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Central African Republic: Elections are ‘unique opportunity’ for peace

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Voter registration in Bangui, Central African Republic. MINUSCA/Hervé Serefio

The UN Secretary-General has called for parties in the Central African Republic (CAR) to prioritize national dialogue and consensus-building ahead of elections scheduled to begin in December. 

“The coming period will be decisive for the country”, António Guterres told a high-level meeting on the country, held on Thursday.  His remarks were shared after the meeting, which was held behind closed doors. 

“The presidential, legislative and local elections represent a unique opportunity for national reconciliation and the consolidation of peace, as well as the country’s constitutional order and democratic achievements.” 

A UN peacekeeping operation has been in the CAR since 2014 following intercommunal violence, largely between a mainly Muslim coalition known as Séléka, and a mostly Christian alliance, commonly referred to as the Anti-Balaka.   

Despite an agreement signed last year between the Government and 14 armed groups, the CAR continues to suffer violence and human rights abuses. Ongoing humanitarian and development needs, which have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, also remain an urgent priority.  

A crucial step 

The Secretary-General said the elections also constitute a crucial step for the continuity of the political process, and he upheld the February 2019 accord as “the only viable framework” for lasting peace in the country.   

“The authorities of the Central African Republic and all national stakeholders have a historic responsibility to ensure the proper conduct of these elections, which must be free, transparent, safe, inclusive and within the constitutional time limits”, he stated. 

“I therefore call upon all stakeholders to prioritize national dialogue and consensus-building, in a spirit of respect and tolerance between different ethnic groups and religions.” 

Putting people at the centre 

The UN chief stressed that citizens, including those who fled to neighbouring countries, must reap the benefits of efforts towards peace and democracy. 

“All segments of the population of the Central African Republic, in particular women, young people, internally displaced persons and refugees, must be at the centre of efforts to consolidate democracy and, consequently, of this electoral process”, he said. 

The Secretary-General reported that there has been progress in implementing the agreement, including in legislative reforms, extension of state authority across the country, and a process for disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating combatants. 

Security has also improved in some areas, thanks to the presence of the UN mission, known by the French acronym MINUSCA, which supports the authorities. 

 However, Mr. Guterres was concerned about the “significant number” of human rights violations and breaches of the agreement.  

“The commitments made by all signatories must be respected”, he said, while strongly condemning attacks targeting civilians, humanitarian workers and UN peacekeepers.

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Greenpeace Africa responds to the cancellation of oil blocks in Salonga National Park

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© Kim S. Gjerstad

On Monday the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to remove Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The decision follows clarification “provided by the national authorities that the oil concessions overlapping with the property are nul[l] and void and that these blocks will be excluded from future auctioning.”

Oil blocks overlapping with Salonga were awarded by President Joseph Kabila in the twilight of his regime. Greenpeace Africa has repeatedly demanded their cancellation, while local leaders voiced their opposition to the project in light of its impacts on communities. 

“A decision by President Felix Tshisekedi to cancel all oil blocks in Salonga Park must be followed by a decision to cancel oil blocks in Virunga Park and across the Cuvette Centrale region. These are vast areas rich in biodiversity that provide clean water, food security and medicine to local communities and which render environmental services to humanity,” says Irene Wabiwa Betoko, International Project Leader for the Congo Basin forest. 

The Salonga National Park, which is Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984. The park plays a fundamental role in climate regulation and the sequestration of carbon. The park is also home to numerous endemic endangered species such as the pygmy chimpanzee (or bonobo), the forest elephant, the African slender-snouted crocodile and the Congo peacock. Salonga had been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1999, due to pressures such as poaching, deforestation and poor management. The government of DRC later on issued oil drilling licences that encroached on the protected area, posing a threat to the wildlife-rich site.

“DRC’s auctioning of oil blocks has not only been scandalously lacking transparency and menacing for particularly sensitive environmental areas – they neither benefit Congolese people nor the planet. Instead of privileging a small group of beneficiaries of the toxic fossil fuels industry, diversifying the DRC’s economy should be done through renewable energy investments that will make energy accessible and affordable for all,” Irene Wabiwa concluded.

Greenpeace Africa urges full transparency from both UNESCO and the DRC government and calls for the publication of all supportive documents regarding the decision to cancel the aforementioned oil blocks, as well as the map of the nine oil blocks that are still being auctioned in the Cuvette Centrale region.

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Domestic violence, forced marriage, have risen in Sudan

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photo: UNDP/Ahmed Alsamani

Deteriorating economic conditions since 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have fuelled an increase in domestic violence and forced marriage in Sudan, a UN-backed study has revealed. 

Voices from Sudan 2020, published this week, is the first-ever nationwide qualitative assessment of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country, where a transitional government is now in its second year. 

Addressing the issue is a critical priority, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Government’s Combating Violence against Women Unit (CVAW), co-authors of the report. 

“The current context of increased openness by the Government of Sudan, and dynamism by civil society, opens opportunities for significant gains in advancing women’s safety and rights,” they said

Physical violence at home 

The report aims to complement existing methods of gathering data and analysis by ensuring that the views, experiences and priorities of women and girls, are understood and addressed. 

Researchers found that communities perceive domestic and sexual violence as the most common GBV issues. 

Key concerns include physical violence in the home, committed by husbands against wives, and by brothers against sisters, as well as movement restrictions which women and girls have been subjected to. 

Another concern is sexual violence, especially against women working in informal jobs, but also refugee and displaced women when moving outside camps, people with disabilities, and children in Qur’anic schools.  

Pressure to comply 

Forced marriage is also “prominent”, according to the report. Most of these unions are arranged between members of the same tribe, or relatives, without the girl’s consent or knowledge. 

Meanwhile, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains widespread in Sudan, with varying differences based on geographic location and tribal affiliation.  Although knowledge about the illegality and harmfulness of the practice has reached community level, child marriage and FGM are not perceived as key concerns. 

Women’s access to resources is also severely restricted.  Men control financial resources, and boys are favoured for access to opportunities, especially education. Verbal and psychological pressure to comply with existing gender norms and roles is widespread, leading in some cases to suicide.  

The deteriorating economic situation since 2020, and COVID-19, have increased violence, especially domestic violence and forced marriage, the report said. Harassment in queues for essential supplies such as bread and fuel has also been reported.  

Data dramatically lacking 

Sudan continues to move along a path to democracy following the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar Al-Bashir who had been in power for 30 years.  

Openly discussing GBV “has not been possible for the last three decades”, according to the report.   

“GBV data is dramatically lacking, with no nation-wide assessment done for the past 30 years, and a general lack of availability of qualitative and quantitative data,” the authors said. 

To carry out the assessment, some 215 focus group discussions were held with communities: 21 with GBV experts, as well as a review of existing studies and assessments. 

Research was conducted between August and November 2020, encompassing 60 locations and camps, and the data was scanned through a software for qualitative analysis, followed a model first used in Syria. 

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African Leaders Unite to Support (DA20 Replenishment

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His Excellency President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire and the World Bank Group will host a high-level meeting on July 15, 2021, with African leaders to highlight the importance of an ambitious and robust 20th replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA20). The replenishment will support a resilient recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and help the continent continue its economic transformation.

As African countries grapple with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued support from the World Bank, particularly from IDA, is critical to help them meet their financing needs, which were already high before the pandemic.  

This high-level meeting follows the call from African leaders, during the African economies financing Summit in Paris last May, asking for increased support to build back better and greener from the crisis. The discussions will help identify key priorities for financing in Africa, and champion a strong policy and financing package for an ambitious IDA20 replenishment. Africa is IDA’s biggest beneficiary with 39 countries and has made significant headway in improving development indicators in the six decades partnership with the World Bank.

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