security, health, development and other priorities in communities harmed by LRA violence. Collectively, we must ensure that areas ravaged by the LRA are able – at long last – to enjoy the benefits of peace.
Despite some progress, we remain concerned by reports of unfettered LRA activity in the northeastern parts of the Central African Republic, a country that is simultaneously beset by brutal religious violence and immense and growing humanitarian needs. We find the reports of possible LRA collusion with former Seleka fighters particularly disturbing and we have no doubt that Boko Haram would like nothing more than to exploit the despair of displaced Muslims in the Northern part of the Central African Republic.
My government also shares the Secretary-General’s concern about the possibility that LRA leaders have again sought a safe haven in Sudanese-controlled areas of the Kafia Kingi enclave. We call on the government in Khartoum to work cooperatively with the AU to investigate these reports and to deny the LRA any form of rest or support. Any government should be embarrassed to be sheltering the Lord’s Resistance Army. After a quarter century of merciless brutality, the LRA should not be tolerated – let alone helped – by anyone, not to mention a member state of the United Nations.
I can assure this Council that the United States will remain steadfast in providing tangible and wide-ranging assistance to anti-LRA efforts, including military advisors, airlift support, humanitarian aid, civilian protection, and measures aimed at encouraging defections. We look forward to the day – which we hope will come soon – when all LRA combatants are removed from the battlefield.
Mindful that the LRA is but one of many significant threats to peace and security in Central Africa, my government applauds this Council’s decision to authorize a UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. MINUSCA must do the critical work of protecting civilians, facilitating urgently needed humanitarian access, and supporting the state in the Central African Republic, which is of course in a weakened position. We call on MINUSCA to coordinate closely with the many actors – MISCA, French and EU forces, and the AU Regional Task Force – who are currently deployed and will remain in the Central African Republic. But above all we urge member states to support MISCA, to support the African Union, which is still trying to protect civilians alongside the French and the European Union, and to contribute to MINUSCA as timely force generation for both MISCA and MINUSCA is critically needed and it is needed now.
We also express our alarm, as others have done, at the deteriorating political situation in Burundi, where the government has harassed and arrested members of opposition parties, where it has pushed to the end of the UN political mission in advance of a very fragile election period, where it is imposing growing restrictions on civil society, and where we have all seen alarming reports youth militia being armed, to which the government has responded only by expelling the UN mission’s security advisor. We urge UNOCA to spare no effort at preventive diplomacy..
Mr. President and colleagues, we remain at a difficult time in Central Africa. International cooperation has been encouraging, but we must do far more to confront Boko Haram; to complete the destruction of the LRA, to counter religious strife and prevent ethnic cleansing; and to disrupt the activities of criminals who seek to prey on the innocent and the weak. The next months will be critical in each of these areas, and we must take advantage of every opportunity to turn the tide on all fronts. Thank you.
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