Remarks at Press Availability, Bangui CAR
Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Bangui, Central African Republic
March 30, 2016
Thank you all for coming this evening after a long, hot day. President Obama asked me to travel to your country — my fourth visit to the Central African Republic since December 2013 — to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to the people of the Central African Republic, to your stability, and to your democracy.
On my first visit in December 2013, I heard some of the most horrific stories of atrocities and abuse that I have heard in my whole career. Just one example, I met a woman whose husband was covered in gasoline and set fire in front of her and her children. And the polarization that took hold really divided communities that had lived so intertwined together for so long. It was hard to be optimistic in December 2013.
I came again in April 2014, it was hard to be optimistic. And I came in March of 2015 with the UN Security Council and still, it was hard to be optimistic. But, I think, today symbolizes a really important moment in the history of the Central African Republic. The fact of all the presidential candidates who have participated in the election, being up on stage and shaking the hand of the president-elect, the enthusiasm and the hope expressed by the citizens who gathered in the stadium, it is a cause for optimism.
And I know the underlying challenges faced by the people of CAR are enormous. The militia around the country who still terrorize people, the economic hardship suffered by so many people in Central Africa, the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes and don't soon have a reasonable prospect of going back to where they want most to live, and above all the weak institutions, the lack of a reliable, credible, central security force, the corruption that has caused so many people to lose trust in their institutions, all of these challenges don't go away just because you elect a new president. And I just want to reassure the people of Central Africa that the United States is here to stay and we view today's inauguration as unlocking a new phase in the U.S. relationship with the Central African Republic.
We're together, we support you as you seek to take on those challenges I mentioned earlier — to enhance security, to end corruption, to fight impunity, and to ensure that your generation's children can live with the kind of security, dignity, and opportunity that too many Central African Republic citizens have been denied for too long.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Thank you for inviting the media for this initiative. You talked about the challenges that we have faced and today we have a president-elect. You just said we are together and you are going to support us, can you be more specific as to the kind of support that the U.S. is going to provide CAR after this crisis after these elections?
QUESTION: One question in English. Today, what is your opinion of the security in the Central African Republic?
AMBASSADOR POWER: I am learning French; it's not going as well as your English. Well the two questions kind of go together. I think that the fact that in February, 12 people were killed in Bambari — at least 12 that we know about — with very similar dynamics that we had seen in September 2015, earlier spikes in violence, namely people being killed just because of their religion or because they are perceived to be the “other.” For as long as those kinds of killings occur, as well as criminality, and for as long as there is not a reliable, central Central African security force, insecurity is going to be a very substantial challenge here in CAR.
So, when you asked me to be specific about the support that the United States will offer, a top priority form of support is security support. We are working to help train the Central African rehabilitated FACA and the country also needs a reliable police force. We also need to make sure that MINUSCA is able to live up to the people's expectations, and that means first and foremost ensuring that MINUSCA is not itself terrorizing civilians, carrying out sexual abuse, for example. But also, even once we have gotten rid of that cancer, that when the people of this country see MINUSCA that they feel confident that MINUSCA will respond if a militia or a criminal attacks a civilian and right now I don't think you can say that that confidence exists across the country.
And then, listening to the president-elect today, he has his list of priorities which includes security sector reform, which was my point before, ensuring that public funds are protected, fighting corruption, and of course, emphasizing education, schools, and more job opportunities for the people of this country.
So now as he develops his priorities, the delegation that I'm a part of working with the embassy here, we'll figure out how we, and other players in the international community, can support these different initiatives so that, ideally, the people would feel the impact of having a democratically elected, legitimate, hopefully clean government quickly.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) The president-elect addressed DDR, security sector reform — SSR — he did not talk about the embargo. We cannot carry out the rehabilitation of the military as long as we have the embargo because we to lift the embargo so that they can be equipped, so that they can be trained, so that they can fulfill their mission. Is the United States willing to help our military to fulfil its capacity so that it can fulfill what the people expect from it? What can the U.S. do to help this president-elect have the embargo lifted because this is a handicap, this is the first time in the history of humanity that we depend on foreign forces instead of depending on our own military? That's the first question. And the second concern that I have is about the volunteers of the Peace Corps who used to help us. When I was in high school there were these volunteers who taught us to speak English — my math teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer. But for a while now we haven't had any Peace Corps volunteers. So with this new government can we expect the deployment of Peace Corps volunteers in our country? And those are my two concerns.
AMBASSADOR POWER: Great. Let me take your Peace Corps question first. Because of the violence and the darkness that descended on the Central African Republic we, as you know, removed our American staff from our embassy and have only recently gotten our embassy up and running and approximating normal operations again. So now that our embassy is back up and running with both American staff and the amazing Central African Republican staff who stayed here and maintained our facilities while the American staff were evacuated — but now that we are back we can look at all of the programs we had here and consider whether or not security conditions allow for the restart and the redeployment of programs like the Peace Corps program. So this is something we can raise with the Ambassador after we're finished, to get a sense of when or whether that might be possible. But I agree wholeheartedly with your premise; people talk a lot about America's weapons — its huge military weapons systems — but our Peace Corps is our secret weapon. It's our most powerful investment in stability and peace around the world.
And on the embargo — first of all, it is completely possible now for the Central African Republic army to obtain arms. You're right that because of the embargo the army — or the country sending arms — has to go through the sanctions committee and seek an approval. But I can tell you that if the request is for units that are being trained and professionalized, there is no way that any country on the Security Council would object to an arms shipment request. And unfortunately the training of Central African security forces is not as far along as any of us would like. I think what you will see, sir, is that as the training program progresses and the Central African government here and the international community start to feel more confidence in the force, you will see us looking at whether or not we either alter or remove the embargo. But right now, there are still a lot of militia across the country, there are a lot of soldiers who are a part of FACA who were part of militia — whether anti-Balaka or ex-Seleka — and I think we are still in a more cautious frame of mind, in part because we know that it is possible for this new government to get weapons if it needs it. And part of what our embassy will be doing more of is helping the Central African Republic government make the requests so that it gets the arms for the forces that have been trained. You know there's a little bit of bureaucracy involved in the arms embargo process, and when governments have low capacity sometimes that can overwhelm the system. And so they deserve our support as they seek to bring in weapons in a controlled way. But we do not think we are quite ready for an uncontrolled weapons free-for-all, which was the situation before the embargo.
AMBASSADOR POWER: Others? Why don't I take all three questions and then I'll try to compress my answers — and if you could each just ask one question instead of two.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) This morning I was in the stadium and I saw the American delegation and when President Touadéra spoke about the DDR program the audience applauded. Madam Ambassador, today in the Central African Republic there is one major concern for the entire country and that is to live in peace — the security issue. Aside from this problem, nothing else interests us. That leads me to my question: the Central African Republic has been invaded since 2008 by the Lord's Resistance Army, this movement from Uganda which sows terror that reaches even the center of the country today. There was a great deal of hope with the arrival of the Ugandan army and American forces in that part of the country, but years later now we see that the people living there are completely disillusioned. No one has faith anymore, to be very honest. Those people do not believe in anything anymore — not in the presence of the Americans or the Ugandans because the Lord's Resistance Army continues to rape, pillage, and kill. So what can you tell us about this nightmare that is going on there in front of the international community?
AMBASSADOR POWER: Good. That's a great question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) My question is about the issue of support for victims of the crisis and awaiting the International Criminal Court. Most victims are inside the country and do not have the ability to send their case to the court. So is there the possibility of receiving legal assistance in order to help those people — is that possible? In those areas where there are more victims, you spoke about the problem of militias, but some militias are inside the country and may have been unable to reach agreements with the army in order to disarm, and they are still active. Especially in the corridor in [inaudible] we see [inaudible] militia, this is a type of rebel that is very well known and currently they are in Congo-Brazzaville — they are welcomed there, and these individuals continue to take hostages. And some hostages are from Cameroon, others are from Central African Republic, and they're still being held there for over three months. And this is a way of terrorizing the population. Can we receive any assistance, any help, to prevent these terrorists from acting? Some African heads of state have spoken about geopolitical interests linked to these groups — can we have the support of the United States in order to make these other African heads of state — that they cannot support these kinds of rebellions that then make CAR more fragile?
AMBASSADOR POWER: Okay, last question?
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) My question is about electing, democratically, a head of state — that's one thing — democracy. But in practice, “by the people” is something different. We realize that the enemy of democracy is poverty. We also have many displaced persons in our country. Has the United States thought about a strategy to help the new president-elect ensure democracy in such a way that it will be successful? Finally, does the United States want to see a government without the media — the press — or with the media and the press? Because the media have suffered from the same disasters for the past three years. We have had a very sad fate. Can the U.S. help out the media in the Central African Republic? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR POWER: Good — thank you. All of these questions illustrate — dauntingly — the extent of the challenges. Whether it's victim support, journalists as the critical check and balance on state power, the IDP problem, the trauma, the psycho-social trauma that so many people have suffered here that has to be dealt with — I won't lie to you, we don't have a blank check where we can underwrite solving all of these problems for the Central African Republic. What we can do is work with the new government in mapping all of these needs and teaming up with other countries, and the European Union, and the UN, to try to begin to make a dent in a lot of these areas. Having a democratically elected government moves us into a phase that feels permanent. It's harder to mobilize resources when something says “transitional,” because you think it's going to go away, and countries have been reluctant to make really substantial investments.
Let me taken then each of the three questions. On the counter-LRA force, I very much appreciate the — what you described as the disillusionment of the people who are there. But I would distinguish two forms of disillusionment. The first is they want the LRA defeated and now the LRA, just in the last nine months, have begun to regroup and have begun to carry out terrible crimes again. So for part one of the disillusionment: we have to defeat the LRA. The fact that the LRA is terrorizing the population shows why, in my view, this mission is very important. And we need to make sure that MINUSCA and this anti-LRA force are sufficiently coordinated in the area. And soon, with the FACA as it gets reconstituted, which is how in the long-term people are going to be secure — is when their own forces can contribute to their security. But the other form of disillusionment is more general: it's just that the Americans are there, the counter-LRA force is there, and life has not gotten better — in many cases it's gotten worse. So the counter-LRA force is not a panacea for the other problems that exist in the society.
On the issue of victims — there was a lot in the second question — but I would just say that the transitional government did a good job creating a legal foundation to have a special court here. But there hasn't been enough money to set up this court and really get it moving, so that is certainly a personal priority for me. Because the needs are so great, it's been hard across the international community to raise resources, but we're going to keep at that because I think that court has a critical role to play in showing that the era of impunity is ending.
And then finally on the relationship between democracy and dignity, I very much agree with the journalist's question. What you're really saying, I think, is for the people there has to be what we call a democracy dividend; there has to be some pay off in their lives for the new government coming into power — they have to feel that democracy has made some part of their life easier. And that gets back to where I started, which is there are so many needs across so many sectors — security is a foundation, because if the country is secure you will start to see more international actors coming back, feeling comfortable, more NGOs offering support. But when violence spikes, internationals tend to not feel safe and thus the international community's ability to address poverty and all of the structural weaknesses here goes down.