[The full text of Resolution 2127 is now available.]

An important development this morning in the Security Council to respond to a recent upsurge in violence in the Central African Republic (CAR).  In a resolution introduced by France, the Council authorized an African Union peacekeeping force and French troops stationed in the land-locked Central African Republic to use force against rebel forces.  CAR has been beset by renewed violence since December 2012 when a group of rebels calling themselves Séléka (“Alliance”) launched a coup.  The Séléka ultimately ousted President Francois Bozizé in March 2013 leaving what amounted to a sovereign void notwithstanding the designation of Michel Djotodia as an interim President and Nicholas Tiangaye as Prime Minister. The Séléka, which are composed primarily of loosely-affiliated Muslim forces and mercenaries from neighboring Chad and Sudan, ostensibly disbanded in September, although not before the formation of armed bands of civil defense forces among Christian communities.  Since then, there have been waves of sectarian violence pitting Muslims against Christians that has taken on genocidal overtones.  Indeed, Genocide Watch issued a genocide alert for CAR, placing it at stage 8 of its new 10-stage model.  According to the U.S. State Department, which has been coordinating humanitarian assistance to the country of 4.5 million, almost half a million people are displaced; thousands have been injured, raped, and killed since the Seleka emerged on the scene. In October 2013, the African Union, with Security Council blessing, launched an African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA); France also has staged troops around the capital city of Bangui.

In today’s resolution, the Council reportedly authorized the French and African troops to use force as necessary to protect civilians throughout the country.  The Council apparently also imposed an arms embargo on the country and asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish a fact-finding mission into the violence.  The U.N. will work toward developing a U.N. peacekeeping force alongside MISCA—a move strongly recommended by top U.N. officials last month.  This Resolution comes on the heels of Resolution 2121 issued in October 2013, which expressed grave concern over the “total breakdown in law and order” in CAR, noted that the violence there may amount to crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC  and expressed its readiness to:

consider appropriate measures as necessary against those who take action that undermines the peace, stability and security, including those who violate transitional agreements, impede the transitional process and fuel violence….

It should be noted that CAR is an ICC situation country.  The government of the CAR referred the country to the ICC in December 2004 in connection with earlier violence.  In May 2008, an ICC Pre-Trial Chamber issued a warrant for the arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the alleged commander of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He was immediately arrested in Belgium and transferred to The Hague in July 2008, where the charges against him were confirmed in June 2009.   The Court is currently in trial proceedings.  In an operation involving arrests in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, Bemba’s lead counsel was recently detained by the ICC along with a case manager in Bemba’s trial, a member of the parliament of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a defense witness in connection with charges of witness intimidation and forging evidence.  Months ago, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda indicated that she is watching events in CAR closely with an eye toward bringing additional indictments.

This is not the first time that the Security Council has mandated the use of offensive force by peacekeepers to protect civilians. When the Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) in 2013, it created an Intervention Brigade (IB) at the recommendation of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to address the continued instability and threat posed by numerous armed groups (including the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), M23, LRA, and various local and loosely connected Mai Mai groups) in the region.  Resolution 2098 of 2013 included language to the effect that MONUSCO may “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians and neutralize armed groups through the IB.  In addition, the DRC Resolution included robust language calling for the IB to.

support and work with the Government of the DRC to arrest and bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country, including through cooperation with States of the region and the ICC.

Prior formulations of the mandate (e.g. UNSCR 2053 of 2012) had placed the primary responsibility for apprehending fugitives in the hands of the Government of the DRC, in cooperation with the ICC, but called upon MONUSCO to “support” the Congolese authorities in this regard.  Similar language now appears in the mandate of the peacekeeping force deployed in Mali—the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)—which since 2012 is also an ICC situation country, although no arrest warrants have been issued. These new mandates are a far cry from the days when UN Stabilization Forces (SFOR/IFOR) insisted that capturing war criminals from the war in the former Yugoslavia—even though indicted by an international tribunal enjoying a Chapter VII provenance—fell outside of their mandate and institutional competency.

The CAR resolution also follows on the heels of the Libya resolution (UNSC Res. 1973).   There, the Council authorized:

Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory…