Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council meeting on the Sahel, translated from French, in New York today:
I would like to thank the Government of France for initiating this debate, which follows on from the Security Council’s visit to the Sahel. I would also like to thank the Ministers of the country members of the G-5 [Group of Five] Sahel for their presence today.
And allow me to pay tribute to the three Chadian “Blue Helmets” from MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] who lost their lives last Thursday, as well as to their injured colleagues. I would like to commend them for their courage and dedication in working to bring peace and security to Mali. Their sense of sacrifice makes it our duty to find solutions, urgently, to enable us to combat terrorism in Mali, while guaranteeing the security and safety of MINUSMA personnel.
The situation in the Sahel concerns all of us. Poverty, underdevelopment and climate change have all contributed to the humanitarian and security crises. Weak institutions and the exclusion and marginalization of certain groups are exploited by extremists and terrorists. Porous borders facilitate human trafficking, the trafficking of drugs and weapons, and other criminal activities.
The recent fatal attack on Niger gendarmes and American soldiers, and the continuing attacks against the Malian defence and security forces, MINUSMA Blue Helmets and the troops forming Operation Barkhane illustrate the extent of the security threat.
The humanitarian crisis is becoming more acute. Nearly 5 million people have been displaced. Twenty-four million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Birth rates are among the highest in the world. But, millions of children in the Sahel are without access to health care and are not in school.
Given the urgency of the situation, innovative measures are needed to support the efforts of the G-5 Sahel, not just in the area of security but also in the areas of development and governance. Time is not on our side. We must align our efforts urgently in order to contain the root causes of instability in the region.
The creation of the Joint Force demonstrates the willingness of the G-5 Sahel countries to cooperate closely to tackle the threat together. Today, we have the opportunity to support them and to reverse the course of events together. We owe it to the populations of the Sahel. We owe it to the States of the G-5 Sahel that have undertaken this courageous initiative. Since their call, I have supported the creation of a force that has a mandate that corresponds to the threats faced, as well as sustained funding.
We also owe it to all those who have paid with their lives for their commitment to combat the terrorist threat and promote peace in the Sahel. In view of the rapidly evolving situation and the risks of wide-spread contagion, failing to act could have serious consequences for the region and beyond. I, therefore, call on this Council to be ambitious in the choice it has to make. Firm political support for the G-5 Sahel is vital, together with material and operational support commensurate with the challenges faced.
My report places four options before the Security Council. The United Nations could rapidly mobilize essential support to complement the action of the bilateral partners. Such support would not only be a useful booster for the G-5 Sahel force, but would also help to lessen the threats directly affecting MINUSMA. Like MINUSMA, the Joint Force will work to support the Mali peace process. The two forces are highly complementary and can be mutually reinforcing. But, only complete implementation of the peace agreement can restore the authority of the State and stability. I renew my appeal to the signatory parties to accelerate the implementation of the agreement and its key institutional reforms.
During my last informal meeting with the Council, I had the opportunity to convey to you my opinions and my preferences. Of course, whatever decision you reach, the Secretariat will make every effort to support the G-5 Sahel within the framework defined by the Council. This support to the Joint Force would also fit into the strategic partnership aimed at strengthening African responses to the crises affecting the continent.
Strategic partnership implies joint commitment, accompanied by guarantees and by benchmarks and indicators of success agreed between the G-5 Sahel countries and the international partners. The G-5 Sahel countries have set themselves a goal and in recent months have made remarkable progress towards meeting it. This has involved drafting the concept of operations, aligning certain domestic instruments and regulations, making national resources available and mobilizing regional and international partners. All these efforts demonstrate a political will to formulate a strategy and to take the necessary measures to implement it.
However, certain aspects need to be further clarified and consolidated. To this end, I have made recommendations to strengthen the political leadership of the Joint Force and its insertion in the African peace and security architecture. I have also suggested the introduction of transparent and credible follow-up and monitoring mechanisms to enhance the legitimacy and the political framework of the Joint Force, as well as the involvement of the region and its partners. In particular, it is essential to provide oversight mechanisms to ensure respect for human rights and for international humanitarian law, in the context of the military operations. The African Union and the United Nations can assist the G-5 Sahel to put in place appropriate systems, with the help of partners and particularly of the European Union.
At this point, there is an urgent need to define the procedure for cross-border investigations; arrests, detentions and legal action; risk reduction; and broadest protection of civilians. I encourage the G-5 Sahel members to work on finalizing the concept of operations, clarifying goals and the timetable for the expanding role of the Joint Force.
Security cooperation in the Sahel is essential. But, only a multidimensional response will be able to end the instability. I have instructed the Deputy Secretary-General to coordinate and revitalize the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. Together we must work harder to promote governance, development and resilience. To this end, in December at the Brussels Conference we shall submit an investment strategy for the region. I am counting on the support of all our partners.
I should also like to appeal for greater consistency between the various national, regional and international initiatives. Only the effective presence and the strengthening of the rule of law can ensure that these initiatives will bear lasting fruit. In such a difficult and complex context, this also means supporting the activities of humanitarian workers and of the agencies working for sustainable development.
Since I took office, prevention has been my absolute priority. In the Sahel, this means preventing the region from sinking into chaos that could have dangerous consequences for the continent and for the whole world. And so I am calling for a win-win partnership: a framework of shared responsibility defining our mutual obligations, with a view to solving the underlying causes of the crisis.