13 September 2017, Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Lake Chad Basin, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,

Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin (S/2017/764).  

Mr. President,

Allow me to comment first on security and political developments. Thanks to coordination among affected countries, we have witnessed encouraging progress in the fight against Boko Haram.  The Secretary-General commends the Governments of the region for their efforts, including through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Without question, Boko Haram’s combat capacity has diminished.  But to compensate for this, Boko Haram has changed tactics, increasing the use of suicide attacks.

We thank the Government of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross for efforts in the release of an additional 82 girls kidnapped from Chibok in north-east Nigeria in 2014. The recent visit to Nigeria by the Deputy Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UN Women shed further light on the plight of women and girls in the Lake Chad Basin.

Unfortunately the fight is far from over.  130 attacks attributed to Boko Haram in the four affected countries in June and July resulted in 284 civilian fatalities, a significant increase compared to 146 attacks and 107 civilian fatalities in April and May. The most affected countries remained Nigeria, followed by Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

In terms of political advocacy, the two Special Representatives of the Secretary-General for Central Africa and for West Africa and the Sahel regularly visit the affected countries to promote enhanced inter-regional cooperation. They propose a regional strategy to address the root causes of the crisis. Such a strategy should be owned and supported by the affected countries as well as the relevant sub-regional organizations:  the Economic Community for Central African States, the Economic Community for West African States and the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

The Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region in February, and the visit by this Council in March brought needed attention to the long neglected crisis in the Lake Chad Basin. The UN and international partners are working to sustain the momentum created by these events. Last week in Berlin, the UN participated in the first Senior Officials’ Meeting of the Oslo Consultative Group on Prevention and Stabilization in the Lake Chad Region.  This brought together representatives of the affected countries, donors and regional and sub-regional organizations. Discussions focused on addressing the structural causes of the crisis, including community stabilization, restoration of services, local governance systems and prevention of violence.

 

Mr. President,

Turning to the development challenges, I note that the Lake Chad Basin crisis has wreaked havoc on basic infrastructure, assets and government services. Insecurity has sparked large-scale unemployment and left 1 million school-age children deprived of education. The substantial economic impact of the crisis has reached nearly $9 billion across north-east Nigeria alone.  Poverty, low legitimacy of the State, human insecurity and climate change, among other challenges, compound this dire situation. As is so often the case, women and the youth are key risk groups.

Conflict and displacement have eroded, and in some cases ruptured, the bonds between and within communities. Intra-communal structures and processes that traditionally regulated violence and resolved conflicts have weakened. We detect worrying signs of social fragmentation as tensions emerge from ethno-religious, social and other divisions, including between IDPs and host communities. Unless robust peacebuilding efforts are introduced, reintegration of ex-combatants, including from Boko Haram and vigilante groups, risks creating additional tensions and heighten the risks of secondary conflict.

In addition, the report notes the need for greater attention and funding to support development interventions including community stabilization, economic revitalization and prevention to build community resilience and ensure durable solutions.

 

Mr. President,

Yesterday, Under-Secretary-General Lowcock of OCHA concluded his first visit to Niger and Nigeria to raise international visibility on the humanitarian situation,  discuss with the Governments and consider practical steps to further strengthen the response.

Despite significant progress made in reaching affected people in the Lake Chad basin, the humanitarian needs in the region continue to be staggering. Some 10.7 million people require humanitarian assistance. With 8.5 million people in need, north-east Nigeria is again enduring the worst of this crisis. Funding continue to fall significantly short. At present, the regional appeal requesting $1.5 billion for 2017 is funded at only 40%.

The region now faces the rainy season, when food insecurity is at its worst, with thousands of farmers having missed four planting seasons in a row due to conflict, resulting insecurity and displacements. Across the region, 7.2 million people are severely food insecure, including 5.2 million in north-east Nigeria, where an estimated 50,000 people are at highest risk of famine.

The crisis displaced an estimated 2.4 million people, including 1.5 million children. New displacements occur alongside the return of IDPs and refugees. Given the continued insecurity and lack of basic services in many affected areas, involuntary and unsafe returns of refugees and IDPs must be avoided at all costs.

 

Mr. President,

On human rights, we are deeply concerned with the continued violations by Boko Haram, including killings, forceful use of children as suicide bombers and sexual and gender-based violence against women and children. Perpetrators must be brought to justice.

The UN has also received numerous allegations of serious human rights violations committed in the context of counter-terrorism operations. The UN continues to advocate strongly with MNJTF to put forward a clear strategy to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, including by recruiting a dedicated gender adviser within its civilian component.

The report notes our conviction that we must develop a common understanding that human rights violations are among the root causes of instability in the Lake Chad Basin and that impunity will fuel the crisis. Investing in traditional justice mechanisms at the community level is essential to sustainable reconciliation and stability. Prevention of terrorist activities, stabilization and recovery initiatives must integrate the human rights dimension.

Sexual violence remains appallingly widespread in the region. It is a driver of forced displacement and a particular risk in displacement settings, where conflict-affected women and children are exposed to daily risks of exploitation. Those suffering from acute physical and psychological trauma need urgent medical and psychosocial care. The UN is exploring options for the deployment of dedicated expertise on conflict-related sexual violence to north-east Nigeria.

The UN faces a serious funding shortage to deploy human rights monitors across the region. We reiterate our call to the international community to generously contribute funds to enable UN to support the establishment of national and regional mechanisms for the systematic monitoring and reporting of the human rights situation.

 

Mr. President,

Allow me to touch on SSR and DDR.  The lack of a comprehensive approach in addressing Boko Haram defectors, including clear and transparent criteria that are human rights-compliant and in line with the international terrorism framework, produces multiple challenges. Despite good faith, ad hoc efforts result in thousands of persons being irregularly detained and/or unpredictably processed. This situation is not productive, sustainable or in accordance with the rule of law, and justice is not served.

 

Mr. President,

In our view, the MNJTF efforts remain indispensable in resolving the crisis. However, the heavy financial investment borne by regional countries comes at a high cost:  Governments have no choice but to divert much of their national budgets from development to addressing national and regional security. Within the UN, Member States are careful to make sure that we do not shift development and humanitarian funds to peace and security work; we would hope that the affected countries could attract the support to do the same.  We welcome the pledges already made and encourage the further timely disbursement of contributions to enable MNJTF to address the challenges it faces.

 

Mr. President, Members of the Security Council,                            

In conclusion, I note that the complex and increasingly protracted nature of the Lake Chad Basin crisis calls for innovative and integrated solutions that bridge traditional divides between humanitarian and development strategies. UN is committed to adopting a New Way of Working that will address the urgent needs of the affected populations and the root causes of the crisis in a coordinated and phased manner. I urge all partners to redouble their efforts to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to the affected populations, as well as early and longer term recovery. That is the basis to build resilience and assure durable solutions to the crisis.

We encourage, once again, the affected countries to jointly elaborate a regional strategy to address the root causes of the crisis. We hope that the planned regional conference on stabilization in N’Djaména, in October, will be the first step towards the development of such a strategy.

We in the UN remain committed to working with regional countries on ending the violence, protecting civilians, promoting human development and alleviating the suffering in the Lake Chad Basin. We can prevent this crisis from growing but that would require greater political and financial support to the Lake Basin region. The Side-event on 21 September, in the margins of the General Assembly, will be a key opportunity for the international community to reaffirm its support for the region.

Thank you for your attention.