Against a complex backdrop of expanding terrorist threats and mounting hopelessness in Africa’s Sahel region, several senior officials today urged the United Nations and other partners to boost their support to the regional force established to combat those threats, as they briefed the Security Council on recent developments.
Officials from the Group of Five for the Sahel, the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations Secretariat stood united in commending the G-5 Sahel joint force — established 18 months ago and now moving into its operationalization phase — while hailing its troops’ courageous work in some of the world’s most difficult military conditions. Voicing concern about a deadly terror attack in June on the force’s headquarters, they also sounded alarms over unmet donor pledges that have left the force with a critical resource shortfall. In that regard, they echoed prior calls by the Secretary-General to place the force under the umbrella of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, thereby providing more sustainable resources and strengthening the Council’s involvement in its work.
“In the absence of funding, there is not much the Mission can do,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, referring to the challenges faced by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in supporting the G-5 Sahel joint force. Warning that civilians across the region are losing hope — and that such hostile conditions could provide fertile ground for a wider spread of extremism — he said despite the June attack against its headquarters the joint force must push forward with its operations. “This will send a strong message to terrorist groups seeking to destabilize the region” as well as inspire confidence among the force’s donors, he said, adding that the force’s accomplishments over the last year have been “no small feat”.
Maman Sidiko, Permanent Secretary of the G-5 Sahel, described the June terror attack against the joint force headquarters in Sevare, Mali as a major setback. Also pointing to funding shortfalls and serious capacity gaps, he drew attention to the Council’s recent debate on strengthening multilateralism and emphasized that the situation in the Sahel is an example of an opportunity for crucial multilateral engagement. Echoing concerns that the region’s young people feel increasingly hopeless, he said many face the choice between fleeing the region — with all the deadly risks that implies — or joining up with armed terrorist groups. Calling for prompt action to address those challenges, he warned Council members that if they fail to tackle such issues now, they will soon find themselves meeting to discuss their impacts.
Pierre Buyoya, the African Union’s High Representative for Mali and the Sahel, paid tribute to the countries of the G-5 Sahel for establishing and deploying the force and standing united in the face of the region’s multiple crises. Thanking partners for their support, he nevertheless warned that security in the Sahel continues to unravel. It is therefore imperative that the force be rendered fully operational as soon as possible as part of a holistic approach that also includes development, governance and human rights improvements. Reiterating the Union’s strong commitment to the force, he welcomed efforts to create a dedicated United Nations office under Chapter VII of the Charter, thereby providing a package of support to the force and its operations on the ground.
Pedro Serrano, Deputy Secretary-General for Common Security and Defence Policy and Crisis response at the European External Action Service, also payed tribute to the G-5 Sahel joint force as an important example of regional cooperation. Drawing attention to the European Union’s strong support of various political progress throughout the Sahel, he pointed out that it maintains nearly daily contacts with actors on the ground and holds periodic summits with them. Furthermore, it provides support to the ongoing peace process in Mali and has contributed some €8 billion for development in the region, in addition to humanitarian aid and the delivery of critical equipment and services.
France’s representative, sounding alarm over the expanding terrorist threat in the Sahel, described the G-5 Sahel countries’ establishment of a joint regional force as a “landmark” event and hailed its significant progress in just over a year’s time. For their parts, he said, the Council must provide effective support and donors must fulfil all pledges made. “This is absolutely critical,” he stressed, also voicing support for a more robust MINUSMA mandate and urging the Sahel’s development partners to continue supporting projects needed to prevent a further plunge into instability.
Côte d’Ivoire’s delegate, echoing the importance of strong support from the Council, welcomed the Mission’s support for the G-5 Sahel joint force as well as the signing of agreements with the European Union and other partners. Calling on donors to fulfil their commitments, he said that — considering the magnitude of the force’s needs and the scope of current threats — more predictable and secure funding is urgently needed.
Bolivia’s representative was among those speakers explicitly calling for the Council to place the G-5 Sahel joint force under a Chapter VII mandate. Warning that delays in funding it have hindered its expansion of crucial projects, she also spotlighted some of the root causes of the regional conflict, including the “harsh consequences of intervention” and regime change policies in Libya that destabilized the region. Applauding the political determination of G-5 Sahel countries against that backdrop, she said the force is an exemplary example of cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations and voiced concern that the refusal of some Council members to provide the force with a Chapter VII mandate has hamstrung its progress.
On that point, the United States representative reiterated his delegation’s view that the Mission’s technical agreement with the force is the full extent of the role the United Nations should play. “Security responses alone will not resolve every problem,” he said, noting that bilateral agreements are the best way to provide the force with assistance. Over the last year, the United States has nearly doubled its support from $60 million to $111 million, representing just a small part of its more than $1 billion overall funding to the Sahel region. In addition, he said, Council members should stand ready to use all their tools against spoilers who threaten the peace and stability in the Sahel.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Sweden, Peru, Netherlands, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Poland and China.
The meeting began at 10 a.m. and ended at 12:09 p.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Security Council the situation in the Sahel region — as illustrated by the trends laid out in the Secretary-General’s most recent report (document S/2018/1006) remains worrying. The uptick in terrorist attacks targeting civilians, State officials and security forces in the northeast of Niger and Burkina Faso demonstrate that terrorism is rapidly expanding, he said, noting that schools and other critical civilian infrastructure in some areas are being forced to close as a result. People are losing hope, he warned, adding that those hostile conditions also provide a fertile ground for an even wider spread of extremism. Following a major terror attack in June against the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel) joint force headquarters he called on partners to help the force resume its momentum as quickly as possible. “This will send a strong message to terrorist groups seeking to destabilize the region” as well as inspire confidence among the force’s donors, he said.
Outlining the joint force’s important accomplishments over its 12 months of existence, he said the G-5 Sahel countries have deployed more than 80 per cent of their troops, manned all sector headquarters and completed the transfer of authority for all command posts. “This is no small feat,” he stressed. However, much remains to be done, as the joint force still has still not reached its full operational capacity and major capacity gaps and equipment shortfalls remain. Welcoming contributions by donors who have moved forward swiftly, he nevertheless expressed concern that almost 50 per cent of the pledges generated have not yet been earmarked let alone disbursed. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) itself also continues to face a funding gap of almost $30 million needed to provide mandated support for the joint force, in line with Council resolution 2391 (2017). “In the absence of funding, there is not much the Mission can do,” he said.
Echoing the Secretary-General’s calls for a different funding structure — including through assessed contributions — he said those more predictable and sustainable resources would help the joint force extend its reach beyond the Malian territory and allow MINUSMA to focus exclusively on mandate implementation. He also voiced support for calls to place the force under a Chapter VII mandate, and stressed that for any Sahel strategy to be successful it must be part of a bigger, more holistic strategy for the region. Welcoming the signature of a partnership agreement between the G-5 Sahel and the Sahel Alliance in October, and underlining the importance of the G-5 Sahel’s Priority Investment Program, he echoed the Secretary-General’s calls on the G-5 Sahel member States to urgently create a joint force “Group de Soutien” to provide a forum for States, donors and other partners to engage with each other and provide support. The African Union also has a critical role to play, he said.
MAMAN SIDIKOU, Permanent Secretary of the G-5 Sahel, described the June 2018 terror attack against the joint force headquarters in Sévére, Mali as a major setback. Also pointing to funding shortfalls and serious capacity gaps, he emphasized that the support pledged at the Brussels high-level funding conference remains largely unfunded. Recalling two recent high-level appointments within the leadership of the joint force, he said those two generals immediately turned their attention to improving logistics and supplies. Also drawing attention to the Council’s recent open debate on strengthening multilateralism to address crises and conflicts, he said the situation in the Sahel is one example of an opportunity where multilateral engagement is critical. Indeed, some countries in the G‑5 Sahel are facing serious challenges that have forced school and court closures. Young people feel hopeless and many face the choice between fleeing the region — with all the deadly risks that implies — or joining up with armed terrorist groups. Calling for prompt action to address those challenges, he warned the Council that if they fail to tackle such issues now, members will soon find themselves meeting to discuss their impacts.
Given the scope and magnitude of the crisis, he continued, “we have moved from mere appeals to alerts” in terms of support and funding. The joint force must use its resources wisely to avert a further deterioration of the situation in the region, he said, emphasizing that international solidarity and partnership “must be made tangible”. In that regard, he echoed calls for the force to be placed under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to provide it with a stronger, more predictable funding structure. The world is facing multiple, serious emerging challenges that have shaken even its most stable regions. In the Sahel, countries are standing together to combat such threats, and their troops are willing to spill blood in the fight against extremism and instability. Against that backdrop he asked Member States to attend another funding conference to be held in December, and outlined an evolving partnership with the Sahel Alliance. “But that will not be enough to plug the gap of $1.9 billion for development,” he stressed, urging donors to do their utmost as quickly as possible.
PIERRE BUYOYA, African Union High Representative for Mali and the Sahel, paid tribute to the countries of the G-5 Sahel to achieve operationalization of the force in all its elements, to face the multiple crises of the region. He thanked all partners in that effort, notably those who had assisted with training, capacity-building and logistical support. Such support is vital. He also welcomed the opening of the security educational facilities and extended condolences to those who lost compatriots in the terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, he stressed, security in the Sahel continues to unravel. It is therefore imperative that the force be operational as soon as possible as part of a holistic approach that includes development, governance and human rights improvement. The African Union, for its part, is committed to supporting the force to the best of its abilities. Its Peace and Security Council has renewed its support to the force and has approved a concept of operations. Affirming that a formal international support mechanism for the force is essential, he welcomed efforts to create a dedicated office under Chapter VII to provide a support package. Pledging the Union’s continuing support to the force, he called on other partners to increase their efforts in that regard.
PEDRO SERRANO, Deputy Secretary-General for Common Security and Defence Policy and Crisis response at the European External Action Service, paying tribute to the countries of the G-5 Sahel for their initiative to join together for security, said that the European Union has consistently supported the establishment of the force as a priority. European partnership is extremely active on the political level, with nearly daily contacts as well as periodic summits, in addition to support for the peace process in Mali. Eight billion euros had been contributed by the Union for development in the region, in addition to humanitarian aid. The situation has continued to deteriorate, demonstrating the critical need for the force. To support it, the operational zone of the Union’s missions in Mali and Niger will be extended to cover the full territory of the countries of the Group of Five for the Sahel, following requests from the Governments. Funding of €100 million will also be provided, targeting not only operational needs but also to efforts to ensure compliance with human rights and humanitarian law. Equipment and services have been already delivered on the ground. He welcomed local support that had been announced as well as other donor pledges and described efforts to match donations with needs and make the Trust Fund fit for purpose. He pledged the Union’s continued commitment to the successful deployment of the Sahel force.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), sounding alarm over the expanding terrorist threat in the Sahel region, welcomed the G-5 Sahel countries’ commitment in combating the phenomenon and called on the international community to shoulder its responsibility to support their work. Describing the establishment of the G-5 Sahel joint force as a “landmark” event — and hailing its significant progress in just over a year — he said those efforts must be pushed forward. Welcoming the force’s establishment of a human rights compliance framework — unparalleled on the African continent — he called for “fresh operations” against extremists in the coming weeks. For their part, the Council must provide effective support and donors must fulfil all pledges made. “This is absolutely critical,” he stressed, also voicing support for a more robust MINUSMA mandate. At the political level, the implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali is critical, and the G-5 Sahel States should help raise awareness of that agreement among the Malian population. He also urged the Sahel’s partners to continue to support crucial development projects in the region, which are needed to protect its most vulnerable people and prevent a further plunge into instability.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the root of the terrorist scourge in the Sahel is well known, namely the collapse of the Libyan State after heavy-handed foreign intervention. Welcoming progress made to date by the G-5 Sahel joint force over its short lifespan, he said it has already demonstrated its key role in the achievement of stability in the region. While the June 2018 terror attack against its headquarters was a heavy blow that slowed down the force’s rapid progress, the attack nevertheless shed light on its shortcomings, including its need for more equipment and funding. Many of those who committed funds to support the force have failed to deliver on them in a prompt manner, he said, underlining the importance of stronger, more coordinated international efforts to combat extremism in the Sahel/Sahara region. Military methods alone cannot root out terrorism, he said, calling for efforts to combat extremist ideology, strengthen State institutions and address serious development challenges. For its part, he said, the Russian Federation is considering ways to enhance its cooperation with the G-5 Sahel States, and in the meantime will continue to provide training and capacity-building to joint force troops.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said that the States in the sub-region must speed up the process of making the force fully functional, adding that he welcomed the opening of G-5 Sahel Security and Defense College and its capacity-building programmes. It is also important that the joint force and other security forces in the region complement each other and strengthen coordination. Counter-terrorism measures must be accompanied by development efforts, along with steps to address the root causes of conflict and instability, he said, also highlighting the need to strengthen local governance, reduce poverty and tribal rivalries, provide basic services and increase jobs. His country has proposed use of a three-pronged strategy to resolve regional conflicts through strengthening the security-development nexus, adopting a regional approach and streamlining the United Nations system to deliver as “One UN”. The recalibrated United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel and the recently launched United Nations Support Plan is a good basis for such a comprehensive and integrated approach.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) stressed that all needs in the region must be addressed holistically, including development and human rights as well as governance and the peace processes. It is up to stakeholders to ensure that efforts in all areas are joined up in an effective manner. He commended the leadership of the G-5 Sahel States for their initiative leading to the creation of the joint force and welcomed support provided by donors. Underlining the importance of conducting the operations of the force under the principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, he encouraged the G-5 Sahel to finalize the force’s concept of operations. He also called for the full formation of a police component. Urging donors to fulfil their commitments, he noted that his country is providing nearly 15 per cent of the European support, in addition to such contributions as Chinook helicopters and some $200 million dollars of aid to the area this year. Describing the United Kingdom’s support in other areas as well, he stressed that coordination between all actors is key, emphasizing the role of a dedicated mechanism, as well as the United Nations, in that effort.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Cote d’Ivoire), noting the challenges experienced in many areas by the G-5 Sahel, underlined the importance of the Security Council’s strong support for security in the region. He encouraged all stakeholders to persevere in their efforts to support the deployment of the Sahel force and urged the Sahel States to engage further with partners in making it successful. Welcoming the support of MINUSMA for the force, as well as the signing of agreements with the European Union, he called on all partners to fulfil their commitments. Ensuring compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law is also key, as is dovetailing military operations with political processes, such as that in Mali. Boosting resilience in the Sahel means facing the full multidimensional crisis in the area as described in the United Nations support plan for the region. In light of the magnitude of the force’s needs and the scope of current threats, it is urgent to provide predictable and secure funding. Paying tribute to the countries of the Sahel for their initiative, he said that his country will consistently stand by their side along with others in the international community.
TAYE ATSKE SELASSIE (Ethiopia) said frequent attacks in recent months against security forces and personnel serving in the G-5 Sahel country institutions, as well as destruction of public facilities must be taken very seriously. Numerous attacks clearly indicate the growing presence in the region of terrorist groups who are taking advantage of security vacuums in areas not covered by international or G-5 Sahel member States’ armed forces. The situation calls for stronger coordination and deterrence by the G-5 Sahel joint force, as well as national militaries and security agents of each State in the region. It is also important that the international community places the G-5 Sahel joint force under a Chapter VII mandate to ensure continuous support and funding. The geographic challenge of military operations in the Sahel desert and vastness of the terrain make it imperative that the joint force be strengthened through robust international support.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) expressed particular concern about the situation in Central Mali and the spill-over of violence to Burkina Faso and Niger. The high number of civilian casualties and allegations of human rights violations are alarming. Calling for the swift and full implementation of Security Council resolution 2391 (2017), he said outstanding troops must be deployed and the joint force’s police component must be established without further delay. To ensure the credibility of the force, the authority of battalions must be transferred to the force commander. In addition, a new timeline must be defined soon for the joint force to reach full operational capacity. Equally important is the clarification of the joint force’s operational strategy, which would demonstrate a unity of purpose and bolster donor confidence. Moving forward, predictable and reliable funding will be vital for the joint force to be able to carry out planning and operations in an effective, predictable and sustainable manner. At the same time, the full implementation of the peace agreement in Mali is crucial. Welcoming the establishment of the Support and Follow-up Group on the Situation in Mali, he noted that further efforts are needed to enhance its strategic direction.
JONATHAN COHEN (United States) echoed concerns about rising insecurity and the continued prevalence of terror attacks throughout the Sahel region. Commending the initiative to establish and operationalize the G-5 Sahel joint force, and voicing strong support for it, he expressed his delegation’s belief that bilateral agreements are the best way to provide the force with capacity-building and assistance. Over the last year, the United States has nearly doubled its support for the joint force from $60 million to $111 million, representing just a small part of its more than $1 billion overall funding to the Sahel region. As previously stated by the United States, his delegation believes that the Stabilization Mission’s technical agreement with the joint force is the full extent of the role the United Nations should play. In that vein, he rejected calls to place the force under a Chapter VII mandate, declaring: “Security responses alone will not resolve every problem.” The United States support to the Sahel also focuses on development, agriculture and humanitarian assistance, and seeks to complement the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel. Underlining Mali’s central role in the region’s current crisis, he warned that partners should not accept disagreements between the G-5 Sahel parties that threaten to hinder progress on the ground. “The stakes are too high,” he stressed, urging Council members to stand ready to use all their tools — including sanctions — against spoilers who threaten the region’s peace and stability.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), expressing strong support for the G-5 Sahel joint force, said it requires adequate support and bolstered operational capacity. That necessitates technical cooperation from MINUSMA as well as more predictable and sustainable funding, he said, urging the joint force to continue to operate within its crucial human rights framework to build up its credibility with the international community. Achieving sustainable peace in the Sahel also requires a multidimensional approach that goes beyond military operations to protect human rights, tackle climate change, provide basic services, involve women and young people in political and public life and promote sustainable development in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Meanwhile, he said, the various structures operating on the ground should work together coherently and consistently, rather than overlap in their functions. The G-5 Sahel joint force demonstrates a clear manifestation of the commitment of African nations to work together on a regional basis to address the continent’s challenges. For its part, United Nations support to the force — as well as those of donors and other partners — should be provided in line with the stipulations of the broader United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel.
KAREL VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) expressed concern about new alliances being formed between exiting extremist groups in the Sahel. The recent spike in intercommunal violence — most acute in the centre of Mali — further complicates those challenges, he said, calling on the Council to deepen its understanding of those issues. Underlining the importance of the Council’s cooperation with the countries of the Sahel region, he saluted the work of the G-5 Sahel, emphasizing that “it is high time for us to move forward with the full operationalization of the joint force”. Vigilance by the G-5 Sahel countries is required to prevent any human rights violations, while more support is needed from partners and donors. Strengthening the capacity of national armed forces is also of utmost importance, he said. Turning to the link between security and development, he declared: “We need to invest further in conflict prevention” and address its root causes, including the threats posed by climate change, which in the Sahel are pitting farmers against pastoralists. Noting that the donor conference to be convened in December offers another opportunity for partners to provide resources to the G-5 Sahel and its joint force, he called for a blend of “rigour and humility” in the provision of that critical support.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) said that the growing mobility and strength of extremist groups in the Sahel requires a strong and immediate international response. In that context, support to regional initiatives is a critical part of the necessary multisectoral approach. In regard to the joint force, he stressed the need for steady funding and support in such areas as training. Welcoming the commitments of donors, he requested that those pledges be fulfilled as soon as possible, cautioning that funding of military operations must not draw money away from development. Creation of the police component is also important, as is coordination with INTERPOL. As the political dimensions cannot be divorced from humanitarian and security dimensions, he welcomed the rollout of a number of national plans and international strategies in that regard. Maintaining that the spread of terrorism in the Sahel is a result of the disruptions in Libya, he said that his country has also been the victim of violence that originated from other countries in the region. Such developments showed the need for the consolidation of regional solidarity through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and arrangement with international support. He expressed hope that the upcoming donor conferences in support of the G-5 Sahel force and other regional efforts will produce adequate results.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), expressing concern over insecurity in the Sahel, called on Mali’s authorities to fully investigate terrorist crimes and on MINUSMA to build its human rights capacities. He also looked forward to the full operationalization of the G-5 Sahel joint force, stressing its need for predictable funding. Noting positive developments in Mali, he said that the force has an important role in building trust among communities that had been occupied by terrorists. As development must be supported in concert with security action, he noted contributions from his country to development efforts in the Sahel amounting to some $150 million in the past three years. Welcoming cooperation among countries and organizations in the region, he called for the participation of women and youth in all development efforts. Kuwait stands ready to cooperate with other members of the international community in support of the joint force, he pledged.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), stressing that the cross-border character of threats in the Sahel requires a transnational response, urged G-5 Sahel countries to accelerate deployment of remaining troops and fully establish the police component. Expressing deep concern over the region’s multi-faceted challenges, he said the spread of insecurity and terrorism to other parts of the region, including eastern Burkina Faso, is particularly worrying. However, although addressing terrorism and violent extremism through security measures is vital, it must be supported by a broader political and institutional framework to guide its operations, align with regional strategy and translate strategic decisions into operational measures. Adding that weak governance, State neglect, underdevelopment and socioeconomic exclusion remain at the core of instability in the region, he said a military solution alone is insufficient to create durable peace and security. The nexus between security and development must be strengthened to ensure long-term stability in the Sahel, with a focus on basic services and job opportunities.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) said the situation in the Sahel remains marred by instability and asymmetric attacks, including against local and international security forces. Warning that delays in funding the region’s joint force have hindered the expansion of its crucial projects, she called on donors to speed up their deployment of all pledged support. Spotlighting the need to assess and address the root causes of the region’s conflict — including “the harsh consequences of intervention” and regime change policies in Libya — she added that those challenges are exacerbated by a large-scale humanitarian crisis, rising food insecurity and the threats of climate change. Applauding the political determination of the G-5 Sahel countries, she said the joint force is an exemplary example of cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations. The full and complete implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel is also critical, she said, adding that the refusal of some Council members to provide the joint force with a Chapter VII mandate has hamstrung its progress.
MA ZHAOXU (China), Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, echoing calls for Member States to continue to support the G-5 Sahel joint force. That operation faces major challenges on the ground, including funding shortfalls. Meanwhile, he said, the region’s security situation is closely related to the peace processes in its various countries. The international community should provide support for those, while fully respecting the principles of State sovereignty and territorial integrity. The parties in Mali, in particular, require support in implementing that country’s Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, he stressed, also calling on international partners to help address the root causes of conflict in the Sahel. Underlining the importance of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel in that regard, he said the region must be assisted in meeting sustainable development targets and enjoying the resulting peace dividends.
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