|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6256th Meeting (AM)
Top Official Paints ‘Mixed Picture of Hope and Concern’ as Weak Governance,
Slow Development, Drug Trafficking Menace Volatile West Africa
Challenges to Improved Conflict Prevention, Peacebuilding Efforts also Cited
While West Africa continued to make progress in critical areas, weak governance, lagging development, climate change, the changing nature of drug trafficking and other challenges continued to threaten peace and stability in the volatile subregion, a top United Nations official told the Security Council today.
“West Africa continues to show a mixed picture of hope and concern,” Said Djinnit, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), said while presenting the latest report covering developments in the region during the second half of 2009. He added that since his briefing to the Council last July, there had been improvements in the areas of conflict prevention, recovery and peacebuilding, but that progress was threatened by weak national institutions in many countries.
To address that situation, he said, UNOWA had been working with other United Nations entities with a focus on recovery in areas beset by crisis, consolidating good governance and the rule of law, promoting human rights and gender mainstreaming in stable but at-risk countries, and raising awareness of the need for economic growth and fair distribution of wealth. “By strengthening its political institutions and seeking better prospects for economic growth and development, West Africa should be able to improve the quality of life of the majority of its population and thereby minimize the possibility of frustration, social tension and, ultimately, violence.”
He said the “march towards democracy and the rule of law” had made giant strides over the past several years, but in certain cases, such as Niger, repeated constitutional reviews threatened progress while in others, such as Togo, it was crucial to stave off election-related instability. On the economic side, the subregion’s prevailing vulnerability to external economic and financial shocks and their negative impact on livelihoods had contributed to violence in some countries. In addition, increased vulnerability to natural disasters, including those induced by climate change, was becoming a major source of conflict by generating humanitarian emergencies and exacerbating competition for dwindling natural resources.
Security-sector reform remained a major condition for durable peace in West Africa, as illustrated by the Guinea situation, where the defence and security sector was of key importance in stabilizing the country, he continued. If left unaddressed, the crisis in Guinea could spill over to the wider subregion, he warned. However, it was encouraging that the country’s interim junta leader had recently issued a statement in which he had reached out to the opposition with an invitation to participate in charting a road map for resolving the political crisis.
That consensual approach, combined with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on the 28 September violence, provided a new window of opportunity that all stakeholders should seize. UNOWA was committed to continuing its proactive role in the search for lasting solutions to the crisis, while maintaining a strategy directed at supporting and advising ECOWAS while ensuring a harmonized United Nations approach to security-sector reform.
Efforts to raise awareness of the threat to peace and stability posed by drug trafficking and organized crime, including the menace of terrorism from the Sahelian belt, were encouraging, he continued. Implementation of the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan on Drug Trafficking had gained momentum from the 3 December 2009 donor conference in Vienna. Implementation of the West Africa Coast Initiative (WACI) project had been accelerated, with joint assessment missions having been conducted in Sierra Leone and Liberia at the end of 2009. Missions to other countries would follow.
He said that, in parallel with establishing transnational crime units, there was a critical need to increase awareness of and commitment to the ECOWAS Action Plan among senior Government officials in the subregion. As the United Nations entity charged with mentoring and monitoring implementation of WACI on behalf of the Organization, UNOWA would continue to seek creative and cost-efficient ways to enhance its technical capacity, including by making use of inter-mission cooperation mechanisms and extra-budgetary resources.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:22 a.m.
Before the Council this morning was the Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), which focuses on cross-cutting and cross-border issues in the subregion, such as drug trafficking and unconstitutional changes in government, as well as activities undertaken by the Office between 1 July and 31 December 2009.
The report (document S/2009/682) notes that West Africa continued to make progress in such areas as the rule of law and human rights, crisis recovery and the fight against cross-border organized crime. However, challenges like climate change, criminal activities and weaknesses in governance and the security sector continued to undermine the progress achieved so far in addition to threatening peace and stability. A number of countries, including Guinea, Niger and Togo, faced political crises.
According to the report, the effects of climate change, especially the flooding during the last rainy season, reached a scope and depth never seen before in the subregion and reduced the ability of affected countries to respond in an effective and timely manner. Other challenges included the effects of the international financial crisis, food insecurity, high demographic growth and exceptionally high unemployment rates, notably among youth.
The report states that, although the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) -– with strong support from the United Nations and the wider international community -- has made substantial progress in tackling drug trafficking and organized crime in the framework of its regional action plan, the discovery of clandestine drug laboratories shows that drug cartels are repositioning themselves -- a most alarming trend and a potentially serious destabilizing factor and threat to West African populations. An additional concern is that the Sahel region is increasingly a breeding ground for terrorist networks and rebel groups. There is an apparent interconnectedness between drug trafficking and terrorist and criminal activities.
According to the report, a component of the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan to Address the Growing Problem of Illicit Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime and Drug Abuse in West Africa (2008-2011) was the establishment of transnational crime units in four pilot countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The units comprise vetted national officials and external advisers who will undertake complex and multi-jurisdictional investigations. UNOWA participated in assessment missions to Sierra Leone and Liberia, while continuing to cooperate closely with the regional office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Dakar, Senegal.
Other activities of UNOWA, the report states, included hosting regular meetings of United Nations regional offices, agencies and peace missions, convening its fifth regular consultative meeting on 2 September with regional offices and other entities of the Organization to review the situations in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Niger and Togo. UNOWA also continued to play a catalytic role in strengthening the tripartite partnership among ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations in addressing threats to peace and security, as well as political and governance issues in the subregion.
The Secretary-General recommends that the Council approve the temporary deployment to UNOWA of one civilian police officer from both the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) for three months to help establish a coordination mechanism in that regard. Other fragile States in the subregion, Guinea in particular, should be included in that project.
The report says that, given the resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government and undemocratic practices, which constitute a potential threat to peace and security, UNOWA intends to undertake, in close coordination with ECOWAS and the African Union, a broad analysis of the situation, focusing on the need to update regional norms and tools on good governance for more effective prevention. The prompt implementation of the recommendations of the report of the International Commission of Inquiry into the events in Guinea last April is critical.
UNOWA has also initiated the establishment of a joint United Nations security-sector reform task force for Guinea, the report notes. In the coming six months, the Office will seek to improve electoral processes in the subregion so as to promote good governance practices and confidence-building measures. As UNOWA’s role on security-sector reform is expanding, there is a need for more expertise. The establishment of a UNOWA police capacity would help it deliver its mandate requirements in that regard. The Office will also continue its monitoring and preventive assessment of human rights and gender in situations of political crisis.
* *** *For information media • not an official record