Root Causes of Increasing Instability Must Be Addressed to Prevent Further Deterioration in Sahel, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

SC/12136
25 November 2015
7566th Meeting (AM)

Root Causes of Increasing Instability Must Be Addressed to Prevent Further Deterioration in Sahel, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

Citing accelerating terrorist attacks, spikes in displacement and increasingly grave humanitarian challenges, the top United Nations official for the Sahel told the Security Council today that the international community must address the root causes of such threats to prevent further deterioration in the region.

“The recent terrorist attacks around the world attest to the global reach of terrorism and the interconnectedness of all communities, whether rich or poor, and are a reminder to us all that no one is immune to this threat,” said Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sahel, as she addressed the 15-nation body.  Security threats continued to force countries of the region — among the poorest and least developed in the world — to dedicate important percentages of their budgets to address security threats.  That unsustainable, vicious cycle could only worsen without strong international assistance

Youth and women in the Sahel, who constituted a vast majority of the population, were the targets of recruitment into radical movements, she pointed out.  If nothing were done to improve access to education, increase employment, and integrate opportunities for youth, the Sahel would become not only a “hub of mass migration”, but one of recruitment and training of terrorist groups and individuals.  In addition, drug traffickers were increasingly colluding with armed groups and terrorist movements which granted them safe passage in exchange for financial benefits. 

However, there were also several reasons for optimism, Ms. Sellassie noted, with countries of the region taking on greater leadership and ownership of the initiatives addressing challenges in the Sahel.  Cooperation and coordination was being enhanced between regional and international platforms, including, among others, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), which included Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. 

Furthermore, the African Union and the European Union, along with the United Nations, were working to build the capacity of the Sahel countries to combat terrorism.  However, the threat was very high and required further attention.  While noting that her Office would have benefitted from an expert on terrorism, which it had requested but had not received, she urged the Council to remain engaged in supporting the region and to “choke” the trade in drugs which financed terror and instability.  “Together, we can prevent further deterioration of the situation in the Sahel,” she stated.

Council Members then took the floor to express their solidarity with the people of the Sahel, as well as with those countries that had been the victims of terrorist attacks in recent weeks.  In particular, many delegates said that the 20 November attack on a hotel in Bamako, Mali illustrated the serious insecurity in the region and the need for States within the Sahel and across the world to step up counterterrorism activities.

Other speakers spotlighted crises in Mali and Libya as some of the causes of the current instability.  Chad’s delegate expressed concern at the establishment of a Da’esh stronghold in Libya, which was engulfed in chaos.  Stressing that no effort be spared to staunch the onslaught by that group which sought to frustrate efforts for a national unity Government, he said that the G5 Sahel countries had created a joint regional military force, launched a regional air company and built rail lines to connect their countries.  In assuming the Group’s Presidency, Chad would also underscore the need for cooperation in security and development efforts, as well as for financial resources to empower women and youth. 

China’s representative emphasized that the international community should tackle “hot spots” by supporting regional political processes, and urged support for parties in Mali to implement the peace and reconciliation agreement.  To address the crisis in Libya, the international community should promote the resolution of relevant issues.  More broadly, it should support regional countries’ capacity and efforts to counter terrorism, adhering to the United Nations Charter in such work and not linking terrorism to any one religion or ethnicity.

Speakers also expressed support for the United Nations Integrated Strategy in the Sahel (UNISS), as well as the work of regional and subregional bodies, such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to bring sustainable development and humanitarian assistance to the region.

The climate of violence had multiplied and civilians were the main victims, said the representative of Venezuela.  The situation had led States in the region to prioritize security concerns over critical development and humanitarian needs.  Calling on Member States to continue providing assistance to those countries, he stressed that all new platforms created to combat terrorism should not just focus on a military solution, but should, in fact, emphasize sustainable development.

Echoing that stance, France’s representative noted that his country’s Sahel-Saharan strategy covered its activities in six countries and focused on improving living standards, strengthening State capacity to counter terrorism and trafficking, combating radicalization, and encouraging regional security cooperation.  Reiterating condolences to the people and Government of Mali, he urged support for that country’s stabilization, adding “We must act against those seeking to derail the peace process.”  

Nonetheless, the representative of Angola said it was regrettable that the Council had been unable to reach agreement on the terms of a Presidential Statement on the situation in the Sahel.  The political, security and humanitarian situation — aggravated by transnational organized crime and the activities of criminal and terrorist groups — was severely impacting the lives of populations in the Sahel.  The situation was a threat to the region and beyond.  The United Nations and the Security Council in particular should join forces with the international community in supporting the population, much of which lived in extreme poverty.   

Also speaking today were the representatives of Lithuania, Chile, Jordan, Nigeria, New Zealand, Spain, the United States, the Russian Federation, Malaysia and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:35 a.m.

Briefing

HIROUTE GUEBRE SELLASSIE, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sahel, stressed that “the recent terrorist attacks around the world attest to the global reach of terrorism and the interconnectedness of all communities, whether rich or poor, and are a reminder to us all that no one is immune to this threat”.  Security threats continued to be the main preoccupation in the Sahel region. Increasingly, the countries of the region, among the poorest and least developed in the world, were forced to dedicate important percentages of their budgets to address security threats.  That unsustainable, vicious cycle could only worsen without strong international assistance.

Youth and women in the Sahel, who constituted a vast majority of the population, were the targets of recruitment into radical movements, she pointed out.  Up to 41 million youth under the age of 25 in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger alone faced hopelessness and were at risk of radicalization or migration.  If nothing were done to improve access to education, increase employment and integrate opportunities for youth, the Sahel would become not only a “hub of mass migration”, but one of recruitment and training of terrorist groups and individuals.  In addition, drug traffickers were increasingly colluding with armed groups and terrorist movements which granted them safe passage in exchange for financial benefits.

The persistence of those challenges notwithstanding, there were reasons to be optimistic about the Sahel, she went on to say.  The region continued to receive the sustained attention of the international community, as evidenced by the numerous Sahel strategies.  As well, the countries of the region had taken greater leadership and ownership of the initiatives addressing regional challenges in the Sahel.  Countries of the region and international partners, including such platforms as the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Lake Chad Basin Commission were engaging in enhanced partnerships and coordination.  United Nations entities working in the region had also improved coordination and coherence under the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS).

She urged the Council to remain engaged in support to the Sahel region and to fully use existing mechanisms and expand their mandates to better monitor, report on and prevent the trafficking of drugs in the Sahel region.  That trade financed terror and instability, and must be “choked” if counterterrorism efforts were to be successful.  It was also important to list all those who directly or indirectly financed or supported terrorist activities in the Sahel.  Finally, she encouraged the international community to enhance its support to the United Nations and regional organizations in addressing cross cutting and transboundary issues.  “Together, we can prevent further deterioration of the situation in the Sahel,” she stated.

Statements

GOMBO TCHOULI (Chad) said the crisis in Libya and terrorism in the Lake Chad Basin had required Sahel countries to prioritize security, which undermined other critical areas.  He expressed concern at the establishment of a Da’esh stronghold in Libya, which was engulfed in chaos, and underscored the urgent need to spare no effort to staunch the onslaught by that group which sought to frustrate efforts for a national unity Government.  In Nigeria, Boko Haram was continuing its asymmetric attacks and Chad, having made significant human and financial sacrifices, had worked to combat that group’s tactics.  He reiterated his call to support countries in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, encouraging the African Union to establish a trust fund to finance multinational joint force operations. 

For their part, he said, the G5 Sahel countries had created a joint regional military force, launched a regional air company and built rail lines to connect their countries.  In assuming the Group’s Presidency, Chad would underscore the need for cooperation in security and development efforts, as well as for financial resources to empower women and youth.  The Group must be involved in the design, implementation and follow-up on priority development progress, while the Office of the Special Envoy should be bolstered.  He urged consideration of the proposal to transfer that Office to the G5 Sahel countries.  For its part, the Council should meet three times a year to discuss the situation in the Sahel and regional strategy.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) said grave security, development and socioeconomic challenges in the region required coordination by the United Nations, African Union, European Union Economic Community of West African States and the G5 countries.  Noting that the European Union’s strategy focused on prevention and countering radicalization, creating appropriate conditions for youth, migration and mobility, and border management, she said threats posed by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram and others aggravated regional insecurity.  Programmes to improve security cooperation, border protection and counter-terrorism coordination were essential. 

Calling the lack of education and job opportunities a “ticking time bomb”, she said countries in the region must develop rule of law, law enforcement and judicial capacities to detain and try terrorists.  More focus was needed to preventing recruitment and radicalization among refugee and displaced communities.  She then asked Ms. SELLASSIE how the Council could help Sahel countries and whether anything had been done to strengthen her Office’s ability to deliver on the ground.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said the growing intervention of terrorist organizations had deteriorated efforts towards peace across the Sahel region.  Coordinated efforts, on both international and regional platforms, were needed to combat the scourge of terrorism.  The general insecurity had created a corridor from North Africa through the Mediterranean of people fleeing to seek a better life.  He reiterated the importance of the international community to fulfil their humanitarian commitments for the region and spotlighted efforts towards gender equity.  “Youth in the Sahel have scant prospects for a better future”, he pointed out, stressing the need to address such root causes of the instability in the region.

MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) underscored the Sahel’s many challenges in the social, humanitarian and security areas, which, in turn, had created “fertile ground” for terrorist groups.  Emphatically condemning recent terrorist attacks, including the one that had targeted a hotel in Bamako, Mali, he stressed the need to bring about an end to the trafficking of drugs and arms in the region.  The creation of various platforms, including the G5 Sahel and the Multinational Joint Task Force, that aimed at strengthening regional security in the Sahel and the peace and security architecture in Africa was welcomed.  However, sources of financing to terrorism must also be cut off and the opportunity to recruit young people must be reduced.  Political stability, including the holding of peaceful elections was critical.  The fact that there was insufficient participation among populations in such activities negatively affected governance.  Youth in the region faced political and social marginalization at a time when the region crucially needed to invest in the energies of young people, he stated.

U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria) said she saw merit in increasing the frequency of the Council’s engagement with the Special Envoy, stressing that the activities of armed groups required close cooperation among countries in the region.  Through the Lake Chad Basin Commission, countries were collaborating in a multinational joint task force to defeat Boko Haram.  Territory had been reclaimed from that group, while education and other activities had resumed in liberated areas.  Her Government had started rehabilitation programmes in Boko Haram-affected areas of Nigeria.  Regional countries should intensify efforts to attain the African Union’s “silencing the guns” goal, she said, noting that the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons would support those efforts.  Strengthening regional ownership of the Sahel strategy and its prioritization of flagship progress was welcomed.  Stressing the need for a coordinated approach, she acknowledged the African Union Strategy for the Sahel, the ECOWAS Sahel Strategy and commitments of the G5 Sahel initiatives in that context.  She also looked forward to the Secretary-General’s recommendations on enhancing cooperation and regional ownership of the Strategy.

LIU JIEYI (China), stressing that the international community should tackle “hot spots” by supporting regional political processes, urged support for parties in Mali to implement the peace and reconciliation agreement.  To address the crisis in Libya, the international community should promote the resolution of relevant issues.  More broadly, it should support regional countries’ capacity and efforts to counter terrorism, adhering to the United Nations Charter in such work and not linking terrorism to any one religion or ethnicity.  In implementing the new development agenda, regional countries should devise strategies that suited their specific conditions, while international financial institutions should increase development assistance and help improve their development capacity.  For its part, the United Nations should enhance its coordination with the African Union, ECOWAS, regional countries and others, with a view to linking its Strategy with national and regional strategies.  His country had provided bilateral assistance and was participating in peacekeeping operations in Africa.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said the situation in the Sahel had deteriorated due to the complex political realities in Libya and Mali, the threat of drug and arms trafficking and other factors, including the lack of capacity of the Libyan State following the 2011 military intervention.  The climate of violence had multiplied and civilians had been the main victims.  In addition, the situation had led States in the region to prioritize security concerns over critical development and humanitarian needs.  Calling on Member States to continue providing assistance to those countries, he stressed that all new platforms created to combat terrorism should not just focus on a military solution, but, in fact, emphasize sustainable development.  Finally, he said, the wealth and natural resources of Africa had historically been the target of colonial countries’ ambitions, resulting in “untold suffering” in regions such as the Sahel.  Building capacity and development in Africa should be based on the spirit of solidarity, with those processes always nationally owned.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) called recent attacks on civilians “seemingly endless” especially in light of Friday’s attack in Bamako.  Thus, it was all the more important that parties to the Mali peace process continued to consolidate the hard-won gains and implement the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation.  The threats to international peace and security in the region were interlinked, he said, emphasizing that ongoing military cooperation between regional States was essential, such as through the Multinational Joint Taskforce.  In addition, a concerted focus on humanitarian support was needed; combatting problems such as food insecurity was critical to resolving the root causes of conflict.  Underscoring that the continued instability in Libya was impacting the wider security of the Sahel, he urged parties in Libya to sign the political agreement and establish a Government of National Accord without delay.  He also encouraged the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union to harmonize efforts to support the Sahel.  The Special Envoy was also encouraged to continue her outreach to all international and regional actors focused on the Sahel.

ROMÁN OVARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) said his Government continued to train Mali security forces as part of the European Union training mission there.  The Sahel had a determining role to play in migration, as 90 per cent of Sub-Saharans crossed through Niger to the Mediterranean.  In that context, he underscored the shared responsibility of origin, transit and destination countries.  Indeed, Africa and Europe together must respond to that challenge; Spain was investing in the Sahel.  On climate change — a risk multiplier — the Integrated Strategy had raised expectations.  Yet not all of them had been met.  The United Nations forces must be brought together in a consistent manner, with a priority on action over diagnosis.  “The Sahel requires action now,” he said, stressing that Spain’s commitment was ongoing.

DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said the “horrific” attacks last week in Bamako, yesterday’s attack on a United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) convoy and the ongoing threat of Boko Haram demonstrated the continued risks facing the Sahel.  However, there was a “deepening” engagement of the countries of the region to combat terrorism.  In Mali, he welcomed the steps of the parties to uphold the ceasefire, but called for more progress to enable country to rid itself of terrorism and strengthen democracy.  Enhanced focus on good governance by countries of the region was critical, with improvements serving as a basis for stability across the region.  The recent events in Burkina Faso demonstrated that people wanted democracy, he said, adding that Niger was also set to hold elections in 2016.  Affirming his continued support for the Sahel’s counterterrorism activities, he encouraged the States of the region to adopt a “whole of government approach” that underscored that terrorists would not be defeated by military means alone. 

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) said he regretted that Council members had been unable to reach agreement on the terms of a Presidential Statement on the issue at hand.  The political, security and humanitarian situation — aggravated by transnational organized crime and the activities of criminal and terrorist groups — severely impacted the lives of populations in the Sahel.  The situation was a threat to the region and beyond.  The United Nations and the Security Council in particular should join forces with the international community in supporting the population, much of which lived in extreme poverty. 

He went on to say that while several countries in the region had held, or were in the process of holding democratic elections, the Sahel still faced huge security challenges.  For example, despite the signing of a peace agreement, extremists and terrorist groups in Mali continued to indiscriminately attack civilians.  In Libya, it was crucial that the parties conclude the political process by forming a unity Government, which would help to strengthen the fight against terrorism.  Stressing that the Council should be briefed on the situation in the Sahel more regularly, he called on United Nations bodies, intergovernmental agencies and regional and subregional organizations to contribute to projects addressing “serious structural weaknesses” across that region.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation), noting that the Special Envoy’s assessment was of “utmost use”, welcomed the Integrated Strategy and its relevant projects.  It was important to shift to a practical phase and mobilize a broad number of participants from United Nations actors.  Interested Sahel States should establish cooperation mechanisms that would allow them to take primary responsibility for the Strategy’s implementation.  The absence of a coordinated response to Middle East instability had made Sahel countries “hot beds” for terrorists and organized crime groups.  On the issue of outside intervention, he said a comprehensive break-through by the joint forces combating Boko Haram had not been seen.  Terrorists were perceived as enjoying full impunity, as the attacks in Bamako had shown.  The lack of sustainability on the political front was radicalizing youth and he expressed hope that implementation of the Strategy would improve the regional situation.

ALEXIS LAMEK (France) reiterated his condolences to the people and Government of Mali, and the families of victims of the Bamako terrorist attacks.  “We must act against those seeking to derail the peace process,” he said, urging support for Mali’s stabilization.  France was providing €360 million to Mali, as well as €80 million to the north for the 2015-2017 period.  France’s Sahel-Saharan strategy covered its activities in six countries and focused on improving living standards, strengthening State capacity to counter terrorism and trafficking, combating radicalization, and encouraging regional security cooperation.  The international community must pool its efforts to counter terrorism.  Through the Barkhane operation, France was contributing to efforts in the region, and working to undermine terrorists’ logistical operational capacities.  The Integrated Strategy should help countries establish projects that served people, through better coordination of United Nations agency activities.  He said he looked forward to the results of the review of the Strategy, which he expected to improve the United Nations’ consistency in the Sahel and West Africa.

SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia), expressing particular concern at the widespread human rights abuses by Boko Haram, welcomed efforts by the Joint Multinational Task Force to combat that group.  It was “appalling” that the number of displaced persons had increased dramatically, and that children had been particularly affected by the deteriorating situation in the Sahel.  In addition, the humanitarian situation in the region remained precarious.  However, the increased cooperation among States across the region was encouraging, as were the concerted efforts being made to align national projects with the regional strategies to bring sustainable development and prosperity to the region.  Stating her support for the primacy of regional and national initiatives, she said she looked forward to the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the Office of the Special Envoy, with hopes that the review would culminate in constructive recommendations.  The challenges facing the Sahel were “monumental”, she stressed, adding that the region required the support of the entire international community.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), Council President, spoke in his national capacity, stating that now was the moment for the countries of the region, and their international partners, to combat the scourge of terrorism.  Terrorism was forcing people from their homes, driving a migration crisis and worsening the humanitarian situation.  However, those challenges should not “cloud our perspective”, as progress had also been made, including the successful put-down of a coup in Burkina Faso in September.  Successes and challenges were interconnected.  Challenges to food security, organized crime and a “demographic explosion” were all putting pressure on one of the more fragile regions of the world.  Sustainable peace and development must be brought to the region, he said, adding that he looked forward to progress being made on human rights, countering organized crime and terrorism, and improving food security.

Ms. SELLASSIE, responding to several questions and comments by Council members, said, in regards to the Lithuanian delegate, that, indeed, progress had been made by States in countering terrorism, including the development of several comprehensive national strategies.  Many bilateral partners, such as the African Union and the European Union, along with the United Nations, were also working to build the capacity of those countries to combat terrorism.  However, the threat was very high and required further attention.  She also noted that her Office would have benefitted from an expert on terrorism, which it had requested but had not received.

To a comment made by the representative of China, she said there was a perception that the United Nations was not doing enough in terms of expectations.  “What we are trying to address in the Sahel are longstanding, structural issues”, she said, adding that such an approach took time.  It required United Nations entities to work together in an integrated manner, which was not an easy process.  Her Office had developed nine flagship projects, implemented in multiple counties by multiple agencies, which would have quick, visible impacts.  Ten other regional projects had also been launched by United Nations entities, as well as others at the national level.  The Organization was doing its best within existing capacities to meet expectations, she stressed.

For information media. Not an official record.