A new woman head of state: Taking on troubles in Central African Republic

panzaToday Catherine Samba-Panza, a businesswoman turned politician, became President of the Central African Republic. The 1st woman head of state in that country, Samba-Panza joins 2 others in Africa: President Joyce Banda of Malawi and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

The 135-member National Transitional Council chose Samba-Panza in a runoff held because none of 8 original candidates obtained a majority in the 1st round of voting. The Council voted in the wake of the January 10 resignation of Michel Djotodia, who had seized power in March 2013 and ruled as President for just under a year. In that same time frame, Samba-Panza has served as mayor of Bangui, the capital. (credit for photo by Eric Feferberg/AFP)

The new President faces immense challenges. The Séléka rebellion that brought her predecessor to power eventually morphed into protracted armed violence, between former rebels in that Muslim-led faction and Christian, “anti-Balaka” militias. These armed groups are said to have recruited upwards of 6,000 child soldiers, notwithstanding the international ban on child-soldiering. A fifth of the population – nearly a million persons – has been displaced.

The new President, described as a politically neutral Christian, addressed these troubles in her election speech:

‘I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Seleka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings.’

Whether violence will abate in the Central African Republic – a situation-country of the International Criminal Court, to which thousands of U.N. Security Council-authorized international troops are now being deployed – remains to be seen.

Questions voiced as United Nations’ new Intervention Brigade assembles in Goma

gomaWith a U.N. Intervention Brigade in place and moving toward operation-readiness in the next month, questions have surfaced regarding the legal status of the deployment.

More than 3,000 troops from Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa reportedly have assembled in Goma, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (map credit) This Intervention Brigade, Melbourne Law Professor Bruce “Ossie” Oswald writes in a new ASIL Insight, is intended as the United Nations’ “first-ever ‘offensive’ combat force.” By dint of Security Council Resolution 2098 (March 28, 2013), the Brigade has been authorized “to undertake military operations against armed groups” in order to “help the Congolese Government strengthen its control over territory.” As stated in ¶ 12(b) of Resolution 2098, the U.N. mission, MONUSCO, is authorized to support Congolese authorities, working unilaterally or together with Congolese armed forces,

‘taking full account of the need to protect civilians and mitigate risk before, during and after any military operation, [to] carry out targeted offensive operations through the Intervention Brigade …, in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner and in strict compliance with international law, … to prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and to disarm them in order to contribute to the objective of reducing the threat posed by armed groups on state authority and civilian security in eastern DRC and to make space for stabilization activities; …’

(A little further into the resolution, ¶ 12(d), which makes no reference to the Intervention Brigade, authorizes MONUSCO to “[s]upport 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.” The International Criminal Court Situation in the Congo currently lists 1 at-large accused.)

Though some civil society groups were reported to support the Brigade, in recent weeks 19 nongovernmental organizations wrote U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to express concern about the relation between the Brigade and other activities in the region. In a followup interview, one organization stressed the need to keep any “military action” separate in order not to block humanitarian access to civilians.

Meanwhile, Oswald’s Insight unpacks numerous legal issues, though it offers no certain answers to them. He asks:

► Is the Brigade to be considered a party to the conflict, and if so, does that consideration extend to the entire U.N. mission in the country?

► What is meant by the Security Council’s grant to the Brigade of authority to “neutralize” armed groups?

That uncertainty gives rise to other questions. One such question jumps to mind on reading Oswald’s quotation of a 1999 Secretary-General’s Bulletin to the effect that if members of the Brigade are classified as combatants in the conflict,

‘they “can be legitimate targets for the extent of their participation in accordance with international humanitarian law”.’

Article 8(2)(b)(iii) of the Rome Statute authorizes the International Criminal Court to prosecute persons for the war crime of

‘[i]ntentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, as long as they are entitled to the protection given to civilians or civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict ….’

Notably, the offense already has been charged in the court, in the Situation in Darfur, Sudan. Oswald’s reasoning suggests that in a different situation in some future case involving an entity like the new Brigade, that final proviso might require considerable interpretation.