Sophie da Camara, director of the UNOCI's DDR division in Côte d'Ivoire

Eugènia Riera
International Catalan Institute for Peace
Sophie da Camara

Sophie da Camara

The UN Security Council authorized the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) in April 2004 when it came to the conclusion that the country was a threat to international peace and security. Its mandate has been extended several times since that date, especially due to the political crisis that was unleashed after the presidential elections of 2010, in order to provide support for local authorities and contribute to the construction of peace. One of the pillars of the mission is the division for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of ex-combatants. We talked about the work it does with its director, Sophie da Camara.

What does the work of the mission for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants (DDR) which you direct in Côte d'Ivoire consist of?
We are in a post-crisis situation and our job is to support the Government in defining DDR policies and strategies. In terms of disarmament, we have three parallel processes. the disarmament of the armed forces and all the representatives of the republican forces (FRCI), militias and foreign groups, the decommissioning of the large stock of arms and finally, the disarmament process for civilians and local communities. In this case, we are running an awareness programme with local authorities.

And in terms of demobilization...
Here we work with various groups. First, with the fighters of the FRCI, which is a very important group because it is necessary to review the size of the army, which will be a slow and gradual process. We also work with the militias, self-defense groups and armed youth movements, as well as with foreign fighters and those on foreign territory. It is necessary to remember that there are more than ten nationalities of armed fighters in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as Ivorians in other countries, especially in Ghana and Liberia.

What form do these operations take?
So far we have concentrated on two priorities: collecting weapons, because there was a great deal of small arms circulating, particularly in Abidjan, and direct negotiation with illegal armed groups. With the agreement of the government - we take no action without government authorization - since June we have negotiated with some groups and have disarmed them with or two operations one a month throughout the country. For negotiation and disarmament, we have defined very clearly how many weapons they have and we keep a record of the combatants to make some progress and help them in the process of economic and social reintegration.

Does the division of the country affect your work?
Yes, obviously, because there are some groups that still refuse to talk to us - although the UN, as an impartial force, generates more trust - and others that are willing to negotiate but not to disarm. And there is also pressure because of the elections. The closer we get to the elections, the less trust we will have and we will see an increasing number of people getting hold of weapons just in case. The elections are a situation which everyone is viewing with a great deal of fear and mistrust. What is clear is that as we approach the elections, we will have fewer handovers of weapons.

Do you have any figures for the number of weapons collected and combatants demobilized?
We have recorded about 1,300 demobilized combatants, most of which were members of militias and paramilitary groups. In terms of weapons, there are around 2,700 collected after the conflict and 12,000 pieces of ammunition, including grenades.

The DDR programs are also linked to reform in the security sector (RSS). How far has the restructuring of the armed forces progressed?
The reform process is very slow. We are supporting the government so that it develops a national policy for defence and security and creates an institution responsible for it. This will give us a clear direction in terms of how to coordinate the military (defense and security) and civil (justice, prisons, customs, etc) areas. That could take years. In Burundi, for example, the reform of the police took 15 years. These processes arouse suspicion in the security and armed forces, and that is why they need to take place slowly and with a great deal of participation because otherwise the risk of destabilizing the country is very high.

The United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire began in 2004, and aimed to facilitate the implementation of peace agreements. Since the last elections and the political crisis that resulted from it, the UNOCI has continued its work on the ground. How long do you anticipate working there?
We have a mandate from the Security Council until June 2012. Until the last day of the mission, and we do not know when that will be, we will working on the DDR and RSS processes.

How are these programmes contributing to the construction of peace?
These programmes are one of the cornerstones for protecting the peace process. With the social cohesion work within the armed forces and the construction of civilian monitoring, we are contributing to the peace process in a very comprehensive way. With the DDR, collecting weapons is obviously not enough to guarantee peace because weapons circulate easily. In any event, it does provide an example to communities, and is a very strong message of cohesion in symbolic terms. The guarantee of peace in the DDR is the long-term reintegration of combatants into civilian life and this is not part of the UNOCI's mandate, but of all UN agencies working in this country, and especially the UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme).

What are the main threats to the consolidation of peace at present?
First, the instability in neighbouring countries. The situation is complicated in Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry and Nigeria, and the main challenge in Côte d'Ivoire is to maintain the peace process in a regional area that is particularly difficult. The second thing is national reconciliation and the rule of law after 12 years of lack of democracy, a lack of justice and social cohesion, and the aggravation of ethnic differences in a country that never used to have ethnic problems. The challenge is to overcome the years of ex-President Gbagbo.