Calming the ever-volatile security situation in Mali hinged on a long-term plan matched with predictable funding that would consolidate fragile gains and allow international forces to tackle the spread of terrorism and transnational organized crime which was spreading across borders in the region, the United Nations peacekeeping chief told the Security Council today.
Briefing the 15-member organ, Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations said that adding to the urgency for sustained support, an already dire security situation in the Sahel was worsening, with terrorist attacks against the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and international forces. As well, reports of human rights violations by armed forces were surfacing.
Providing updates on the joint force of the Group of Five Sahel States (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), also known as the Sahel G-5, she said that the Group had conducted operations in the central sector and had taken steps to establish a human rights compliance framework at a time when Burkina Faso and Niger were deploying battalions on their respective borders with Mali. Nonetheless, much work remained to be done. Delays had prevented the joint force from attaining full operation capability and the international community’s support was needed to overcome capability gaps.
Maman Sambo Sidikou, Permanent Secretary of the Sahel G-5 countries, pointed out that challenges included overcoming a lack of equipment and logistics planning against highly volatile and hostile conditions on the ground. Noting that, within a few months of the Sahel G-5 countries establishing the joint force, it now was manned with 5,000 soldiers, he said its operationalization was currently under way with international support.
However, he observed that, although the joint force had incorporated the human rights compliance framework recommended by the United Nations from its inception, it nevertheless remained far from reaching a “smooth cruising speed” in responding to the region’s many crises. More predictable, sustainable financing and a deeper engagement with the Council was needed. Failure on the part of the joint force could threaten the security of the entire region while risking the spread of mass terrorism in neighbouring Europe and across the globe. The Sahel G-5 countries were aware that they were on the front lines of an international struggle, he said.
“What is happening in Africa reminds us of the fact that terrorists know no borders,” said Fatima Kyari Mohammed, Permanent Observer of the African Union, calling for a coherent, comprehensive and integrated approach, as well as robust international engagement, to address that global threat. Outlining the African Union’s support to the Sahel G-5 and the Nouakchott process, she said those initiatives deserved international support commensurate with the threat being faced in the region.
She also drew attention to several particular security challenges on the ground, including in towns and villages where international actors were themselves becoming targets, and she requested the Council’s additional support. The African Union would continue to work towards strengthening the region’s ownership while executing its own African Peace and Security Architecture in the Sahel region, which included such critical elements as border security and information sharing.
João Vale de Almeida, Head of Delegation of the European Union also briefed the Council, noting that a pledging conference had generated €400 million towards the joint force. However, no lasting progress could be achieved without political progress. To address that concern, he called on States to use all available leverage to encourage the Malian parties to implement their commitments under Mali’s Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.
As many Council members called for bolstered engagement by all stakeholders in Mali, the representative of Bolivia emphasized that consolidating the political process in Mali would help to stabilize the entire region. However, analysing and identifying the causes of conflict were essential, he said, pointing out that the actions that had been taken against Libya had unleashed a crisis that had spread across the Sahel, exacerbated by climate change consequences and flourishing violence that had led to a massive displacement of people and food insecurity.
Agreeing, Equatorial Guinea’s representative underlined a need to further analyse the factors that gave rise to Islamist extremism in the region. “We must foster resilient societies” capable to starving the regeneration of extremist groups, he stressed, noting that social and development policies would be needed to address their deepest roots and prevent them from rearing their heads again.
Delegates also broadly commended ongoing efforts and voiced support for the full operationalization of the joint force, with many describing their countries’ efforts and contributions.
Echoing a common view, the representative of Côte d'Ivoire said the support of MINUSMA to the joint force constituted a good model of cooperation between the United Nations and African efforts, while expressing hope that financing pledges would materialize soon to ensure its full operationalization.
Indeed, the representative of France said that the joint force was a showcase for the potential of African intervention initiatives. Recognizing that efforts hinged on predictable funding, he urged that pledges be disbursed, and he called on donors to make the necessary contributions.
Also speaking today were representatives of Sweden, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, United States, Kuwait, Ethiopia, United Kingdom, Peru, Russian Federation, China and Poland.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 5:22 p.m.
BINTOU KEITA, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Council on updates on the operationalization of the joint force of the Group of Five Sahel States (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), also known as the Sahel G-5. Amid a dire security situation in the Sahel, terrorist attacks against the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and international forces also threatened civilian populations. Providing updates on the Sahel G-5 joint force, she said that, while it had conducted operations in the central sector and taken steps to establish a human rights compliance framework at a time when Burkina Faso and Niger had deployed battalions on their respective borders with Mali, much work remained to be done.
Delays had prevented the joint force from attaining full operation capability, she said, calling on the Sahel G-5 countries to pursue efforts made to date, deploy remaining troops and clarify its concept of operations to jointly define its goals. The international community’s support was needed to overcome capability gaps. Drawing attention to reports of human rights violations by security forces, she urged those countries to take advantage of efforts that had been carried out the by the joint force, MINUSMA and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Expressing gratitude for pledges amounting €400 million, which covered almost entirely its projected budget for the first year of operations, she applauded the European Union for managing the coordination hub. However, she noted her concern regarding the support mechanisms, as described in resolution 2391 (2017); those required perpetual resource generation efforts. In addition, MINUSMA also required funding to be able to discharge its mandate.
The situation in Mali made it clear that a force should be in place, she said, urging donors to make contributions. Noting that MINUSMA support for the joint force was limited to Mali itself, she said donors should boost support in the eastern and western areas and disburse pledged funds as soon as possible. The overall goal was to consider what mechanisms would be appropriate to allow for predictable funding for long-term planning, an approach that would benefit MINUSMA, as well.
However, any attempt to address challenges would be doomed to failure unless a holistic framework was applied, she stressed. Such efforts must align with the peace agreement. While hailing progress made thus far, she voiced her continuing concern regarding reports of violations of human rights by local law and order forces. Among the key next steps, the joint force should strengthen the support group, which would allow for more systematic cooperation within the region. United Nations involvement to that initiative was unshakeable, she said.
MAMAN SAMBO SIDIKOU, Permanent Secretary of the Sahel G-5 countries, noted that, within a few months of the Sahel G-5 countries establishing the joint force, it now was manned with 5,000 soldiers, and its operationalization was currently under way with international support. However, although the force had incorporated the human rights compliance framework recommended by the United Nations from its inception, it nevertheless remained far from reaching a “smooth cruising speed” in responding to the region’s many crises. Among other challenges, logistics and equipment were lacking and the environment remained highly hostile.
Agreeing with the Secretary-General’s assessment that the joint force’s underlying arrangements were “poorly adapted” and unsustainable in the long term, he called for more predictable, sustainable financing and a deeper engagement with the Council. The latter could provide MINUSMA with a more robust mandate, he said, underlining the need for all peace operations mandates to become more flexible, dynamic and adaptable in a world full of complex challenges.
Recalling that he had held posts at the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) prior to taking up his current role at the Sahel G-5, he said both Missions had produced positive results on the ground. Citing in particular MONUSCO’s Rapid Intervention Brigade — which had conducted the United Nations most successful peacekeeping intervention in the last 20 years — he said such efforts had been, and must remain, guided by United Nations resolutions and conducted in partnership with the international community.
Failure on the part of the joint force could threaten the security of the entire region while risking the spread of mass terrorism in neighbouring Europe and across the globe, he said. The Sahel G-5 countries were aware that they were on the front lines of an international struggle. It was for that reason that those nations had committed large percentages of their limited resources, often at the expense of development and other important activities, to fund the activities of the joint force.
Noting that initial contributions from other regions and countries were now being received, he emphasized the Sahel G-5’s commitment to promoting and protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of the region’s population. The nexus between security and development must be at the heart of ambitious activities in both spheres, he stated, describing efforts to provide health care, ensure food security and ensure that young people were no longer tempted to join terrorist factions. Many partners had also pledged support to those priority investment areas, he said, underscoring that what was needed now was to “make good intentions into concrete action”.
FATIMA KYARI MOHAMMED, Permanent Observer of the African Union, said the organization remained deeply concerned over the continuing deterioration of the security situation in Mali and the greater Sahel region as a result of the increasing threat posed by terrorism and violent extremism. “What is happening in Africa reminds us of the fact that terrorists know no borders,” she stressed, calling for a coherent, comprehensive and integrated approach, as well as robust international engagement, to address that global threat. Outlining the African Union’s support to the Sahel G-5 and the Nouakchott process, she said those initiatives deserved international support commensurate with the threat being faced in the region.
Welcoming progress achieved so far by the joint force — including in its first two operations — she thanked the region’s bilateral and multilateral partners, including Rwanda, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and all those who had made pledges during the recent Brussels funding conference. However, more sustainable and predictable resources were still needed, as the force remained unable to carry out large-scale operations. That left a vacuum in which traffickers and other criminals could operate, she warned.
Drawing attention to several particular security challenges on the ground, including in towns and villages where international actors were themselves becoming targets, she requested the Council’s additional support. For its part, the African Union would continue to work towards strengthening the region’s ownership while executing its own African Peace and Security Architecture in the Sahel region, which included such critical elements as border security and information‑sharing.
JOÃO PEDRO VALE DE ALMEIDA, Head of Delegation of the European Union, said the meeting was a demonstration of the international community’s continued support for the Sahel G-5 countries and the fight against terrorism in that region. Underlining the European Union’s support, he said the bloc enjoyed a strategic partnership with the United Nations in peacekeeping and crisis management, as well as through the trilateral United Nations-African Union-European Union cooperation. At the 23 February pledging conference in Brussels, the international community had pledged more than €400 million to the Sahel, and with the Sahel G-5‑United Nations-European Union technical arrangement now in place, the regional force had the necessary international support to proceed in deploying and operationalizing its Joint Force.
Recalling that the European Union had also disbursed €10 million to MINUSMA in support of the Joint Force, he invited other partners to make similar contributions, emphasizing that the type of support provided by the Mission could not be provided by other bilateral channels. In addition, the European Union was preparing to contribute another €10 million to establish and implement a human rights and international law compliance framework, as well as €70 million for the provision of equipment, infrastructure and services to the Joint Force. Emphasizing that the Force must be firmly anchored in a broader political and institutional framework — as just one element in a wider regional strategy — he said the European Union had also provided €5 million to the Trust Fund and related support activities.
Under a recently concluded Memorandum of Understanding between the African Union and the Sahel G-5 — which gave the former a coordinating role — the European Union would continue to manage the “coordination hub” and assist the work of the Joint Task Force and the Sahel G-5 Secretariat, he said. Beyond financial and institutional support, he also outlined European efforts to strengthen the region’s defence and security capacities, particularly in Mali and Niger. The Joint Force’s work would be critical to combating organized crime and terrorism while also ensuring the protection of civilians. However, no lasting progress could be achieved without political progress, he stressed, calling on States to use all available leverage to encourage the Malian parties to implement their commitments under that country’s Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the joint force was a showcase for the potential of African intervention initiatives. However, despite progress, challenges remained, including the availability of critical elements, including adequate communications equipment. Finalizing the full operationalization of the joint force was a priority, with equal attention to be paid to address reports of human rights violations. Recognizing that efforts hinged on predictable funding, he said pledges must be disbursed and the pace of joint force operations must be realistic, based on disbursements. MINUSMA should do more, he said, calling on donors to make the necessary contributions. Stabilizing the Sahel also depended on progress on the political and development fronts and encouraging signs ahead of elections must be built upon. For its part, France would continue raising the issue of terrorism in the Sahel in the Council and would submit a related draft press statement, he said.
ILAHIRI ALCIDE DJEDJE (Côte d'Ivoire), while calling on all stakeholders to support the joint force, echoed concerns about the deteriorating security situation and obstacles to fully implementing operations. MINUSMA support to the joint force constituted a good model of cooperation between the United Nations and African efforts, he said, expressing hope that financing pledges would materialize soon to ensure its full operationalization. The success of operations also depended on support of local communities. The joint force should be seen as an important part of efforts that aimed at finding a long-term solution to the crisis and all parties should honour their commitments to peace. In addition, efforts must focus on development and on predictable funding for various initiatives. Terrorism was felt beyond the borders of the Sahel, he pointed out, emphasizing the need for coordinated and sustained responses and calling on all stakeholders to provide the joint force with the tools to overcome the current crisis in the region.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said rampant transnational organized crime represented a threat to both peace processes and the civilian population. Analysing and identifying the causes of conflict were essential, he said, noting that the actions that had been taken against Libya had unleashed a crisis that had spread across the Sahel. In addition, climate change consequences were compounding the problem in the region. In Mali, violence had led to a massive displacement of people and food insecurity. Consolidating the political process in that country would help to stabilize the entire region, he said, acknowledging the important efforts of the African Union and regional partners. Predictable funding for the joint force and MINUSMA was also essential and each force should have a clear mandate to achieve full operational status.
IRINA SCHOULGIN-NYONI (Sweden) welcomed the conclusion of a technical agreement and execution of two operations by the force. “It is now time for outstanding elements of resolution 2391 (2017) to be implemented,” he said, calling on the Sahel G-5 countries to deploy the remaining troops committed to the force and ensure the transfer of authority of their battalions to the Force Commander. “This is crucial for the full functioning and credibility of the force,” he emphasized. Also critical was implementation of the human rights compliance framework to prevent, investigate, address and report rights violations. Welcoming the decision by the Sahel G-5 Committee for Defence and Security to deepen collaboration among police forces, he encouraged all parties to explore how women could contribute to the compliance framework and operational planning. The joint force was among many instruments that comprised an integrated regional approach to the situation. Therefore, it should be embedded within a larger political and institutional framework and be part of a broader strategy for the region.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), associating himself with the African Union, expressed concern over the worsening security situation across the Sahel, which was marked by terrorist attacks on civilians, regional and national defence forces, as well as international forces and the French operation on the ground in Mali. He commended the Sahel G-5 countries for their sacrifices and increasingly effective efforts to combat terrorism and transnational criminal networks. However, funding for the joint force remained a slow and painful process and more sustainable, predictable support was required. It was especially critical that African nations themselves were in the vanguard of efforts to combat terrorism on the continent, he said, spotlighting the importance of the Nouakchott process in that regard. There was also a need to further analyse the factors that gave rise to Islamist extremism in the region. “We must foster resilient societies” capable to starving the regeneration of extremist groups, he stressed, noting that social and development policies would be needed to address their deepest roots and prevent them from rearing their heads again.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said that the success of the Sahel G-5 joint force was intimately linked to progress on the Mali peace process. Addressing root causes was needed to bring lasting peace and stability, he pointed out, welcoming the Sahel G-5 development agenda and the launch of the “Alliance Sahel” initiative by France and Germany. Moreover, the joint force could only be effective if it enjoyed the population’s trust. In that context, news of human rights violations in Mali was worrying, demonstrating the importance of rigorous monitoring and accountability mechanisms. To ensure adequate follow-up, he called on the Sahel G-5 to speed up establishing the police component, which was vital in taking effective action against terrorism, transnational crime and the smuggling of migrants. Such threats undermined the stability of the Sahel and also posed security concerned for Europe. While recognizing the importance of MINUSMA’s support in further operationalizing the force, he stressed that could not come at the cost of the Mission’s core tasks.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) said that making the Sahel G-5 force fully operational would positively reinforce joint efforts by MINUSMA, the Mali national security forces and other mechanisms to bring about regional peace and stability. It could also serve as an example of an African solution to African problems. However, the force must find its place within the larger political and institutional framework strategy planned for the subregion. Moreover, the causes of conflict must be addressed, including by strengthening local governance, reducing poverty and tribal rivalries and increasing job creation. As such, Kazakhstan had proposed a three-pronged strategy to resolve regional conflicts, involving strengthening the security-development nexus, a revamped regional approach and streamlining the United Nations system.
AMY NOEL TACHCO (United States), describing the work of the Sahel G-5 and its joint force as priorities for her country, nevertheless stressed that military solutions alone would not be enough to combat regional challenges. Good governance, development and respect for human rights were also needed, as were efforts to address the causes of the conflict in northern Mali. The parties to that conflict must fully implement their commitments in the Algiers Accord, while the Council must use all available tools, including sanctions regimes, to compel them to do so. Voicing concern about a recent attack on a Malian soldier under Sahel G-5 command in Boulekessi — followed by the death of 12 civilians — she called for a full investigation into that incident. Meanwhile, she warned against overstretching MINUSMA’s resources, noting that the Mission was already engaged in many tasks. The United States objected to the Mission’s Chapter VII mandate, as well as using United Nations assessed contributions to support the Sahel G-5 joint force. For its part, the United States had contributed $822 million in security support since 2012 and an additional $60 million in 2017 to support the joint force’s operationalization.
ABDULAZIZ S M A ALJARALLAH (Kuwait), welcoming steps taken to operationalize the joint force, reiterated support for its work to prevent terrorism and extremism in the Sahel region. Recalling that the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had provided significant support to those efforts, he also welcomed United Nations technical support and called for further assistance to help the Sahel G-5 shore up its progress in combating extremist factions. Underling the complexity of such challenges as cross-border crime and smuggling, he voiced support for enhanced cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other partners aimed at strengthening the capacity of local authorities. The importance of development to promote regional stability could not be overemphasized, nor could crucial efforts to strengthen the rule of law and good governance. As such, the OIC Islamic Development Bank focused on funding projects that empowered women and supported young people, he added.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said growing threats from terrorists and transnational organized criminals in the Sahel were exacerbated by a lack of progress in Mali’s peace process. The scale and sophistication of terrorist attacks was unprecedented, underscoring the need to fight that scourge by supporting the efforts of regional countries. He highlighted progress in making the joint force fully operational, including through the creation of a trust fund and of both a liaison office for its headquarters in Sevaré, and the Permanent Secretariat in Nouakchott. Yet, there was an urgent need for air assets, which the force could use for intelligence gathering and transport, and for communication equipment.
Communication among the sector headquarters, command posts and battalion camps in particular was a serious challenge, he continued. Underscoring the need to prioritize camp infrastructure and enhancement of force headquarters, he commended Rwanda for contributing $1 million to support the force’s full operationalization, and welcomed the signing of the technical arrangement among the Sahel G-5 countries, United Nations and the European Commission for the provision of operational and logistical support. The creation of a compliance framework was also encouraging. Stressing the need to tackle the causes of regional instability, he said the force was part of a holistic strategy to be carried out on the basis of ownership and partnership. Indeed, the region required sustained international engagement and coherent efforts among the African Union, United Nations and other international partners.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), commending the joint force’s cross‑border and intelligence activities, said efforts must also ensure the full mobilization of operations. Yet, unpredictable resources were disrupting operations and long-term planning. For its part, the United Kingdom had continuously provided contributions and encouraged others to lend their assistance. Calling for coordination among actors, he cautioned against the duplication of activities. Welcoming recent progress in Mali’s peace process, he said political efforts must be redoubled and the Council must do its part to ensure further gains. International intervention would succeed only if accompanied by the consideration of human rights concerns, he said, adding that development work should be linked the joint force and MINUSMA operations. Military action must be conducted with full compliance with international humanitarian law, as the failure to protect civilians would only feed the recruitment activities of extremist groups.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said lasting peace and stability depended on coordinated responses that reflected the needs and priorities of the Sahel G-5 countries. Welcoming such cooperation, he said they should enhance joint force capacities. In addition, addressing the causes of conflict was critical. Alarmed at the lack of progress in the peace process, he said efforts should focus on citizen participation and on tackling threats stemming from terrorism and transnational organized crime. The Sahel G-5 was a model of how African countries were fully capable of promoting security and the international community should do its part by supporting its critical actions.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that, against a backdrop of continuing violence, an international terrorist coalition was now stepping up activities, with new radical groups and leaders emerging. To tackle that situation, the root problem — the destabilization of Libya — must be addressed. Citing gains, including successful military operations, he expressed hope that plans would soon be announced in efforts to combat armed fighters. However, a lack of progress in setting up bases was among a range of concerns that would only be resolved with predictable funding. Moving forward, extremist ideology and acute socioeconomic problems must be addressed. For its part, the Russian Federation was providing military and technical assistance to States in the region and would continue to make contributions to ensure that the joint force would become an effective instrument for restoring peace and stability.
WU HAITAO (China), citing progress since the adoption of resolution 2391 (2017), nonetheless expressed concern about persistent multifaceted challenges, including the growth of transnational organized crime. Support must be strengthened for the joint force to safeguard peace and security in the region, he said, welcoming MINUSMA efforts. Underlining a need to prioritize political issues, he supported regional country efforts to resolve outstanding issues. Counter-terrorism initiatives must also be boosted, with increased international support. Indeed, terrorism was a common enemy of all mankind and all countries must do their part in cracking down on that threat. Commending the positive role being played by regional actors, he said the international community should enhance cooperation with those stakeholders. For its part, China supported Africa’s efforts to address peace and security on the continent.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said the causes of conflict in the region were interdependent and cross-border in nature, making cooperation among neighbouring countries and within regional organizations crucial to achieving progress. She expressed support for the Sahel G-5 joint force and hope that, with international support, it would soon be fully operational, working in full compliance with international law. Poland supported the joint force through in-kind assistance, having provided significant material support to Chadian troops operating with the unit. Responding to a request by the Sahel G-5 countries, she said that Poland also had announced its readiness to conduct further training in countering improvised explosive devices.