The UN security council unanimously decided yesterday to send 12,000 peacekeepers to the Central African Republic.
The 10,000 U.N. troops and 1,800 police will take over from 5,000 African Union soldiers, but not until Sept. 15. A separate 2,000-strong French force in the Central African Republic was authorized to use “all necessary means” to support the new U.N. force.
How much protection U.N. troops will be able to offer is an open question. Keeping civilians safe throughout the Central African Republic, especially in rural areas, is already proving a difficult, if not impossible task. The country is the size of Texas, many roads have not been repaved since independence from France in 1960, and many of the people escaping violence have fled into the bush.
Former colonial power France was the driving force behind the resolution.
The Central African Republic has been caught in a brutal conflict between rival militias since mostly Islamist rebels grabbed power in a March 2013 coup, establishing a violent regime.
Christian militias fought back even more violently, causing the rebel government to crumble in January. The country has been left with a power vacuum since.
The unanimously agreed resolution expresses serious concern at human rights violations by both sides, including killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, sexual violence against women and children, rape and attacks on civilians.
It demands that “all militias and armed groups put aside their arms, cease all forms of violence and destabilising activities immediately and release children from their ranks.”
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who returned Thursday morning from her second visit to the country in less than four months, also praised the resolution and added: “I can personally attest to the critical urgency of bringing more security to the Central African Republic.”
Power went to the Central African Republic after leading the U.S. delegation to the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Rwanda genocide, which she said “taught us the price of inaction in the face of mass violence.”
The resolution expresses serious concern at multiple violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by both former Seleka elements and anti-Balaka militia including killings, torture and sexual violence against women and children. It also demands that all militias and armed groups put down their arms “and release children from their ranks.”
The Security Council wanted a strong mandate and the resolution authorizes the new U.N. force to protect civilians and support the disarmament of combatants and the restoration of peace and law and order. It also authorizes the mission to help investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law by armed groups and arrest perpetrators.
While U.N. peacekeepers and police will not take over until Sept. 15, the resolution immediately establishes the U.N. mission, to be known as MINUSCA. It will take over all activities of the U.N. political office, including supporting the country’s political transition and giving logistical support to African Union force on the ground.
The resolution urges the transitional authorities to accelerate preparations for free and fair elections no later than February 2015.
Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director for African Union force , urged the United Nations and member states to make the U.N. force a reality on the ground quickly, “including by providing carefully vetted troops, so the U.N. mission itself does not become embroiled in any allegations of abuses.”
“This resolution doesn’t mean that the U.N. cavalry is going to roll in and save the day,” he warned.