Ensuring full respect for human rights will be key for the success of several elections due to take place in 2019 in West Africa and the Sahel amidst a highly challenging security environment, the head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) told the Security Council today.
Mohamed ibn Chambas, who is also the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the region, said that for UNOWAS, preparing the ground for high-stakes elections in Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania and Benin — through support for inclusive dialogue and national conflict prevention capacities — is a priority.
“The next cycle of elections in the region will be a litmus test for the consolidation of democratic gains,” he said, adding that ensuring an enabling environment for the full respect of human rights will be key for the success of those elections and for safeguarding stability.
“Through inclusive approaches predicated on national ownership, we must continue to work hard on addressing the governance deficits, the extreme poverty and lack of development that feed and sustain armed violence and extremism,” he said as he introduced the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Office’s work.
He reported progress since mid-2018 in the consolidation of democracy in the region, including elections in Mali, Mauritania, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire, despite Boko Haram attacks in the Lake Chad Basin, a state of emergency in much of Burkina Faso and extremist attacks and kidnappings in Niger, Benin and Togo.
Stressing the need for greater support to advance stabilization efforts in the Sahel, he urged Governments and partners to swiftly put much-needed medium- and long-term measures into place and to speedily disburse funds to respond to pressing needs on the ground.
In the ensuing debate, Council members echoed the Special Representative’s call for strengthened engagement by the international community to overcome security challenges while advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to address the root causes of conflict. Several also underscored the importance of greater inclusion of women and young people in leadership roles and political processes.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire said that while political stability in the region is a positive development, efforts must continue, with a focus on forthcoming elections. He called on UNOWAS to continue to support the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initiatives, crisis management and conflict‑prevention efforts. On terrorist threats, he appealed for financial and logistical support, particularly to the G-5 Sahel force and for enhanced coordination with forces present, including the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The representative of Equatorial Guinea said that, in addition to insecurity and instability in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, including indiscriminate attacks by Boko Haram, the region is witnessing conflicts between farmers and pastoralists. The humanitarian situation is another concern, she said, pointing to food insecurity and forced displacement in the Lake Chad Basin. She announced that her country, with Côte d’Ivoire, plans to lead a Council mission to West Africa during its turn at the Presidency in February.
The representative of France said that several alarming developments must urgently be addressed. While France is committed to combating terrorism through Operation Barkhane, the G-5 Sahel force and other regional efforts, more must be done to support the Multinational Joint Task Force that is confronting Boko Haram, she said. She also suggested a regional dialogue on climate change and environmental impact, through a lens of ensuring security and stability.
The representative of the United States, highlighting the need to focus on Mali, encouraged Council members to use all available tools to address those who obstruct progress on the implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in that country. He added that the United States is supporting Nigeria’s efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and processes. In that regard, he urged Nigerian stakeholders to work to ensure the holding of open and fair elections.
Also speaking today were representatives of Germany, Peru, Poland, China, United Kingdom, Kuwait, South Africa, Indonesia, Belgium, Russian Federation and the Dominican Republic.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:40 a.m.
MOHAMED IBN CHAMBAS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), introduced the latest report of the Secretary-General on the Office’s activities (document S/2018/1175). He said that, since his last briefing, further progress has been made in democratic consolidation in West Africa and the Sahel, despite persistent security challenges that include Boko Haram attacks in the Lake Chad Basin, a state of emergency in much of Burkina Faso, and extremist attacks and kidnappings in Niger, Benin and Togo.
Providing a survey of the Office’s efforts, he said progress has been made in implementing Security Council resolution 2349 (2017) to support a regional response in the Lake Chad Basin. However, more support is needed to advance stabilization efforts in the Sahel, he said, urging Governments and partners to swiftly put much-needed medium- and long-term measures into place and to speedily disburse funds to respond to urgent needs on the ground. The past six months have meanwhile seen the successful organization of presidential elections in Mali, regional and parliamentary elections in Mauritania and Togo respectively, and local elections in Côte d’Ivoire. However, ongoing efforts are needed to address contentious issues surrounding those elections and to support inclusive dialogue. That will be even more important going forward, with high-stakes elections to be held in Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania and Benin.
With regard to Nigeria, he added that the prospects for peaceful and credible presidential and parliamentary elections on 16 February and gubernatorial and state assembly elections on 2 March have increased since the signing of a national peace accord in the capital Abuja on 11 December 2018. He said that, in the coming weeks, he will engage actively with all stakeholders in Nigeria, including through the organization of peace forums in Benue, Rivers, Kaduna and Kano States.
He went on to express concern about alleged human rights violations by security forces in the region, as well as the re-emergence of self-defence groups whose activities are fuelling intercommunal tensions in some countries. Security operations must comply fully with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee laws, and non-State actors must be held accountable for any crimes committed. Citing a recent joint study by the United Nations and World Bank, he added that women’s marginalization remains a cause and consequence of instability and conflict. UNOWAS will keep working with all regional actors to strengthen the role of women in West Africa and the Sahel, he stated.
“The next cycle of elections in the region will be a litmus test for the consolidation of democratic gains,” he said, adding that ensuring an enabling environment for the full respect of human rights will be key for the success of those elections and for safeguarding stability. For UNOWAS, preparing the ground for elections — through support for inclusive dialogue and national conflict prevention capacities — will remain a priority. While a growing number of attacks by extremist groups, and the increasing sophistication of their tactics, risks undermining collective efforts in the region, military solutions — while necessary — are not enough. He encouraged all actors to ensure holistic responses, grounded in respect for human rights and the socioeconomic needs of people in affected areas. “Through inclusive approaches predicated on national ownership, we must continue to work hard on addressing the governance deficits, the extreme poverty and lack of development that feed and sustain armed violence and extremism,” he said.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d'Ivoire) said the dividends of the current economic situation in the subregion provide much‑needed opportunities for youth, women and other groups. While political stability in the region is a positive development, he said efforts must continue, with a focus on forthcoming elections in several nations. He called on UNOWAS to continue to support the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initiatives, crisis management and conflict‑prevention efforts. Turning to threats from terrorist groups, he said local vulnerabilities are being exploited. He called for financial and logistical support, particularly to the G-5 Sahel force and for enhanced coordination with forces present, including the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The security response must also be accompanied by development strategies, he said, calling on the international community to support such initiatives. Expressing support for the Alliance for the Sahel, he said the United Nations support plan for the region is also important in that it focuses on meeting the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Meanwhile, UNOWAS remains an important tool to prevent violence in the region.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) underlined a need for conflict‑prevention plans and long-term sustainable development initiatives. He encouraged enhanced support to build local capacities in countries including Liberia and Mali to combat the spread of small arms and light weapons. Mission closures must also be closely managed, he said, adding that Germany is among the largest donors to the Peacebuilding Fund. Climate change is another concern, he said, commending the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)-ECOWAS summit in July 2018 on the upsurge in and spread of violent conflict between herders and farmers due to related adverse effects. Turning to other concerns, he highlighted cases of human rights violations and attacks on civilians. One driver of extremism is the violation of human rights and he welcomed regional initiatives to respond to the burgeoning terrorist threat. Gains are already being made in this regard by conferences and initiatives, such as the Multinational Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Area and the ECCAS-ECOWAS joint summit on the fight against terrorism, held in Lomé in July 2018. Addressing another concern, he asked for a follow up to the joint United Nations-African Union mission in July 2018 focusing on women, peace and security.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said that, while preventing crises is an effective approach, several alarming developments must urgently be addressed. France is committed to combating terrorism through Operation Barkhane, the G-5 Sahel force and other regional efforts, but more must be done to support the Multinational Joint Task Force, with the United Nations playing its crucial role. Maintaining stability in the Sahel is critical, she said, encouraging the holding of credible elections in various countries. Attention to ongoing processes in Guinea-Bissau and others poised for holding elections is essential, including areas such as the role of women and guarantees for free and fair electoral activities. She underscored the link between climate and security, saying the environmental consequences are placing pressure on populations and playing a role in stability in the Sahel. A regional dialogue on climate change and environmental impact, through a lens of ensuring security and stability, must be pursued to address this and related concerns.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said his delegation appreciates UNOWAS and its work, but remains concerned about the growing sophistication of terrorist and violent extremist organizations. Only through enhanced security and cooperation efforts can the countries of the region overcome these and related challenges, he said, commending UNOWAS for its recent achievements in addressing pastoral issues. He highlighted a need to focus on Mali, encouraging the Council to use all available tools to address those who obstruct progress on the implementation of the peace agreement. Raising several concerns about other countries in the region, he said the United States continues to support Nigeria in its efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and processes. He urged Nigerian stakeholders to address concerns such as vote-buying and challenges related to internally displaced persons and to work to ensure the holding of open and fair elections.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) emphasized the central role of UNOWAS regarding electoral assistance and preventative action, including monitoring and early warning functions, mediation and the provision of good offices. Going forward, the Office has a role to play in upcoming elections to ensure transparent and inclusive processes that include women and young people. He welcomed coordination with the African Union and ECOWAS, underscored the need to address the roots of conflict through the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and highlighted the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso calls for a strong international reaction, including support for local efforts to combat terrorist groups. Local authorities and national stakeholders must work together to create an environment for peaceful, inclusive and credible elections. Governments in the region must do more to strengthen the inclusion of women in decision-making and leadership roles. She noted Poland’s contribution of ammunition to Chad’s armed forces in support of that country’s participation in the G-5 Sahel joint force. Stressing the impact of climate change on conflict dynamics, she called for a regional framework in line with the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel to proactively respond to current and projected threats posed by that phenomenon.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), expressing appreciation for the work of UNOWAS and other regional and international entities, said West Africa and the Sahel face many challenges, but there is also a great willingness to overcome them. In the long term, everyone fighting for peace will prevail, she stated. She noted ongoing insecurity and instability in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, with Boko Haram still carrying out indiscriminate attacks. Conflicts between farmers and pastoralists are worsening, as well. The humanitarian situation is another concern, she said, pointing to food insecurity and forced displacement in the Lake Chad Basin where many people are living in inhumane conditions. In that regard, redoubled efforts are needed to implement the 2019 humanitarian response plan and to address an ongoing cholera epidemic. She underscored Equatorial Guinea’s support for the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel and its support plan. Noting that the fight against piracy and maritime crime is a priority for her country, she said that Equatorial Guinea plans, during its Council presidency in February, to hold a debate on transnational organized crime at sea. With Côte d’Ivoire, it will also lead a Security Council mission to West Africa.
WU HAITAO (China) said the situation in West Africa and the Sahel is largely stable, although violent extremist groups, terrorists and natural disasters remain threats. The international community should give strong support to the region to fight cross-border crime and terrorist organizations. It should also support efforts being made by regional and subregional organizations, paying attention to addressing the root causes of conflicts. Furthermore, it should focus, as well, on enhancing capacity-building and supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. For its part, UNOWAS should enhance collaboration with United Nations country teams and agencies. He recalled that for China, strengthening cooperation with African countries has always been a foreign policy priority.
DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom) raised concerns about insecurities in large parts of the region, including threats from terrorist groups. Both military and non-military actions are required to address these threats, keeping in mind the humanitarian rights of the population. In the Lake Chad Basin, a combination of terrorism, poverty and climate change are wreaking havoc on the population, he said, welcoming a collaborative effort among regional actors to reinforce a collective approach to, among other things, combating Boko Haram. Cooperation among terrorist groups is growing, which is why the United Kingdom committed targeted funding to tackle this challenge and is scaling up its involvement, presence in the region and contributions to development. He highlighted a need to focus on the forthcoming elections as a way to foster more progress.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) encouraged countries of the region to hold open, fair elections, which would have a positive effect on development. Preventive diplomacy is needed to prevent conflict and such efforts, including those led by the Secretary-General, must be supported. Turning to other key problems of the region, he said terrorist attacks and drug trafficking are grave concerns. On the situation in Mali, he said instability there affects the whole region. In this regard, he commended the work of subregional and regional actors to tackle this challenge. On the humanitarian situation, he raised concerns about the cholera epidemic in the Lake Chad Basin, emphasizing that more funding is required, particularly since only 50 per cent of commitments have been received.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), welcoming positive strides across the region, raised concerns that insecurity and instability are spreading to other countries, threatening to derail progress. Of particular concern are continued attacks in Burkina Faso, Niger and in northern and central Mali and a disturbing trend that has seen heightened coordination among terrorist groups. UNOWAS is positioned to play an important role in addressing these and other regional challenges. At the same time, the Council must aim at supporting subregional and regional multilateral frameworks and the use of political dialogue in resolving challenges. Coordination is crucial among ECOWAS, G-5 Sahel countries, African Union and the United Nations structures. The international community’s ongoing investment in projects in the Sahel remains a priority, with the building of schools and health centres and improved access to water playing a critical role and can prevent communities from falling under the influence of extremists. Condemning the attempted coup d’état in Gabon, he reaffirmed South Africa’s rejection of the notion of an unconstitutional change of power.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), welcoming positive developments, emphasized the importance of peaceful, transparent and credible elections to lay the ground for the consolidation of democracy and good governance and of a need for all national stakeholders to work together in Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Senegal and other nations. Raising concerns about the increasing sophistication of terrorist groups, he said it is important to further strengthen a collective response. Yet, efforts to address the root causes of instability in the region must complement a military-focused solution, with a holistic approach that encompasses peace and security, development and human rights dimensions. There is also a pressing need for enhanced cooperation in the regional context, including forging closer relations with the United Nations and regional and subregional groups. Given the crucial role of UNOWAS in the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel, he looked forward to its strategic review in 2019.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) expressed ongoing concern at the precarious situation, including an uptick in intercommunal violence in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, as well as the resurgence of Boko Haram attacks. Particular attention should be given to tensions between farmers and herders, he said, congratulating UNOWAS for undertaking a study of that problem. Going forward, political will to install good governance, democracy and human rights will be pivotal to underpin gains made and encourage sustainable development. Underscoring the roles of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund, he said Belgium welcomes prevention-focused approaches, with the United Nations efforts based on the new resident coordinator architecture.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said his country hopes that the 2019 elections will take place with full respect for the rule of law. Expressing regret that extremism, terrorism and cross-border crime have taken hold in the region, he recalled that the epicentre of such activities, the Sahel, had fallen victim to the headstrong activities of some countries which lead to regime change in Libya. Dialogue with terrorists, including Boko Haram, is impossible, he stressed, adding that military and counter-terrorist efforts must be accompanied by the strengthening of Government institutions and respect for human rights, among other things. He went on to say that the full potential of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel has yet to be harnessed, and that only through collective targeted efforts can results be achieved.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic), Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, calling on those countries holding elections in 2019 to minimize tensions and address differences. He commended UNOWAS for the work of its good offices, but voiced concern over insecurity, especially attacks by extremist groups, as well as an uptick in intercommunal violence and maritime piracy that have resulted in loss of life, human rights violations, displacement of populations and property loss. Recalling that 24 million people in the region now require humanitarian assistance, he called on the international community to redouble efforts to implement mechanisms that will protect the most vulnerable. He went on to condemn sexual violence and the arbitrary detention of women by terrorist groups, and regretted that representation of women at high levels remains minimal. He called on UNOWAS to continue to support security sector reform, adding that the key to lasting peace is to prevent conflict from spreading to neighbouring countries and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.