Human Security and Accountability in the Central African Republic: A Bridge Half-Crossed

In: Journal of International Peacekeeping
Tom Buitelaar Institute of Security and Global Affairs of the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs, Leiden University, The Hague, The Netherlands

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In its rhetoric, the United Nations foregrounds the importance of individual accountability for human rights violations. It also emphasizes the necessity of transitional justice in which individual survivors deserve recognition for their suffering and should take a central place in decisions on what happens after periods of violent unrest. These commitments are in line with the central tenets of human security, another key discursive element of the UN’s work, which calls for putting people front and center in the organization’s conflict response. People working in and on UN peace operations have put considerable effort into mainstreaming this approach in the organization’s accountability work. However, this commitment runs into several obstacles on the ground. This paper analyzes these challenges in the context of the UN’s efforts to support transitional justice efforts in the Central African Republic, where the UN has an exceptionally extensive mandate to promote accountability for atrocity crimes.


In the 1990s and 2000s, scholars and policymakers extensively discussed how the United Nations’ (UN) approach to security should shift its focus from states to individuals, and from narrow state security to broader threats that people faced in their daily lives. Today, however, the concept of human security—which takes these ideas as its central tenets—has gone out of fashion.1 Indeed, after playing a key role in its development and mainstreaming, the UN has strongly limited its discursive references to human security.2 Despite this rhetorical shift, however, many of human security’s core principles still reverberate in the UN’s peace operations, both in its rhetoric and practice.3 An example of this rhetoric is the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, which claims that peace operations are supposed to be “people-centric” and “committed to helping to improve the lives of people living in conflict-affected countries whom they have been mandated to serve”.4 Many recent peace operations have strived to implement these ideas in practice as well, focusing on protecting civilians while working on a broad spectrum of development issues that address potential threats to people’s daily lives. One of these issues is the promotion of transitional justice, which “refers to how societies respond to the legacies of massive and serious human rights violations”.5

The development of transitional justice has gone hand in hand with the development of human security, with the anti-impunity agenda as a core element.6 States and other actors recognized the need to fight impunity for atrocity crimes, moved beyond the initially state-centered approach, and promoted seeing such crimes as having individual perpetrators and individual victims.7 Although transitional justice, and criminal justice in particular, is traditionally a state prerogative, the UN was at the forefront of this trend. Through a combination of advocacy, technical, financial, and logistical assistance, it played an important role in the work of several national and international justice mechanisms. It supported truth and reconciliation commissions in Guatemala and other post-conflict countries and established international criminal tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Since then, proponents of the ‘no peace without justice’ mantra have obtained a secure foothold in the organization, including in the UN’s peace operations, which have played an important role in its implementation.8 During the 2000s and 2010s, the UN Security Council almost always mandated multidimensional peace operations with some kind of anti-impunity mandate.9 Many in the UN now see countering impunity as both key to breaking cycles of violence and as a moral imperative. The human security agenda matches with the transitional justice agenda because the latter is equally supposed to be ‘people-centric’, identifying the needs of the core constituents with regards to accountability and involving them in the design of how to address these needs.10

Several observers have noted, however, that human security remains latched onto a state-centric world.11 In other words, the way in which the UN can make its operations more ‘people-centric’—or more closely adhere to human security principles—is governed by the preferences and interests of state actors.12 Since these states maintain a statist lens, and prefer a world in which they retain primacy, they are unlikely to reform structures in a way that truly puts human security first.

In this article, I analyze how, given the above constraints, peace operations implement the principles of human security in their accountability work. While we have a sense of how the UN talks about human security in peacekeeping, how it could have adopted human security principles in its peace operations, and how the Security Council translates human security into peacekeeping mandates, we know surprisingly little about what this looks like in the UN’s field-level work.13 Furthermore, scholars have so far largely ignored peace operations’ work on accountability. I seek to contribute by developing a ‘human security approach to accountability’ and using an extensive set of data to measure to what degree the UN implements this in its peace operation in the Central African Republic (car). As I argue in the conclusion, this approach has potential to enhance our analysis of other cases of international support to anti-impunity efforts as well.

As noted, I focus in this article on the UN stabilization mission in the Central African Republic (minusca). I will show below that this was a most-likely case for the UN to implement its human security principles in restoring peace and stability to a country. This case can therefore tell us something about which challenges emerge in implementing human security (or people-centered peacekeeping) in the context of peacekeeping more broadly and in accountability more specifically.

I find that minusca managed to integrate many of the key human security principles in its approach to accountability in the car. It increased the role of victims in criminal justice processes, organized a number of local consultations to assess preferences with regards to accountability, and invested substantial resources in building the capacity of the car to pursue accountability itself. Human security also served as a legitimization tool for the UN’s approach, in that it frequently invoked the supposed preferences of the local population to justify its work. However, its ability to implement these approaches became more constrained as the host state grew more assertive and insecurity in the car persisted. Furthermore, the involvement of the local population rarely extended to the critical design phase of how the mission approached accountability. More fundamentally, the UN tended to revert to statist approaches to accountability, which did not always match local preferences. Finally, there was scarce effort to seek accountability for crimes other than narrow physical integrity violations.

Below, I first review some of the academic literature on human security, specifically in the context of the UN, the UN’s peace operations, and transitional justice. I then develop four indicators of when a UN peace operation can be said to be implementing human security principles in its accountability work. After setting out my methodology, I assess how minusca scored on these indicators and analyze the challenges it encountered in doing so. In the conclusion, I relate these findings to broader scholarship and policy discussions, and suggest avenues for future research.

Human Security, Peacekeeping and Accountability

Human Security

The literature on human security saw its heyday in the 1990s and 2000s. After the UN Human Development Report of 1994, which is often credited with popularizing the term, human security scholars argued that security thinking and practice should change in two important ways. First, it should extend vertically, refocusing on levels below the state, on ‘normal human beings’, with individuals as the key referent of security policy. Second, it should extend horizontally, moving beyond traditional national security interests, to issues that threaten the daily lives of ‘normal people’.14

Subsequently, much of the literature evolved around two key debates. First, there were extensive discussions on the narrow vs. broad interpretation of human security.15 Advocates of a broad interpretation argued that sources of insecurity for human beings extend far beyond direct violence and that this latter threat is inextricably linked to development aspects such as poverty, environmental threats, and other risks.16 Focusing on one threat over the other therefore does not make sense. Proponents of a broad interpretation further argue that narrowing down the range of threats to what are supposedly ‘essential threats’ risks insufficiently justified selectivity.17 Proponents of a narrow interpretation reject these claims and warn for making the concept meaningless by making it too broad. They argue for limiting attention to a supposed ‘core’ of physical security risks related to protection in conflict. They want to retain the vertical extension of security to the individual but they oppose a too-expansive horizontal expansion—which would cover every threat that could potentially impact on a human’s wellbeing.18 MacFarlane and Khong argue that the ‘broad’ interpretation suffers from “conceptual overstretch” which “generates false priorities and hopes”, “leads to confusion about the causes of human insecurity”, and “may engender military solutions to political problems” by “securitizing everything”.19

The second debate is about whether human security should be used as an object of critical scholarship or rather needs to be policy-oriented and problem-solving. On the one hand, scholars argue that human security ought to guide a complete restructuring of the global political architecture so as to make individuals the main referent of policy. Another group of scholars shares the goal of improving human wellbeing but aims to incorporate human security into existing structures, so as to maximize impact and assure uptake by policy circles.20 Over the past decade, these two debates—narrow vs. broad and critical vs. policy-oriented—have reduced in intensity, and it appears that narrow, problem-solving approaches have ended up with the broadest appeal.21

The UN and Human Security

The human security literature finds that the UN played a significant role in the promotion of the human security concept and implemented many of its principles in its work.22 MacFarlane and Khong show that the organization served as an “incubator of key aspects of human security thinking”, provided “a forum where changing understandings of security could be articulated by states”, and “embed[ded] the concept of human security” in many of its field programs.23 According to Thérien, human security became the UN’s dominant “ideology”: the organization provided important legitimacy to human security, while the concept also served as a legitimizing tool for the UN itself.24 By 2010, however, “the term ‘human security’ ha[d] all but vanished” from key UN documents.25 While the UN did not completely discard the main aspects of human security, it adopted a narrow, physical security-based conceptualization.26 This was because of the ambiguities in the broad conceptualization, the absence of strong buy-in from the organization’s leadership, controversy among member states, and a failure to demonstrate added value because of continued vagueness surrounding its key tenets.27

Another important reason for the UN’s difficulties with the human security concept, is what Newman calls its “central paradox” which refers to the second debate noted above: scholars of human security call for an overhaul and critique of structures that produce insecurity while at the same time many practitioners implement human security through these same structures. The UN’s strong roots in the current state system make it very difficult for the organization to move far beyond what states find acceptable.28 Instead of opting for a ‘solidarist’ approach—which would “view international relations as a cosmopolitan society of humans, not of states”—the fact that the UN is at heart a statist organization meant that it opted for a ‘pluralist’ approach—whereby it emphasized diversity, sovereignty, and non-interference.29 For the same reasons, it played down human security’s transformative potential.30 In that sense, Chandler argues that human security was the “dog that didn’t bark”: despite its critical and transformative promise, it ended up reinforcing instead of challenging existing policy frameworks within the UN.31

Peacekeeping and Human Security

Notwithstanding these valid critiques, the UN has made extensive efforts to implement human security in its field work, including its peace operations. Whereas initial discussions focused on how peacekeeping could be entirely reshaped to focus its efforts on these principles, the organization ended up operationalizing human security within existing frameworks, translating it into a people-centered and bottom-up approach to conflict.32 Gilder shows that, in the car, this meant that the UN actively sought to “empower local people, engage in a bottom-up manner and entrench the rule of law”.33 As already noted, the development of multidimensional peace operations, with its emphasis on development and peacebuilding, speaks to the horizontal extension of security policy.34 In addition, the emphasis on the protection of civilians is a key way in which peacekeepers have vertically extended the concept of security: without protecting individuals’ physical safety, other approaches to improve human security are meaningless.35 This even extended to protection of civilians from threats by the state, which is a clear “privileging [of] the individual and his or her security over that of the state”.36 In that sense, MacFarlane and Khong show that human security provided a rationale for increasingly intrusive peace operations. If states were unable or unwilling to protect their own citizens, the international community had a responsibility to step in.37

At the same time, the literature identifies several challenges that the UN has faced in the implementation of human security in its peace operations. First, the dependence of peace operations on host state consent has often posed a strong constraint on the full implementation of human security in the UN peace operations, as host states frequently try to limit peace operations’ efforts to strengthen individuals vis-à-vis the state. One way in which this manifests itself is that peace operations find it far more difficult to protect civilians from state violence than from rebel violence.38 Second, the prioritization of the protection of civilians, although a key aspect of the vertical extension of security, tends to predominantly focus on protection from narrow physical threats and does not take the holistic approach to security that human security proponents tend to do.39 Third, and relatedly, the militarization of peacekeeping risks reducing its unique potential as an impartial actor engaged in bottom-up peacebuilding.40 Finally, the fact that the UN’s stabilization missions are often asked to strengthen host state authority may imply a renewed emphasis on state security over human security.41

Transitional Justice and Human Security

The concept of transitional justice has not played a particularly important role in the literature on human security, although there are some references to ways in which transitional justice can improve human security. First, if done in a holistic way, transitional justice makes changes to the structures that were at the root of the conflict. It may help redefine the relationship between the state and its citizens.42 Second, legal accountability may have a deterrent effect which prevents future violations.43 Finally, criminal accountability, in addition to institutions that maintain the rule of law, may establish checks and balances on governmental abuse (as well as abuse by other actors).44 Notwithstanding these positive views of the relationship between human security and transitional justice, the latter (and especially its anti-impunity agenda) is subject to similar critiques as well: despite holistic philosophical underpinnings, transitional justice tends to be operationalized in a way that narrowly addresses physical integrity violations, instead of broader economic or social structures which are at the root of much insecurity. It is also seen as selective and therefore not offering a universalistic protection against massive human rights violations.45

As such, the existing literature provides some understanding of how the UN has operationalized human security in its field operations, and on its links with transitional justice. Scholars also analyze some of the challenges associated with these efforts. In this article, I seek to further explore the extent to which the human security framework is reflected in the UN’s accountability work in peace operations and better understand the prevalent constraints.

A Human Security Approach to Accountability

To do so, I build on the human security literature discussed above in addition to work done by Gilder—who analyzes human security in minusca’s mandate in its entirety (so not solely focused on accountability).46 Gilder argues that, in the context of peacekeeping, the human security concept is “based upon five principles: (1) human rights and the rule of law, (2) a focus on the vital core identified in a bottom-up manner, (3) a concern for vulnerability and building resilience, (4) preventative protection, and (5) the empowerment of people to act on their own behalf and implement solutions to security threats”.47

I disentangle these five principles and make these more specific to what a human security approach to accountability would look like. This leads to four focus areas that I would expect to be part and parcel of a peace operation’s human security approach to accountability. While these focus areas are mutually reinforcing and may somewhat overlap, I show below that they are sufficiently distinct to justify treating them separately.

First, a human security approach to accountability is people-centric. The main referent should not be the state, but the affected individuals and communities, whose involvement the peace operation should seek to enhance.48 In other words, a peace operation should not simply identify individual perpetrators who have committed crimes that undermine state stability, apply state-determined laws, and lock them up in state prisons. Such a retributive justice system primarily serves to reaffirm state authority and may have little involvement and recognition from the affected individuals. Rather, a peace operation should seek to enhance the role of victims, ensure their appropriate involvement in trials, and work towards broad local participation in the justice process.

Second, to ensure the implementation of the first factor, a peace operation should engage and consult with the local population to identify their needs and preference hierarchies with regards to accountability. Should there be imprisonment and punishment, or should the peace operation focus on the restoration of relations between conflict parties, or maybe reparations? Or does the population have other priorities, such as security and humanitarian aid? A peace operation should therefore not only focus on its own “predetermined hierarchy of threats”, but put the local population in the driving seat, thus preventing an approach whereby it only involves this same population as passive ‘receivers’ of international assistance.49

A third key element of a human security approach to accountability is capacity-building, which enables a country to ultimately provide accountability and uphold the rule of law itself. According to Kaldor, this includes establishing or strengthening “the instruments for law enforcement”, whereby a system of enforceable and predictable laws, along with the necessary checks and balances, protect the population from state abuse and other rights violations.50 This also means training judges and helping to set up other legal infrastructure to build capacity. As such, under a human security approach, a peace operation promotes resilience and empowerment, and seeks to leave behind a self-sustaining system of justice.51

Finally, given the emphasis in human security on identifying a broader range of threats than only physical security, a human security approach to accountability would also try to seek justice for economic, ecological, or other crimes that threaten human security. A peace operation would not only support accountability for narrow physical integrity violations.

I argue that, together, these four components form a human security approach to accountability. When assessing the degree to which the UN implements such a human security approach, it is important to distinguish how the UN talks about these principles, and how it actually implements these principles on the ground.52 As other scholars have identified a gap between how the UN talks about peace operations and what the organization actually does, it is necessary to look at both the discourse and behavior of the UN when it comes to how it operationalizes people-centric peacekeeping in the context of its accountability work.53


To understand the implementation of a human security approach to accountability by UN peace operations, I conduct a single case study of minusca between March 2014 and July 2023. At the time of minusca’s deployment, the Central African state was virtually non-existent, there was a state of anarchy, and severe warnings of genocide abounded.54 Although there was no appetite for a fully fledged transitional administration, the Security Council did end up giving minusca a very intrusive mandate. The mission was supposed to implement an extensive protection mandate, re-establish state authority, and support an internationally accepted transitional government that would lead a political process out of the conflict.55 Importantly for this article, the Council also provided minusca an intrusive accountability mandate: minusca should restore the justice system, support national and international justice, establish a Special Criminal Court to prosecute the most serious crimes, support this Court’s operations, and take Urgent Temporary Measures (utm s), under which it could arrest suspected criminals in areas where the state could not do so itself (which, in the beginning, was virtually everywhere). After the 2016 elections in the car, the Council reoriented minusca’s role towards one more deferential to the government, although much of its strong accountability mandate remained.56

I argue that minusca is a most likely case for the UN taking a human security approach to accountability.57 Compared to other recent peace operations, minusca had a relatively extensive mandate to support accountability processes in the car and considerable authority vis-à-vis the government. Especially in the mission’s early phase, before the 2016 elections, it took on a quasi-statist role, playing an important role in establishing many of the justice institutions that the car has today.58 If the UN had wanted to establish a human security approach to accountability, it had relative freedom to do so. We can therefore learn much from how this UN operation chose to carry out its mandate. Furthermore, the case allows me to observe variation in the constraints on adopting a human security approach, as minusca’s role in the car changed over the years of its existence (as becomes clear below).

In order to assess the degree to which minusca adopted a human security approach to its accountability work, I analyze the mission’s public communications. Using Python, I web-scraped the Secretary-General’s reports on the car between March 2014 and July 2023, as well as the original French press releases and verbatim transcriptions of press conferences published on the minusca website in that same timespan.59 This resulted in a total of 1094 documents: 41 Secretary-General reports, 755 press releases, and 298 press conferences, which I hand-coded using Atlas.ti 23.60 These public communications contain data on both the mission’s discourse and its behavior. For example, minusca’s press releases report on its activities, but also show us how it frames and justifies them. To mitigate the biases that are likely to be present in how the mission reports on itself, I also consulted secondary sources, like academic literature and reports by ngo s, think tanks, and media.

I use this data to assess how minusca scored on the indicators of a human security approach to accountability that I set out in the analytical framework above. These indicators are: (1) minusca seeks to enhance the role of affected individuals in the accountability process; (2) minusca consults with and empowers local communities on how to design and implement its accountability work; (3) minusca engages in capacity-building, both state and non-state, to leave behind a self-sustaining justice system; and (4) minusca pushes for accountability for more than narrow physical integrity violations.

minusca’s Accountability Work

In this section, I assess the degree to which minusca’s accountability work implemented the human security approach I sketched out above. This will provide insights into how the UN operationalizes these principles in a concrete setting and show some of the challenges of making UN peacekeeping more “people-centric”. I start by providing an overview of the core foci of minusca’s accountability work and then assess how these efforts adhered to the human security principles set out above.

In 2013 and 2014, as violence spiked in the car, Council members, the Secretariat, and the transitional government identified the complete lack of accountability both as a root cause of the escalating violence and as a major issue in restoring law and order to the country.61 minusca officials shared this assessment—and saw the revitalization of the justice system as a core aspect of its stabilization mandate.62 From the outset, UN officials engaged in the design of several institutional responses to this problem. These focused on four things: (1) the Special Criminal Court, a court established within the Central African judiciary to prosecute serious crimes with international assistance, (2) the criminal justice chain of the Central African domestic judiciary, (3) the utm s, and (4) the Commission for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation (known by its French acronym, cvjrr).63 The mission also undertook smaller efforts including support for the establishment of a national human rights commission, the 2017 publication of a mapping report on serious crimes committed between 2003 and 2015, and support to a mixed rapid response unit to fight sexual violence (umirr).64

My analysis shows that, over the past decade, minusca has delivered significant support to accountability processes in the car, helping with logistics, security, information-sharing, political support, and arrests.65 Indeed, it provided support for the entire criminal justice chain: prosecution strategies, the training and deployment of judicial staff, investigations, criminal trials, the administration of prisons, and the establishment and security of infrastructure like courthouses.66 In addition, minusca arrested over a thousand individuals in cases where the national authorities were not present or not able to carry out the arrests themselves.67

An important focus of the mission was the scc, the existence of which was due in large part thanks to minusca. Even before minusca’s deployment, the UN had proposed that it would support Central African authorities in the development, operationalization, and running of a Special Criminal Court which would operate within the Central African judiciary with international assistance. minusca worked extensively on the Court’s design, taking part in the discussions leading to the Loi organique which established the scc in 2015.68 Subsequently, it received the mandate to provide substantial assistance to the scc, which it translated to support in logistical and technical issues,69 mobilization of funds,70 establishing a special legal corps to protect the rights of the accused,71 selecting and deploying national and international staff,72 identifying and refurbishing the scc’s headquarters,73 and other aspects of court management.74 It also supported the identification of potential suspects and the development of a prosecutorial and case selection strategy, subsequently using its utm s to arrest scc suspects.75 Together with the UN Development Programme (undp), it co-wrote the strategy for protection of victims and witnesses.76 Finally, it provided direct financial support to the scc, reporting in December 2021 that it had already provided 18 million usd to the scc and promising 4.3 million usd more.77 Once the scc was operational, UN Police (unpol) provided support to the scc’s investigations and close personal protection for scc magistrates.78

In addition to the scc, minusca supported the operationalization of the cvjrr, a commission which is supposed to establish the truth and determine responsibility for serious crimes between 1959 and 2019.79 Victims would play a central role in its work, and it would develop reparations programs and other efforts to pursue reconciliation.80 After several delays and perceptions of a lack of political will, the cvjrr was finally officially inaugurated in July 2021. minusca supported the initial planning efforts, helping to draft legislation defining the cvjrr’s mandate, and supporting field visits with financial and technical support. It was further involved in recruiting the cvjrr’s commissioners.81 After the official establishment, minusca supported planning retreats for the commissioners, helped equip its temporary headquarters, and assisted in outreach activities.82

In what follows, I discuss how minusca integrated human security principles in all this accountability work. I devote one section to each of the principles that I set out in the analytical framework above.

People-centric Accountability

The idea of people-centric accountability primarily translated into a focus on victims. The Secretary-General was outspoken about the need for a victim-centered transitional justice strategy supported by minusca.83 In his view, justice mechanisms were supposed to “touch the lives of all Central Africans” and thus focus on their impact on people.84 He saw this as part of a broader, inclusive peace process, including a “deeper dialogue”85 that would “plac[e] at its centre the deeply rooted concerns of the people” and put “women and young people … at [its] heart”.86 In December 2015, srsg Onanga-Anyanga underlined that such a process would necessitate “courageously and determinedly tackling the scourge of impunity”.87

The UN matched this discourse with significant support for the inclusion and recognition of victims in Central African justice mechanisms throughout its presence in the car. Before the 2016 elections, minusca put victims at the center of its accountability work, tried to enhance their role in the justice process, and provided support and protection where necessary.88 For example, the scc was designed to include the possibility for victims to participate as parties to the proceedings and obtain legal aid where it is deemed necessary and feasible.89 After the 2016 elections, the mission continued to advocate for and support both judicial and non-judicial mechanisms to enhance accountability. It maintained a focus on victims in this work. This included the establishment of a fund for legal aid to victims for the scc and co-authoring a “strategy for the protection of victims and witnesses” in May 2018.90 Furthermore, it sought to increase popular participation for the Court’s work. For example, in January 2022, it raised awareness of the work of the scc by broadcasting live the scc trial of the perpetrators of massacres in Koundjili and Lemouna and facilitating a radio broadcast in both French and local languages.91 Finally, in 2018–9, minusca was involved in establishing a national network to protect victims and supporting a consultative process that led to “a legal framework for legal aid to vulnerable populations and equal access to justice” and a system for outreach to affected communities.92 A key challenge in this work, however, was the continuing insecurity in the car, which complicated victim participation and outreach activities.93

That being said, efforts to improve victim participation in the scc and the domestic Central African justice system faced several constraints. There was a tension between the mission’s emphasis on the role of victims and its framing and justification of the restoration of the justice system as a key component of state authority. In practice, minusca’s efforts primarily centered around establishing state institutions to pursue criminal accountability. This is made more clear by a statement by the head of the judicial and penitentiary affairs section in 2019, who listed as minusca’s priority areas: supporting the scc, fighting impunity, restoring state authority and the penal system outside Bangui, and the improvement of the prison system.94 The involvement of victims apparently did not get priority status. This is related to the fundamental problem that the core purpose of any criminal court is to judge the accused’s criminal liability through a fair trial, with an inherently limited potential to include victims to the fullest account and center their needs.

The effect of these constraints was felt less strongly by the cvjrr. This Commission is explicitly meant to center the perspective of victims by “set[ting] up a Special Reparation Fund for Victims, propos[ing] a national reparations programme and work[ing] for construction of a memorial to the victims”.95 However, given that it only recently started operations, its impact is as of yet unclear.

Consultation and Local Empowerment

Taking a human security approach to accountability also means that a peace operation should put the local population in the driver’s seat of restoring peace to their country, and ensure that it engages different groups to identify their needs and preferences with regards to accountability. It should be the local preference hierarchy that drives a mission’s work, without a “predetermined hierarchy of threats”.96 Discursively, minusca recognized that its work needed to be guided by the preferences of the local population. It would frequently justify and frame its accountability work as responding to a call by the Central Africans themselves, as responding to the needs of the population.97 For example, minusca “welcome[d]” the scc’s first verdict in October 2022 by stating that it “marked a major step in taking into account the need for justice of the Central African population”.98 Even the utm s were claimed to be a way to “materialize the legitimate aspiration of victims to justice, truth and repair”.99 In other words, this human security principle served as a key legitimizing tool for the mission’s accountability work.

minusca undertook several initiatives to assess local preferences. The most important one was the Bangui Forum of May 2015, a broad and inclusive dialogue in which “more than 800 representatives” took part.100 Already in 2014, minusca worked on proposals to launch “an inclusive, meaningful political dialogue” that would also talk about “justice [and] reconciliation”.101 minusca subsequently played an essential role in the organization of the Forum, training consultation teams and facilitating local consultations in the run-up to the forum.102 This also included trainings of civil society leaders to specifically equip them with the capacity to participate in discussions on transitional justice mechanisms.103 As an indication of the importance of the Forum for the mission, minusca even used force against those who tried to disrupt popular consultations in the Bamingui-Bangora region.104

During the Forum itself, minusca provided significant support, for example with logistical and security assistance and by broadcasting the proceedings live across the country.105 The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, chaired the Forum, where Central Africans discussed a large variety of issues, including the key aspect of accountability and justice.106 Participants rejected amnesties for serious crimes and recommended a set of punitive and restorative justice measures, including the scc and the cvjrr.107 As I show below, minusca took this Forum seriously and adopted its outcomes as guidelines for its future work.

In addition to support for the Bangui Forum, minusca assisted in two further national consultation processes. First, it assisted the cvjrr in its national consultations program (launched by President Touadéra in June 2019) and in information-gathering on conflict-related human rights violations.108 For example, in October/November 2019, minusca’s human rights division provided financial and technical support to eight field visits by the preparatory Inclusive Commission for the cvjrr.109 Nevertheless, security challenges seriously impeded this work and prevented civilians living under the control of armed groups from participating in the consultation process.110 Second, minusca was involved in the preparations and organization of the Republican Dialogue, convened between 21 to 27 March 2022.111 The recommendations from the Republican Dialogue were seen as largely overlapping with that of the Bangui Forum and seen as a vindication that the Forum “continue[d] to reflect the collective aspirations of the Central African people for lasting peace and development”.112

Between the Bangui Forum and the Republican Dialogue, however, there were no national consultations or structured and consistent attempts by the mission to identify the needs of Central Africans. Indeed, especially after the 2016 elections, minusca gradually returned to adopting the Central African government as its primary interlocutor. It were the UN and the government that led the further development of the transitional justice options that were set out at the Bangui Forum, with limited involvement by the population. The mission was more active in getting the population to buy in to these strategies than that it was necessarily seeking to involve it in their design. As argued by Lombard and Picco, the Forum was mostly used to develop a national strategy driven by the state, with little attention for tailored local level responses.113 Indeed, there were no continuous consultations to assess the possibly changing needs of the population.114

On some occasions, this effort to have the population buy in to government-focused peace and transitional justice processes became explicit. For instance, in the context of the 2019 Khartoum peace agreement—which some Central Africans critiqued as containing too many concessions to the armed groups—the mission called on the Central African population to support the deal and to refrain from spreading negative or false information which could undermine the process.115 In other examples, minusca would call on Central Africans to “take ownership” of the peace agreement, to support centrally organized transitional justice processes, or to more broadly support government initiatives, despite the population’s limited involvement in them.116

Furthermore, minusca appeared to prioritize the legal accountability for recent crimes sought by the scc over the more structural analysis pursued by the cvjrr. Both had been proposed by the Bangui Forum, but the scc was made operational and provided with a budget much sooner, while minusca also provided more extensive support. This was despite the fact that there was no clear indicator that Central Africans prioritized the legal prosecution of recent physical integrity violations by the scc over the investigation of more structural human rights violations that would be done by the cvjrr.

These considerations did not prevent the mission from using the Bangui Forum on a frequent basis to justify its accountability work. The Forum’s outcomes were seen as a ‘call for justice’ by the Central African population and so, whenever minusca wanted to justify its accountability work as adhering to local preferences, it could point to the Bangui Forum. Five years after the Bangui Forum, for example, minusca officials lauded a decision by a national court—a verdict of the Court of Appeal of Bangui against individuals responsible for the death of civilians and 10 peacekeepers in Bangassou—as fulfilling the demands of the Bangui Forum.117 Of course, it is not unlikely that Central Africans continued to see impunity as a major problem and wanted minusca to continue to support the criminal justice system.118 However, it is still remarkable that a consultation that occurred five years ago—in a different political context—is invoked as representing the current needs of the Central African population.


The third indicator of a human security approach to accountability is that a mission engages in capacity-building, that it supports the rule of law to prevent future violations and establish “the instruments of law enforcement”: training judges, advocating for checks and balances, and helping to set up other legal infrastructure. Ultimately, it should leave behind a self-sustaining justice system that takes the individuals affected by crimes as its key referent and takes a form preferred by the local population.

Capacity-building was one of the core aspects of minusca’s mandate. From its inception, minusca contributed to the broad restoration of state authority throughout the car. The complete lack of law enforcement and the absence of a judicial system in the car was seen as a major obstacle to achieving lasting peace, and the UN therefore quickly identified that there would need to be a major effort to restore the Central African justice system.119 Indeed, the Secretary-General called “the gradual redeployment of justice and corrections services across the country” a “key area of engagement for minusca”.120 This included work on the scc but also, crucially, efforts to establish a functioning judicial chain for the domestic justice system. These capacity building initiatives were framed as “above all [about] the civilian population which deeply aspires to peace and justice”.121

minusca focused on three things in particular: increasing institutional capacity, rehabilitating and constructing infrastructure, and building human capacity. First, minusca undertook various efforts to strengthen the car’s institutional capacity to ensure accountability for serious crimes. Already in September 2014, minusca supported “national special investigative cells to investigate and prosecute serious crimes” that would improve the institutional capacity of the local judiciary.122 Initially, it prioritized the Bangui Court of Appeal, for which it helped recruit and train national staff so that they could conduct the proceedings themselves.123 In addition, in 2017, minusca helped to establish the National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. srsg Onanga-Anyanga justified this support by stating that it would enable “victims of violations and civilian populations” to better “make their voices heard”.124 In 2019, minusca supported the Commission with developing “standard operating procedures, [a] communication strategy and [a] resource mobilization plan”.125

Second, minusca rehabilitated or constructed the infrastructure necessary for a functioning justice system—including courthouses, prisons, and police stations.126 By 2019, it had rehabilitated “11 courts and tribunals, … [supported] the deployment of 135 judicial personnel, including 64 in the jurisdictions of provinces as well as the rehabilitation of 13 prisons, including 10 outside Bangui”.127 Between 2014 and 2018, minusca claimed to have spent 10 million usd on quick impact projects.128 It claimed that, for these projects, “local priorities determine our priorities”.129 It also, together with undp, refurbished the scc’s headquarters, helped to deploy magistrates throughout the car, and provided equipment such as law books.130

Another important aspect of infrastructural work conducted by minusca was the rehabilitation of the prison system. Almost immediately, it set out to provide the car with a functioning and demilitarized prison system, including prisons, (recruitment of) trained staff, and due procedures for respecting the rights of detained individuals.131 minusca also provided security and improvement of conditions in prisons itself. A particular focus was the Camp de Roux maximum security centre in Bangui, where it was envisioned that “those accused of the most serious crimes” could be held. The mission secured funding for its rehabilitation and oversaw much of the work itself.132

Third, minusca built human capacity in the car. It trained civil society to “engage on human rights promotion and protection” and give it the tools to advocate for accountability.133 It also led discussions with ngo s on “mechanisms that could be established aimed at ensuring justice, truth, reparations and non-recurrence of violence”.134 In addition, minusca provided training to journalists on how they could cover criminal proceedings and trained government officials on the documentation of human rights violations.135 The mission did not only target organizations, but also raised awareness and built the capacity of the rest of the population to participate in accountability processes. For example, in February 2017, minusca organized a workshop to inform “50 women leaders” on “the concept of transitional justice and encourage the[ir] contribution”.136 Between late 2021 and early 2022, it organized “four workshops with 250 women, young people and human rights organizations … to discuss women’s needs and support their participation in transitional justice mechanisms”.137 This also included the awareness raising sessions on the scc and the cvjrr discussed above.

minusca’s capacity-building efforts faced major obstacles because of security conditions, especially outside of Bangui. As it sought to rehabilitate court buildings and prisons, or deploy national magistrates to administer local justice systems, the local justice system would sometimes become dysfunctional again, for example because magistrates would flee because of threats by armed groups.138

Broad Accountability

Several experts have noted that the violence in the car is rooted in structural and long-standing problems of inequality, citizenship, religion, and an absence of functioning state authorities.139 In the UN, there was some discursive support for the idea that there needed to be dialogue between Central Africans to address the “root causes” of the conflict, “through an inclusive political process”.140 In 2018, the Secretary-General also maintained that previous peace agreements had not worked because they did not solve “the systematically unaddressed and deep-rooted issues of poverty, inequality, impunity, marginalization, contested citizenship and discrimination”.141 However, minusca generally followed a much more narrow approach when it came to the horizontal extension of security in its accountability work. This meant that it focused on physical integrity violations and rarely sought accountability for more structural violence or economic crimes.

Challenges and Constraints

The analysis above shows that minusca made significant efforts to adopt a people-centric approach to accountability, whereby it empowered the local population, conducted several consultations to identify local preferences, and built institutional, infrastructural, and human capacity. It did not, however, adopt a broader approach to accountability that would address more structural violations of human rights. In addition to this, there are four central challenges and constraints to a human security approach to accountability that emerge from this analysis of minusca.

First, the UN’s approach to accountability was primarily state-centered. This meant that the responses to the rampant impunity in the car were mostly linked to the Central African state and seen as part of the restoration of state authority.142 It also meant that the approach to accountability focused on criminal justice processes, rather than on broader forms of accountability. As such, the state that the mission envisioned was a legal-Weberian one, which would develop a bureaucracy that could fairly and effectively serve the needs of its citizens.143 This focus on restoring state authority sometimes got in the way of centering the needs of the population, while also overlooking other transitional justice options. This was problematic not only because the state still had very limited capacity—even after the 2016 elections—but also because local elites had limited willingness to implement an impartial justice system.144 Furthermore, after decades of poorly functioning or simply absent governments, “Central African society developed practical responses involving not only mediation, but also popular punishment and vengeance”.145 The local population therefore did not necessarily expect a statist approach to accountability, and pursuing this line sometimes meant going against the preferences of the local population. Here, minusca’s legal-rational approach to stabilization clashed with local expectations.

Second, minusca framed and justified its accountability work as fulfilling the preferences of the local population. Human security principles therefore served as an important legitimation tool for the mission.146 However, such justifications became increasingly strained as the mission was still invoking the Bangui Forum five years after the fact as a semi-official expression of Central African preferences. Furthermore, local ownership primarily extended to raising awareness and fostering participation in processes that the UN had either designed by itself, or in consultation with the government. The local population was not in the driver’s seat.

Third, the analysis demonstrates temporal variation in the ability of the UN to implement its human security approach to accountability, in particular between the early phases of the mission and its approach after the 2016 elections. During the former, it had an outsized impact and was heavily involved in the design and establishment of various accountability measures. In this work, the UN tried to implement people-centered aspects, such as national consultations (the Bangui Forum), criminal justice that gives a large role to victims (the scc), transitional justice (what eventually became the cvjrr), and strong institutions (such as the national human rights commission). During the latter phase, however, a democratically elected government took over some of these functions and minusca’s role became more in support of the government.147 After this, its ability to emphasize human security became smaller and the actual implementation of some of the above policies was sidetracked or postponed (the cvjrr, for instance, was only made operational in 2021). The Central African government slowly became the main referent and interlocutor for the mission.

The final theme is the continued insecurity in the car, especially outside of Bangui. Large parts of the country remained under the control of powerful armed groups. This limited the spread of state authority, including the justice system, and made it very difficult to reach the people who were supposed to be involved in the justice system. Furthermore, this continuing insecurity made it more difficult to implement a human security approach and forced minusca to prioritize peace efforts over accountability efforts. For example, the UN supported the Khartoum deal (presided over by icc indictee Omar al-Bashir) which gave armed groups with blood on their hands important roles in the government, and gave them de facto amnesty.148


In this article, I assessed the degree to which minusca adopted human security principles in its approach towards accountability for atrocity crimes, which reveals some of the opportunities and challenges of implementing people-centric peacekeeping. I find that minusca took on board several human security principles in its approach to accountability, enhancing the role for victims, consulting with the local population to identify their preference hierarchies, and spending significant resources on building the capacity of the car’s judicial system. At the same time, this work was filtered through a state-centric worldview in which its accountability approach was primarily directed at restoring state authority. I identified several challenges to people-centric accountability in UN peace operations, including its dependence on host state consent, the security situation in the car, and the tendency to see local participation as something that comes after the design phase of the UN’s approach. I therefore show that the broader argument that the UN’s anchoring in a state-based system shapes its choice for a narrow conceptualization of human security, is also found in the approach that at least one of its peace operations took towards accountability. While minusca clearly engaged in a vertical extension of the concept of security, its horizontal extension remained limited.

These findings speak to several debates in the peacekeeping literature. First, it fits well with broader findings on how the organization operationalizes local ownership. Von Billerbeck, for example, finds that the UN tends to primarily interact with state interlocutors and that, while it often uses the term ‘local ownership’ in its discourse, it is inclined to downplay local involvement in its behaviour.149 Second, the article provides a further illustration of how varying conceptualizations of the term ‘stabilization’ impact a peace operation’s behaviour.150 minusca sought to establish a Weberian state, with a functioning justice system that would serve the needs of its citizens. The local population, after decades of poor or absent governance, often preferred more localized solutions and was suspicious of state authority. Here, there was a mismatch between the mission’s goals and local preferences.

I would argue that the analysis in this article enhances our understanding of how a UN peace operation operationalizes the principles of human security in its work, and can tell us something about the challenges and constraints of conducting ‘people-centric’ peacekeeping. Future research could further explore the continuities and discontinuities between the concepts of ‘human security’ and ‘people-centric’ peacekeeping. In addition, the conceptualization of a ‘human security approach to accountability’ may, in addition to other peace operations, be applicable to a broader range of cases. In particular, I contend that it can be used to analyze many other instances of international support to anti-impunity efforts. Many donors, international organizations, and ngo s active in the anti-impunity field profess to put the victims of atrocity crimes first, and to pursue accountability in order to provide justice to the affected communities. This article provides a way to test these claims. This may in turn may lead to more structured, comparative work to identify the scope conditions for effective people-centric accountability efforts.


Secretary-General’s Reports

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic, S/2014/142, 1 August 2014.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic submitted pursuant to paragraph 48 of Security Council resolution 2127 (2013), S/2014/562, 3 March 2014.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic, S/2014/857, 28 November 2014.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic, S/2015/227, 1 April 2015.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic, S/2015/576, 29 July 2015.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic, S/2015/918, 30 November 2015.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Central African Republic, S/2016/133, 12 February 2016.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic, S/2016/305, 1 April 2016.

United Nations, Special Report of the Secretary-General on the strategic review of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, S/2016/565, 22 June 2016.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Central African Republic, S/2016/824, 29 September 2016.

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic, S/2017/473, 2 June 2017.

United Nations, Situation in the Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2018/611, 18 June 2018.

United Nations, Situation in the Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2018/922, 15 October 2018.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/147, 15 February 2019.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/498, 17 June 2019.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/822, 15 October 2019.

United Nations, Children and armed conflict in the Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary- General, S/2019/852, 30 October 2019.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2020/124, 14 February 2020.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2020/545, 16 June 2020.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2020/994, 12 October 2020.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2021/146, 16 February 2021.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2021/571, 16 June 2021.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2021/867, 12 October 2021.

United Nations, Children and armed conflict in the Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary- General, S/2021/882, 15 October 2021.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2022/119, 16 February 2022.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2022/491, 16 June 2022.

United Nations, Central African Republic: Report of the Secretary-General, S/2022/762, 13 October 2022.

Press Conferences

minusca, ‘Conférence de Presse’, Press conference, 26 November 2014,érence-de-presse-hebdomadaire-du-26-novembre-2014.

minusca, ‘Point de Presse’, Press conference, 25 March 2015,

minusca, ‘Déclaration à la presse du Représentant spécial du Secrétaire général des Nations Unies’, Press conference, 4 September 2015,

minusca, ‘Conférence de Presse Hebdomadaire de la minusca’, Press conference, 20 May 2020,

minusca, ‘Conférence de Presse Hebdomadaire de la minusca’, Press conference, 11 November 2020, _point_de_presse_hebdomadaire_de_la_minusca_-_11_novembre_2020.pdf.

minusca, ‘Conférence de Presse Hebdomadaire de la minusca’, Press conference, 24 November 2021,

minusca, ‘Briefing Presse Hebdomadaire de la minusca’, Press conference, 19 January 2022,

minusca, ‘Conférence de Presse Hebdomadaire de la minusca’, Press conference, 26 January 2022,

minusca, ‘Verbatim de la conférence de presse du secrétaire général adjoint des Nations Unies aux Operations de Paix, Jean Pierre Lacroix’, Press conference, 28 February 2022,

minusca, ‘Conférence de Presse Hebdomadaire de la minusca’, Press conference, 30 March 2022,

minusca, ‘Conférence de Presse Hebdomadaire de la minusca’, Press conference, 1 June 2022,

minusca, ‘Eléments de langage conférence de presse de la minusca’, Press conference, 12 April 2023,

minusca, ‘Eléments de langage conférence de presse de la minusca’, Press conference, 19 April 2023,

Press Releases

minusca, ‘Les forces internationales réaffirment leur soutien aux consultations populaires’, Press release, 29 January 2015,éaffirment-leur-soutien-aux-consultations-populaires-0.

minusca, ‘Les Nations Unies interpellent les autorités centrafricaines et les groupes armes dans un rapport sur les droits de l’homme’, Press release, 11 December 2015,és-centrafricaines-et-les-groupes-armes-dans-un-rapport.

minusca, ‘Le Représentant spécial qualifie les scrutins du 30 décembre de “succès incontestable”’, Press release, 31 December 2015,ésentant-spécial-qualifie-les-scrutins-du-30-décembre-de-“succès-incontestable”.

minusca, ‘Un rapport des Nations Unies sur la spirale de violence de septembre 2015 demande des actions urgentes contre l’impunité pour des violations graves des droits de l’homme en République centrafricaine’, Press release, 10 February 2016,

minusca, ‘Onanga-Anyanga salue l’intervention du chef de l’état’, Press release, 13 July 2016,

minusca, ‘Trois millions de dollars pour les projets á impact rapide en rca’, Press release, 3 August 2016,

minusca, ‘La minusca dénonce la violence et les accusations injustifiées de partialité contre ses contingents’, Press release, 15 October 2016,énonce-la-violence-et-les-accusations-injustifiées-de-partialité-contre-ses-contingents.

minusca, ‘Déclaration attribuable au porte-parole du Secrétaire général sur la République centrafricaine’, Press release, 26 October 2016,éclaration-attribuable-au-porte-parole-du-secrétaire-générale-sur-la-république-centrafricaine-0.

minusca, ‘Le Vice-Secrétaire général de l’onu à Bangui pour réaffirmer le soutien de la communauté internationale à la Centrafrique’, Press release, 30 October 2016,étaire-général-de-lonu-à-bangui-pour-réaffirmer-le-soutien-de-la-communauté.

minusca, ‘Remise de quatre bâtiments pour soutenir la justice et la restauration de l’autorité de l’état à Paoua’, Press release, 14 January 2017,âtiments-pour-soutenir-la-justice-et-la-restauration-de-l’autorité-de-l’état-à.

minusca, ‘Les populations appelées au calme et à éviter les tensions inter-communautaires’, Press release, 8 February 2017,ées-au-calme-et-à-éviter-les-tensions-inter-communautaires.

minusca, ‘Don des Nations Unies au Ministère de la Justice’, Press release, 15 February 2017,

minusca, ‘Des avancées enregistrées dans le programme ddrr en Centrafrique’, Press release, 15 March 2017,ées-enregistrées-dans-le-programme-ddrr-en-centrafrique.

minusca, ‘Restauration de l’autorité de l’état sur tout le territoire est inévitable, selon le gouvernement et la minusca’, Press release, 19 April 2017,’autorité-de-l’état-sur-tout-le-territoire-est-inévitable-selon-le-gouvernement-et.

minusca, ‘Un rapport des Nations Unies sur les droits de l’homme met en relief 13 années de violence et d’impunité en République centrafricaine’, Press release, 30 May 2017,ées-de-violence-et.

minusca, ‘Populations et autorités locales apprécient le niveau de sécurité dans la ville de Bossangoa’, Press release, 7 June 2017,és-locales-apprécient-le-niveau-de-sécurité-dans-la-ville-de-bossangoa.

minusca, ‘Près d’une quarantaine de journalistes centrafricains formés à la couverture des procédures judiciaires’, Press release, 3 July 2017,ès-d’une-quarantaine-de-journalistes-centrafricains-formés-à-la-couverture-des-procédures.

minusca, ‘Dix millions de dollars pour la realization des projets á impact rapide entre 2014 et 2018’, Press release, 16 August 2017,

minusca, ‘La Chef de la minusca salue la mise en place de la Commission Nationale des Droits de l’Homme et des Libertés Fondamentales’, Press release, 24 October 2017,’homme-et-des.

minusca, ‘Les medias centrafricains reçoivent un lexique de termes usuels de droit pénales et des procédures pénales et civiles’, Press release, 22 June 2018,çoivent-un-lexique-de-termes-usuels-de-droit-pénales-et-des-procédures.

minusca, ‘La minusca poursuit son appui à l’extension de l’autorité de l’Etat et au renforcement de l’Etat de droit en rca’, Press release, 19 September 2018,à-l’extension-de-l’autorité-de-l’etat-et-au-renforcement-de-l’etat-de.

minusca, ‘La minusca condamne la violence chronique contre les civils au centre de la République centrafricaine’, Press release, 4 January 2019,étrée-par-des-groupes-armés-dans-la.

minusca, ‘La minusca encourage les centrafricains à soutenir le dialogue de paix en cours à Khartoum’, Press release, 30 January 2019,à-soutenir-le-dialogue-de-paix-en-cours-à-khartoum.

minusca, ‘« le pays doit se mobiliser pour la mise en œuvre de l’accord de paix et de réconciliation », selon les Nations Unies’, Press release, 15 February 2019,«-le-pays-doit-se-mobiliser-pour-la-mise-en-œuvre-de-l’accord-de-paix-et-de-réconciliation-»-selon.

minusca, ‘Défis et opportunités de la mise en oeuvre de l’accord de paix dans le Haut-Mbomou’, Press release, 15 May 2019,

minusca, ‘La minusca va continuer à appuyer le secteur de la justice en République centrafricaine’, Press release, 13 November 2019,à-appuyer-le-secteur-de-la-justice-en-république-centrafricaine.

minusca, ‘La minusca salue le verdict du proces des violences au sud-est de la rca en 2017 ayant cause la mort de nombreux civils et de 10 casques bleus’, Press release, 7 February 2020,

minusca, ‘L’onu note des progrès significatifs en rca et réitère son engagement a œuvrer pour le retour définitif de la paix’, Press release, 21 October 2020,’onu-note-des-progres-significatifs-en-rca-et-reitere-son-engagement-œuvrer-pour-le-retour.

minusca, ‘Le Représentant spécial évoque les relations constantes avec les autorités lors de la présentation du nouveau mandat à la presse’, Press release, 8 December 2021,

minusca, ‘Communiqué de presse conjoint du G5+’, Press release, 10 December 2021,é-de-presse-conjoint-du-g5-5.

minusca, ‘La minusca annonce une operation de domination de l’axe Bambari – Alindao’, Press release, 19 January 2022,’axe-bambari—alindao.

minusca, ‘Le Commandant de la Force de la minusca aborde les actions de protection des civils et la coopération avec les faca’, Press release, 2 February 2022,

minusca, ‘La Force de la minusca mène une opération dans l’ouest pour empêcher les manœuvres des groupes armés et protéger les civils’, Press release, 23 March 2022,ène-une-opération-dans-l’ouest-pour-empêcher-les-manœuvres-des-groupes-armés.

minusca, ‘La minusca apporte son appui au ministère de l’Education nationale dans l’organisation des épreuves du Baccalauréat 2022’, Press release, 13 July 2022,ère-de-l’education-nationale-dans-l’organisation-des-épreuves.

minusca, ‘La population de Zangba se réjouit des resultats de l’opération menée par la force de la minusca’, Press release, 2 November 2022,éjouit-des-resultats-de-l’opération-menée-par-la-force-de-la-minusca.

minusca, ‘La minusca participe activement aux travaux préparatoires de la première session criminelle de l’année 2023 en rca’, Press release, 25 January 2023,

Biographical Note

Tom Buitelaar is Assistant Professor in War, Peace & Justice at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs of Leiden University.


Despite many different definitions, the literature tends to agree that the vertical (from state to individual) and horizontal extension (a broader conception of what counts as security) of security are key components: Sabina Alkire, A Conceptual Framework for Human Security, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity Working Paper 2, 2003,, 14 May 2024, p. 3; S. Neil MacFarlane and Yuen Foong Khong, Human Security and the UN: A Critical History (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006), p. 244; Mary Martin and Taylor Owen, ‘Introduction’ in Mary Martin and Taylor Owen (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Human Security (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), pp. 1–14, p. 2; Edward Newman, ‘Human Security and Constructivism’, International Studies Perspectives, vol. 2, no. 3, 2001, pp. 239–251, p. 239; Jean-Philippe Thérien, ‘Human Security: The Making of a UN Ideology’, Global Society, vol. 26, no. 2, 2012, pp. 191–213, p. 192.


Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 198.


A similar claim is made by Edward Newman, ‘The United Nations and Human Security: Between Solidarism and Pluralism’ in Mary Martin and Taylor Owen (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Human Security (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014), pp. 225–238, p. 225.


United Nations, Report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations on Uniting Our Strengths for Peace: Politics, Partnership and People, S/2015/446, para 60. This also states that: “United Nations personnel in the field [should] engage with and relate to the people and communities they are asked to support. The legacy of the “white-suv culture” must give way to a more human face that prioritizes closer interaction with local people to better understand their concerns, needs and aspirations”.


International Center for Transitional Justice, “What is Transitional Justice”, n.d.,, 14 May 2024.


Iavor Rangelov and Ruti Teitel, ‘Transitional Justice’ in Mary Kaldor and Iavor Rangelov (eds.), The Handbook of Global Security Policy (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2014), pp. 338–352, p. 340.


Jennifer M. Welsh, ‘The Individualisation of War: Defining a Research Programme’, Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, vol. 53, no. 1, 2019, pp. 9–28.


Tom Buitelaar, Assisting International Justice: Cooperation Between United Nations Peacekeepers and the International Criminal Court in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023); Majbritt Lyck, Peace Operations and International Criminal Justice: Building Peace after Mass Atrocities (London: Routledge, 2009).


Buitelaar, Assisting International Justice, pp. 13–4.


Janine N. Clark, ‘International War Crimes Tribunals and the Challenge of Outreach’, International Criminal Law Review, vol. 9, no. 1, 2009, pp. 99–116.


Martin and Owen, ‘Introduction’, p. 5, p. 11; Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 202.


Martin and Owen, ‘Introduction’, 11.


For how the UN talks about human security in peacekeeping, see: Alexander Gilder, ‘Human Security and the Stabilization Mandate of minusca’, International Peacekeeping, vol. 29, no. 2, 2021, pp. 200–231. For what peacekeeping could have looked like if it had implemented human security to its fullest, see: Tom Woodhouse and Oliver Ramsbotham, ‘Cosmopolitan peacekeeping and the globalization of security’, International Peacekeeping, vol. 12, no. 2, 2005, 139–56. For how the Council implemented human security principles into peacekeeping mandates, see: Alexander Gilder, Stabilization and Human Security in UN Peace Operations (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022).


Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 196.


Newman, ‘Human Security and Constructivism’, p. 246; Edward Newman, ‘Critical Human Security Studies’, Review of International Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 2010, pp. 77–94, p. 82.


Newman, ‘Human Security and Constructivism’, p. 240.


Roland Paris, ‘Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?’, International Security, vol. 26, no. 2, 2001, pp. 87–102, p. 94.


On horizontal and vertical extension of security discussions, see MacFarlane and Khong, Human Security and the UN, pp. 1–2.


MacFarlane and Khong, Human Security and the UN, p. 228. See also: Mary Martin and Taylor Owen, ‘The Second Generation of Human Security: Lessons from the UN and EU Experience’, International Affairs, vol. 86, no. 1, 2010, pp. 211–224, p. 220 and Paris, ‘Human Security’, p. 93.


Newman, ‘Critical Human Security Studies’.


Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 203.


Martin and Owen, ‘The Second Generation’, p. 212; Martin and Owen, ‘Introduction’, p. 10; Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 195; Newman, ‘The United Nations and Human Security’, p. 225.


MacFarlane and Khong, Human Security and the UN, pp. 9–10.


Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 212.


Martin and Owen, ‘The Second Generation’, p. 211. That being said, according to Newman, human security certainly did not disappear from the UN’s work, remaining present in “everything but name”. See: Newman, ‘The United Nations and Human Security’, p. 230.


Martin and Owen, ‘The Second Generation’, p. 212.


Martin and Owen, ‘The Second Generation’, p. 213, p. 216, p. 220; Thérien, ‘Human Security’, pp. 201–2; MacFarlane and Khong, Human Security and the UN, p. 180.


Newman, ‘The United Nations and Human Security’, p. 225.


Newman, ‘The United Nations and Human Security’, pp. 231–2. See also: MacFarlane and Khong, Human Security and the UN, p. 171.


Martin and Owen, ‘Introduction’, p. 10.


David Chandler, ‘Review Essay: Human Security: The Dog That Didn’t Bark’, Security Dialogue, vol. 39, no. 4, 2008, pp. 427–38, p. 428.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 201. See also: Oliver P. Richmond, ‘Human Security and Its Subjects’, International Journal, vol. 68, no. 1, 2013, pp. 205–25. For initial proposals on ‘cosmopolitan peacekeeping’, see: Woodhouse and Ramsbotham, ‘Cosmopolitan Peacekeeping’, p. 140.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 200.


Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 206; Gilder, ‘Human security’, p. 219.


Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 205 calls it a “cornerstone of human security”. MacFarlane and Khong, Human Security and the UN, p. 165.


MacFarlane and Khong, Human Security and the UN, p. 169. See also: Newman, ‘Human Security and Constructivism’, p. 244.


MacFarlane and Khong, Human Security and the UN, p. 199.


Anup Phayal and Brandon C. Prins, ‘Deploying to Protect: The Effect of Military Peacekeeping Deployments on Violence against Civilians’, International Peacekeeping, vol. 27, no. 2, 2020, pp. 311–36.


Gilder, Stabilization and Human Security, p. 174.


Gilder, Stabilization and Human Security, p. 143.


John Karlsrud, ‘From Liberal Peacebuilding to Stabilization and Counterterrorism’, International Peacekeeping, vol. 26, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1–21.


Newman, ‘Human Security and Constructivism’, p. 249.


Hyeran Jo and Beth A. Simmons, ‘Can the International Criminal Court Deter Atrocity?’ International Organization, vol. 70, no. 3, 2016, pp. 443–75.


Mary Kaldor, Human Security (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), p. 194.


Karen Engle, Zinaida Miller, and D.M. Davis, ‘Introduction’ in Karen Engle, Zinaida Miller, and D.M. Davis (eds.), Anti-Impunity and the Human Rights Agenda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 1–12.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’.


He bases these upon the Human Security Now report of the Commission on Human Security. See: Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 201.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’, pp. 210–1.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 205.


Kaldor, Human Security, p. 190.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’, pp. 207–8.


Anette Stimmer and Lea Wisken, ‘The Dynamics of Dissent: When Actions Are Louder than Words’, International Affairs, vol. 95, no. 3, 2019, pp. 515–33.


Michael Lipson, ‘Peacekeeping: Organized Hypocrisy?’, European Journal of International Relations, vol. 13, no. 1, 2007, pp. 5–34.


Lise Morjé Howard, Power in Peacekeeping (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), p. 155.


Howard, Power in Peacekeeping, p. 163. For the most recent mandate, see UN Security Council Resolution 2709 (2023).


See: UN Security Council Resolution 2301 (2016).


On most likely cases, see: Jack S. Levy, ‘Case Studies: Types, Designs, and Logics of Inference’, Conflict Management and Peace Science, vol. 25, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–18, p. 12.


Patryk Labuda, ‘The Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic: Failure or Vindication of Complementarity?’, Journal of International Criminal Justice, vol. 15, no. 1, 2017, pp. 175–206, pp. 200–1.


To scrape the Secretary-General reports, I built on the provided coding snippets from the PeaceKeeping Operations Corpus. See: Elio Amicarelli and Jessica Di Salvatore, ‘Introducing the PeaceKeeping Operations Corpus (pkoc)’, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 58, no. 5, 2021, pp. 1137–1148. For the press releases and press conferences, I wrote my own code.


To save space, I refer to these documents with only the document type and date. Full details can be found in the list of documents used for this article in the Appendix.


minusca, Press release, 31 December 2015; United Nations, S/2014/142, paras 24, 81. See also: Howard, Power in Peacekeeping, p. 162.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 210. See also: minusca, Press release, 15 March 2017; minusca, Press release, 19 April 2017; minusca, Press release, 4 January 2019.


This stands for Commission Verité, Justice, Réparations et Réconciliation. In 2021, the Secretary-General wrote that, in his view, transitional justice consisted of “two important pillars”: the scc and the cvjrr. See: United Nations, S/2021/571, para 108. For a mission perspective, see: minusca, Press release, 13 November 2019.


This stands for Unité Mixte d’Intervention Rapide et de Répression des violences sexuelles faites aux femmes et aux enfants. For the mapping report, see: minusca, Press release, 30 May 2017.


These are the types of assistance that a peace operation can provide to a justice system: Buitelaar, Assisting International Justice, p. 24.


United Nations, S/2015/227, para 47; United Nations, S/2016/824, para 43; United Nations, S/2022/491, para 86.


For an example, see: minusca, Press conference, 20 May 2020. For the number, see Buitelaar, Assisting International Justice, p. 191.


United Nations, S/2015/918, para 46; United Nations, S/2016/565, para 24. See also: minusca, Press conference, 25 March 2015.


United Nations, S/2022/491, para 86. See also: United Nations, S/2017/473, para 49.


minusca, Press release, 2 November 2022; United Nations, S/2016/305, para 43.


United Nations, S/2019/822, para 57.


United Nations, S/2015/918, para 46; United Nations, S/2016/565, para 24.


United Nations, S/2021/146, para 54.


United Nations, S/2020/124, para 52.


United Nations, S/2016/824, para 45; minusca, Press release, 11 December 2015; minusca, Press release, 10 February 2016.


United Nations, S/2018/611, para 45.


minusca, Press release, 8 December 2021. See also: United Nations, S/2016/824, para 47.


For support in investigations, see: minusca, Press conference, 11 November 2020; minusca, Press release, 2 February 2022. For close personal protection, see: minusca, Press conference, 24 November 2021; minusca, Press conference, 26 January 2022; minusca, Press conference, 1 June 2022.


United Nations, S/2022/491, para 86.


United Nations, S/2020/545, para 69.


United Nations, S/2020/994, para 66; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘ohchr in Central African Republic’,, 14 May 2024.


United Nations, S/2021/867, para 58; United Nations, S/2022/119, para 65; Rodrigue le Roi Benga, ‘Central African Republic: Truth Commission Struggles to Get Off the Ground, JusticeInfo, 7 February 2023,, 14 May 2024.


United Nations, S/2015/576, para 80; United Nations, S/2018/922, para 59; United Nations, S/2019/822, para 97; United Nations, S/2020/994, para 109. He also advocated for this with the unsc: United Nations, S/2016/565, para 49. And with the government: United Nations, S/2015/227, para 68; United Nations, S/2018/611, para 75.


United Nations, S/2019/147, para 84.


minusca, Press release, 31 December 2015.


United Nations, S/2019/147, para 76.


minusca, Press release, 31 December 2015.


United Nations, S/2015/576, para 52. A May 2015 UN technical mission which assessed the financial costs of the scc also explicitly “includ[ed] measures for the protection of victims and witnesses”. United Nations, S/2015/918, para 46.


Human Rights Watch, ‘Central African Republic: New Court Should Step Up Effort’, 24 July 2019,, 14 May 2024. The scc also has the mandate to order reparations for survivors. Franck Petit and Jean-Fernand Koena, ‘Central African Republic: Special Court Hands Down First Reparations Decision’, JusticeInfo, 19 June 2023,, 14 May 2024.


United Nations, S/2016/824, para 43; United Nations, S/2018/611, para 45.


minusca, Press release, 16 August 2017; minusca, Press release, 19 January 2022; minusca, Press conference, 19 January 2022. The radio broadcast: Human Rights Watch, ‘Central African Republic: First War Crimes Verdict Due’, 28 October 2022,, 14 May 2024. For the domestic judiciary, minusca developed similar systems to the ones discussed above, although these had more difficulty gaining traction. See: United Nations, S/2015/576, para 52.


United Nations, S/2020/124, para 52. For the national network, see: United Nations, S/2018/611, para 57. For the outreach efforts, see: Human Rights Watch, ‘New Court’. Similarly, the mission showed its priorities when, in 2023, minusca organized a “brainstorming workshop for members of the judiciary” to consider the “protection of victims and witnesses” in the context of the first criminal session of the year. See: minusca, Press release, 25 January 2023.


Human Rights Watch, ‘First War Crimes Verdict Due’. See also: Human Rights Watch, ‘New Court’.


minusca, Press release, 13 November 2019.


Ephrem Rugiririza, ‘Central African Republic: The Truth Commission with Feet of Clay’, JusticeInfo, 30 August 2021,, 14 May 2024.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 205.


minusca, Press release, 30 May 2017; minusca, Press conference, 19 September 2018. The Secretary-General frequently noted that Central Africans called for justice and an end to impunity. For example: United Nations, S/2019/822, para 97.


minusca, Press release, 31 October 2022.


minusca, Press release, 21 October 2020.


See also: Howard, Power in Peacekeeping, p. 172; Lewis Mudge, ‘Decade After Central African Takeover, Justice Still Needed’, Human Rights Watch, 27 March 2023,, 14 May 2024.


United Nations, S/2014/562, para 40.


United Nations, S/2015/227, para 30.


minusca, Press conference, 26 November 2014.


minusca, Press release, 29 January 2015.


United Nations, S/2015/576, paras 4–5.


United Nations, S/2015/576, paras 4–5.


Mudge, ‘Decade After’.


United Nations, S/2019/147, para 53. minusca framed this support for the cvjrr as fulfilling the Bangui Forum’s demands. See: minusca, Press release, 15 May 2019. The Secretary-General supported it because it would “ensure that its work is aligned with the aspirations and needs of the victims of armed conflict”. See: United Nations, S/2019/498, para 95.


Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘ohchr in Central African Republic’. In March 2019, minusca supported a workshop organized by the government with 100 participants to “facilitate popular consultations on the legislative framework” for the cvjrr. See: United Nations, S/2019/498, para 63.


United Nations, S/2019/147, para 53.


United Nations, S/2022/491, para 5. Deputy srsg Cullity took part in the opening and srsg Ndiaye expressed support for it, describing it as an “extreme opportunity” for car to find consensus on a path forward. See: minusca, Press release, 23 March 2022.


United Nations, S/2022/491, para 98.


Louisa Lombard and Enrica Picco, ‘Distributive Justice at War: Displacement and Its Afterlives in the Central African Republic’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 34, no. 1, 2021, pp. 806–29 as cited in: Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 212.


Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 212.


minusca, Press release, 30 January 2019.


The call to “take ownership”: minusca, Press release, 15 February 2019. The call to support transitional justice: minusca, Press conference, 4 September 2015. The call to support the government: minusca, Press release, 13 July 2016.


minusca, Press release, 7 February 2020. Similarly, when the G5+ (which included minusca) was justifying its support for the scc in December 2021, it also invoked the Bangui Forum: minusca, Press release, 10 December 2021.


Indeed, in February 2022, a UN official claimed that every time that the mission would speak to the population and asked what it expected from the UN, after security and humanitarian aid, the first thing it would ask for was a refusal of impunity: minusca, Press conference, 28 February 2022.


United Nations, S/2014/142, para 81.


United Nations, S/2016/305, para 72.


minusca, Press release, 14 January 2017.


United Nations, S/2014/857, para 48.


United Nations, S/2016/824, para 43.


minusca, Press release, 24 October 2017.


United Nations, S/2019/498, para 64.


This was framed as “support for the restoration of the authority of the State, the protection of civilians and local cohesion in the locality”. For examples, see: minusca, Press release, 14 January 2017. Other examples: minusca, Press release, 7 June 2017; minusca, Press release, 13 July 2022; minusca, Press conference, 12 April 2023.


minusca, Press release, 13 November 2019.


minusca, Press release, 16 August 2017. Again, this was framed as necessary because “the Central African population is thirsty for justice”. See: minusca, Press release, 13 November 2019.


Howard, Power in Peacekeeping, p. 172.


For the scc’s headquarters, see: United Nations, S/2021/146, para 54. For the deployment of magistrates, see: United Nations, S/2016/305, para 44. For the provision of equipment, see, f.e.: minusca, Press release, 15 February 2017; United Nations, S/2020/545, para 56; minusca, Press conference, 19 April 2023.


United Nations, S/2016/824, para 50.


United Nations, S/2015/227, para 48.


United Nations, S/2014/142, para 81. See also: Howard, Power in Peacekeeping, p. 172.


United Nations, S/2014/562, para 48. See also: United Nations, S/2015/227, para 42; minusca, Press conference, 24 November 2021.


United Nations, S/2016/305, para 44; minusca, Press release, 3 July 2017; minusca, Press release, 22 June 2018; minusca, Press conference, 30 March 2022.


minusca, Press release, 8 February 2017.


United Nations, S/2022/119, para 66. For further examples, see: United Nations, S/2015/576, para 37; minusca, Press release, 3 August 2016; United Nations, S/2022/762, para 68; minusca, Press conference, 30 March 2022.


United Nations, S/2016/824, para 49; United Nations, S/2021/882, para 55.


For example, Howard, Power in Peacekeeping, p. 154.


minusca, Press release, 15 October 2016; minusca, Press release, 26 October 2016; minusca, Press release, 30 October 2016.


United Nations, S/2018/922, para 3.


Similar observations are made by Gilder with regards to stabilization mandates: Gilder, Stabilization and Human Security, p. 8.


Shannon Zimmerman, ‘Defining State Authority: UN Peace Operations Efforts to Extend State Authority in Mali and the Central African Republic’, Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, vol. 9, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1–16. See also: Gilder, Stabilization and Human Security, p. 167.


United Nations, S/2016/824, para 78.


Howard, Power in Peacekeeping, p. 151.


Thérien, ‘Human Security’, p. 212.


For example, contrasting s/res/2448 (2018), paras 39(e)(v)–(xi) with s/res/2499 (2019), paras 32(e)(iv)–(v), Gilder argues that the mandate in support of the scc “ha[d] been greatly shortened … indicat[ing] that now the Court has been established it will develop further independence from the UN”. See: Gilder, ‘Human Security’, p. 210.


Human Rights Watch, ‘New Court’.


Sarah von Billerbeck, Whose Peace? Local Ownership and United Nations Peacekeeping (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).


Zimmerman, ‘Defining State Authority’.

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