Experts Urge Security Council Support for Efforts to Make G5 Sahel Joint Force Fully Operational amid Rising Terrorist Attacks, Intercommunal Violence

SC/13810
16 May 2019
6981st Meeting (AM)

Experts Urge Security Council Support for Efforts to Make G5 Sahel Joint Force Fully Operational amid Rising Terrorist Attacks, Intercommunal Violence

Take Stand on Libya, Demands Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister, Describing Situation as Main Destabilizing Element in Sahel

Amid the spate of terrorist attacks and the uptick in intercommunal violence in Africa’s Sahel region, top security and peacebuilding officials called upon the Security Council today to support efforts to make the G5 Sahel Joint Force fully operational by ensuring it receives sustainable and predicable funding and resources.

Briefing the 15-member Council were five experts, including officials of the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union, who warned about security challenges confronting the G5 member States (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger).  They called for action to prevent the deteriorating situation from spreading through the continent, emphasizing the need to address the underlying causes of radicalism, such as poverty and unemployment.

The Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations said the grave security situation in Mali and the Sahel is compounded by poor governance and a lack of resources for young people, all of which present a breeding ground for violent extremism.  The G5 Sahel should accelerate full operationalization of the Joint Force, a mechanism that pools resources to fight terrorism, she said, expressing concern that geographical restrictions on the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have hampered the actions of Joint Force battalions.

However, even when fully operational, the Joint Force cannot shoulder the burden of fighting terrorism and stabilizing the region on its own, she said, stressing that its operations must go hand-in-hand with other coordinated efforts alongside a broader strategy encompassing poverty reduction, good governance, development, humanitarian assistance and security interventions.  Pointing out that the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel remains a valid framework for such action, she reminded the Council:  “We have a shared responsibility for the Sahel.”

Burkina Faso’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the current proportion of national budgets that the G5 Sahel countries allocate to security — in the range of 18 per cent to 32 per cent — is placing a large burden on social services.  Although the Joint Force is “on its feet” and carrying out operations, it lacks the heavy equipment to achieve full operational capacity, he noted, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s proposal to examine the possibility of furthering support from MINUSMA.  He also urged the international community to take a stand on the situation in Libya, describing it as the main destabilizing element in the Sahel.

The African Union’s High Representative for Mali and the Sahel said recent events in Niger resulted in the deaths of more people than all those killed in all the terrorist attacks recorded in 2018.  The 14 May attack in Niger, on that country’s border with Mali, killed 28 people and is a reminder that so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) remains active in the Sahel, he emphasized, warning that the threat is expanding towards Togo, Benin and even Ghana.  Making the Joint Force operational has now become an absolute and urgent necessity, he stressed, adding that it is an effort that the entire international community should support.

A fourth briefer, the European Union’s Special Representative for the Sahel, said the bloc will continue to provide resources, equipment and other support to make the Joint Force operational, including its police component.  Almost 800 European experts are presently deployed alongside Sahelian defence and security forces, providing training and expertise, he noted.  The European Union will soon deploy a regional advisory and coordination office to better assist the G5 Sahel Permanent Secretariat in refining and revising the work of the Joint Force and to ensure that those apprehended are brought to justice.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said his agency’s programme in the Sahel is focused on enhancing the accessibility, efficiency and accountability of criminal justice systems in countering drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism.  UNODC has already established investigative units across the region and the agency has held numerous training workshops for military, law-enforcement and judiciary personnel, he noted.  The G5 Sahel countries, for their part, have achieved some notable results with UNODC’s support, addressing regional judicial cooperation, firearms marking, investigation of terrorism financing and illicit trafficking at airports.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members emphasized the importance of predictable and sustainable funding, with Equatorial Guinea’s representative calling for an extension of support from MINUSMA beyond Mali to all G5 Sahel countries.  The Sahel situation represents a challenge to international peace and security and is deserving, therefore, of Chapter VII funding, he emphasized.  If not, the crisis could extend beyond the Sahel to Togo, Benin and Ghana, and even beyond West Africa, he warned.

Another regional voice echoing that sentiment was that of Côte d’Ivoire’s representative, who stressed that only funding, in accordance with Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, will ensure the success of the Joint Force despite financial and logistical contributions from partners.  He called for renewing and amending the technical agreement with MINUSMA, saying that will facilitate expanding the scope of the Mission’s support.

The representative of the United States said international peacekeeping forces alone cannot solve the region’s problems, emphasizing that bilateral assistance remains the best way to support the Joint Force.  Expressing disappointment with repeated calls for funding the Joint Force under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, he said regional stakeholders must make efforts to address the root causes of the situation in the Sahel, including through initiatives to fight poverty.

However, South Africa’s representative warned:  “The Council should be mindful of the catastrophic ramifications of the security situation for the rest of the West African region if the situation is not adequately addressed.”  Expressing support for the creation of a United Nations support office for the Joint Force, funded through assessed contributions and independent of MINUSMA, he said such a structure would facilitate predictable financing, long-term planning and a critically needed logistical and operational base for the Joint Force.

France’s representative declared:  “We will only be able to succeed if we walk on the two legs of security and development.”  The Joint Force is unique and demonstrates a shared will to coordinate efforts against a threat that has consequences for all, he added, stressing the international community’s responsibility to support affected States.

Also speaking today were representatives of China, Dominican Republic, Germany, Russian Federation, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom, Belgium, Kuwait and Indonesia.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 12:57 p.m.

Briefings

BINTOU KEITA, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said the grave security situation in Mali and the Sahel region as well as the worsening humanitarian crisis is compounded by poor governance and a lack of resources for young people, all of which present a breeding ground for violent extremism.  Even though ongoing efforts demonstrate a united front to stand up to these challenges, the G5 Sahel member States (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger) should accelerate full operationalization of the Joint Force as well as planning for the months and years ahead.

While welcoming the European Union’s contribution towards establishing a police component for the Joint Force, she said that she remains concerned about existing limitations on support from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  Geographical restrictions on the Mission have hampered the actions of five Sahel Joint Force battalions, she noted, calling upon the Council to consider other options to facilitate greater predictability of financial support and more effective long-term planning.  Limitations on Mission support for the Sahel Joint Force should only be removed to provide life-support consumables, she emphasized.

Still, once fully operational, the Joint Force cannot shoulder the burden of fighting terrorism and stabilizing the region on its own, she continued, stressing that a solely security-driven approach will be insufficient to combat violence in a sustainable manner.  Its operations must go hand-in-hand with other collective and coordinated efforts alongside a broader strategy encompassing poverty reduction, good governance, development and humanitarian assistance, and security interventions, she said, pointing out that United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel remains a valid framework for such action.

She went on to call upon partners to support full operationalization of the Joint Force and upon G5 Sahel member States to implement their priority investment plan without further delay.  The African Union can provide an umbrella for the different security initiatives in the region, she added, welcoming the recent resumption of the Nouakchott process.  “The time for action is now,” she emphasized.  “We have a shared responsibility for the Sahel and we must each deliver our part of a promise to help provide much-needed relief and empowerment to the populations across the Sahel who need it most.”

ALPHA BARRY, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Burkina Faso, noted that the Heads of State of the G5 Sahel countries have worked for two years to address the many risks and challenges in the region.  The Joint Force is now 90 per cent operational in the west, 74 per cent in the centre and 75 per cent in the east, having carried out seven operations in 2019, in accordance with human rights law and humanitarian law.  Despite encouraging progress, however, the situation is deteriorating, with shock waves emanating from recent terrorist attacks against churches, community leaders, and national armies, he said, noting that the Nigerien Armed Forces were recently targeted.

He went on to say that many terrorists are financing their activities by exploiting gold mines in the region.  At the same time, attacks against schools, communities and public services are depriving thousands of children of education and displacing many more, with 600,000 people displaced in Chad alone.  Given the breadth of the current reality, much greater assistance is needed to tackle these challenges and to avoid the deteriorating situation from spreading through the continent, he emphasized.  The current proportion of national budgets that the G5 Sahel countries allocate to security — in the range of 18 per cent to 32 per cent — is placing a large burden on social services, he said, calling upon the Council and partners to lend support to the Joint Force.  Such support must translate into full operationalization, he said, noting that although the Joint Force is “on its feet” and carrying out operations, it lacks the heavy equipment to be able to achieve full operational capacity.

In addition, the technical agreement to provide support, signed by MINUSMA, the European Union and the Joint Force, does not cover interventions in Mali, he pointed out, going on to emphasize, however, that the threat now covers the entire Sahel region.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to examine the possibility of further MINUSMA support, he invited the Council to accept a request for the establishment, through the United Nations, of a new support system for the Joint Force to avoid jeopardizing security in the Sahel and beyond.  It is time for the international community to consider the creation of an international coalition to fight terrorism in the Sahel and to take a stand on the situation in Libya, which remains the main destabilizing element in the region, he stressed.

PIERRE BUYOYA, High Representative of the African Union for Mali and the Sahel, spoke by video-conference from Bamako, Mali, saying the security situation in the Sahel remains difficult, with terrorist attacks continuing and spreading.  Recent events in Niger resulted in the deaths of more people than all those killed in the terrorist attacks recorded in 2018.  The 14 May attack in Niger, on the border with Mali, killed 28 people and is a reminder that so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) remains active in the Sahel, he said, adding that there has been an expansion of terrorist barbarity in Burkina Faso.  The threat is expanding towards Togo, Benin and even Ghana, he cautioned.

He went on to note that Chad has fallen victim to attacks by other groups, in addition to security risks linked to Boko Haram.  Given the prevailing situation in the Sahel, making the Joint Force operational has now become an absolute and urgent necessity and an effort that the entire international community should support, he stressed.  The African Union has revitalized processes for strengthening regional security, and on the political front, it remains engaged in the Mali and Libya peace processes.  In terms of development, the bloc is supporting the reconstruction and revitalization efforts of the Lake Chad Basin countries in areas affected by Boko Haram, he said, adding that it also held a regional conference on climate change in the Sahel.

ANGEL LOSADA FERNÁNDEZ, Special Representative of the European Union for the Sahel, spoke via video-conference from Luxembourg, saying that the Sahel’s security situation affects not only the security of that region but also that of Europe and the world.  Since the creation of the G5 Sahel in 2014, the European Union has supported its upward trajectory both in security and development terms, he said, adding that the bloc will continue to provide its support for making the Joint Force operational, including its police component.  Almost 800 European experts are presently deployed alongside Sahelian defence and security forces, providing training and expertise.

He went on to state that a regional advisory and coordination office will soon be deployed to better assist the G5 Sahel Permanent Secretariat refine and revise the work of the Joint Force and to ensure that those apprehended are brought to justice.  The European Union also supports the Joint Force by providing equipment and resources and by supporting regional peace structures as well as MINUSMA and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR).  The bloc plays a leading role in coordinating international support for the Joint Force and welcomes operationalization of the G5 Trust Fund.  The European Union is determined to continue to build partnerships with the G5 Sahel in order to achieve the objectives on the ground by mobilizing political and financial support, he said.

YURY FEDOTOV, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), speaking by video-conference, said his agency’s programme in the Sahel is focused on enhancing the accessibility, efficiency and accountability of criminal justice systems in countering drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism.  This corresponds directly to the security and governance objectives set forth in the Regional Integrated Strategy, and is implemented with neighbouring Maghreb countries, Algeria and Morocco.  Recalling that the G5 Sahel Permanent Secretariat and Member States requested in 2017 that UNODC support the development of a police component for the Joint Force to promote transparent, efficient and accountable judicial proceedings in the fight against organized crime and terrorism, he reported that investigative units have been established across the region.

UNODC has also held numerous training workshops for military, law-enforcement and judiciary personnel, he continued.  The G5 Sahel countries have achieved some notable results with UNODC’s support, addressing regional judicial cooperation, firearms marking, investigation of terrorism financing, illicit trafficking at airports and the resolution of backlogged cases involving terrorism suspects in overdue pre-trial detention.  “Our G5 Sahel partners deserve a great deal of credit for their commitment.”  Emphasizing that UNODC looks forward to Burkina Faso’s presidency of the G5 Sahel, he said there are still many areas requiring urgent attention to implementation of the police component for the Joint Force.  Stressing the importance of forensics, he said it is also essential to provide equipment and training on crime scene investigation for law-enforcement officers.  He underlined the need to integrate women into the security structures of G5 member States and for law enforcement to respect human rights and promote justice.

Statements

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), paying tribute to the two French soldiers killed in Burkina Faso last week, said the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel is affecting the security of all West Africa.  “Others will face the same challenges if robust solutions are not provided, and this is urgent,” he warned, emphasizing: “We will only be able to succeed if we walk on the two legs of security and development.”  The Joint Force is unique and demonstrates a shared will to coordinate efforts against a threat that has consequences for all, he said, stressing the international community’s responsibility to support affected States.  Underlining that the actions of the Joint Force can only be effective if it enjoys full popular support, he said deployment of the police component is also essential for the Force to achieve its full potential.  Its success relies heavily on the allocation of resources from the international community, he said.  “Our ambition continues to be strengthening multilateral support for the Force through a robust mandate.”  Moreover, the situation in Burkina Faso must have the Security Council’s full attention in order for that country to restore stability, he stressed, reiterating: “The threats facing the Sahel require the full mobilization of this Council.”

KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) expressed concern about the transnational nature of terrorism and its links with cross-border criminal networks, underlining the need for all counter-terrorism partners to pool their efforts and provide responses equivalent to the scale of the challenge.  Despite the gains made by the G5 countries in developing the Joint Force, with the support of the United Nations and bilateral partners, only predictable and sustainable funding, in accordance with Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, will ensure its success despite financial and logistical contributions from partners.  He also called for renewing and amending the technical agreement with MINUSMA, saying that will facilitate expanding the scope of the Mission’s support.  The roots of the current instability must be identified and addressed, including through poverty-reduction efforts, he said, urging the formulation of a priority action plan to guide development activities.  On security in the wider region, he said the Accra initiative to contain current, spreading threats involves a number of neighbouring countries in a preventive approach that the international community should support.

MA ZHAOXU (China) urged the international community to take an integrated approach to development and security when lending support in addressing the region’s challenges.  On security concerns, he emphasized the need to expedite implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, adding that the international community and MINUSMA should provide support for the Joint Force.  Stressing the important role of regional mechanisms, he urged support for initiatives led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), among other regional and subregional entities.  China, for its part, has made contributions to the Joint Force and its secretariat, and stands ready to work with the international community to help Sahel countries attain stability and prosperity, he said.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) expressed concern that terrorist groups and criminal organizations continue to thrive, affecting all West Africa.  Emphasizing that international peacekeeping forces alone cannot solve the region’s problems, he said bilateral assistance remains the best way to support the Joint Force.  He also expressed disappointment with repeated calls today requesting funding under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, and called upon the authorities in Mali to advance the technical agreement with MINUSMA.  Meanwhile, regional stakeholders must make efforts to address the root causes of the situation, including through initiatives to fight poverty and increase the participation of women.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said the worrisome situation requires ending impunity for perpetrators of grave crimes.  To end the conflicts gripping the Sahel, immediate measures must reconcile the many pressing needs, including poverty and widespread school closures.  The Joint Force must also do more than combat terrorism in the long term, since a purely military approach cannot resolve the crisis.  With a massive military presence deployed from many countries operating in the Sahel, terrorists are preying on the situation, feeding a vicious cycle of violence, he said.  Emphasizing the critical importance of restoring peace in Mali, he said a solution in this regard must be sustainable, with the authorities establishing trust among communities through long-standing traditional methods.  Among other things, this will help to settle land disputes and deliver justice, he said.  The Council, for its part, must take action to extend MINUSMA’s support beyond Mali to all G5 Sahel countries, he emphasized, saying the situation in the Sahel represents a challenge to international peace and security and is deserving, therefore, of Chapter VII funding.  If not, the crisis could extend beyond the Sahel to Togo, Benin and Ghana, and even beyond West Africa, he warned, while noting that existing efforts could provide a basis for restoring stability and a return to States taking full authority over national territory.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) expressed concern over the unprecedented levels of intercommunal violence in the Sahel, made worse by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.  Insecurity in the Sahel has resulted in the deteriorating humanitarian situation throughout the region, leading to mass displacement and acute malnutrition.  In Mali and Burkina Faso alone, more than 5 million people require humanitarian assistance, many of them children, he said, noting that his country believes in young people as transformers of society, and stresses the need to include and invest in young people.  Regarding the role of women, he said terrorist groups in the Sahel continue systematically to violate their rights.  “All of this is unacceptable,” he emphasized.  Citing the growing threat of climate change, he welcomed efforts to step up the fight it, as outlined in the United Nations Support Plan for the Sahel.  Predictable funding as well as timely disbursement and exchange of information among security components will help to achieve objectives on the ground, he said.

JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said his country is a strong partner of the G5 Sahel and has contributed funding and resources to the Joint Force.  Calling upon all international partners who have pledged support to increase the predictability of funding, he emphasized:  “There is a continued need for an international presence in the Sahel.”  Warning that the military approach to fighting terrorism will not be successful in isolation, he said Germany will continue to provide millions of euros for the security and stabilization of the Sahel.  On Burkina Faso, he said the country remains a crucially important partner in stabilizing the region.  Over the past year, it has suffered an increase in terrorist attacks and alarming levels of human rights violations and civilian casualties, he noted, calling upon Burkina Faso to work with international partners and regional countries to prevent further escalation.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), describing the level of security threats in the Sahel as unprecedented, said extremist ideology is winning over followers and the roots of their success are well-known.  “In the Sahel, we are reaping the fruits of the collapse of the Libyan State as a result of a gross foreign intervention,” he recalled.  The 2018 terrorist attack against the Joint Force’s headquarters laid bare its weaknesses, he pointed out.  The resources promised by foreign donors are reaching the region but many who pledged resources are too slow to disburse the funds, he said.  He went on to express concern over the excessive militarization of the Sahel, stressing the crucial importance of addressing acute socioeconomic problems and other root causes of extremism and violence.  With proper resources, the Joint Force has the potential to become a powerful tool in ensuring regional stability, he said.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said the delicate humanitarian situation in the Sahel is particularly concerning and emphasized the need to redouble efforts in the security sphere.  Expressing concern over gaps in training and technical cooperation, he said the Joint Force must have predictable and sustainable financing.  He went on to underline the importance of promoting sustainable development, empowering women and providing unemployment opportunities for young people.  He also highlighted the importance of cooperation with regional and international organizations, including United Nations agencies, the African Union and ECOWAS.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said the Joint Force remains a critical part of a series of regional and international security responses addressing cross-border challenges.  He urged the international community to support the G5 Sahel and its Joint Force through both bilateral and multilateral cooperation in order to increase its operational capabilities and development initiatives.  This requires a creative approach by Member States that focuses on financial and political support, he said.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) pressed the Council to spare no effort to support initiatives undertaken by Sahelian countries and to ensure that the Joint Force is fully capacitated and able to implement its mandate.  He also reiterated his delegation’s support for the establishment of a United Nations support office for the Joint Force, funded through assessed contributions and independent of MINUSMA.  Such a structure would facilitate predictable financing, long-term planning and a critically needed logistical and operational base for the Joint Force, he said.  The necessary logistical requirements must be provided, he stressed, agreeing that the Council should consider authorizing MINUSMA to provide life consumables support to battalions, on condition that the Joint Force or other partners ensure delivery.  The Council should also consider reinforcing partnerships and enhancing the African Union’s role when discussing African-led peace operations, he said, calling more broadly for addressing the causes of conflict in the Sahel through a holistic development approach.  “The Council should be mindful of the catastrophic ramifications of the security situation for the rest of the West African region if the situation is not adequately addressed,” he warned.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said the Joint Force must demonstrate that its security capacity is greater than the sum of its parts.  London has contributed to the Joint Force and supports its work, he said, urging all partners to honour their financial pledges.  However, ever more complicated challenges are facing the Sahel, he added, citing the spread of terrorism and insecurity into other countries.  As such, the G5 countries should fully establish a police component for the Joint Force, he emphasized, while cautioning that military action alone is not the solution.  Humanitarian issues must also be addressed.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), noting his delegation’s contributions to the Joint Force, said the success of its operations will depend on the robustness of national armies.  With security and humanitarian conditions continue to deteriorate, he said, a political solution accompanied by a range of actions should include a clear security plan and an inclusive process reflecting the people’s aspirations with a view to avoiding situations that could spiral into more violence.  There is no miracle recipe, but a range of measures can include the promotion of good governance, the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts.  He said Belgium supports the tripartite agreement among the Joint Force, the European Union and the United Nations, but calls for the pragmatic adaptation of MINUSMA to enhance support for the Joint Force because the enemies of peace know no borders.

TAREQ M. A. M. ALBANAI (Kuwait) commended recent steps to deploy a police component and to establish prevention mechanisms in relation to violations of human rights.  However, the lack of sustained financing is a concern, he said, echoing the Secretary-General’s suggestion on the need for a support office.  Noting that terrorist attacks and escalating violence continue to affect the population, he said the threats are similar and connected, so it would be ideal to address them in a coordinated and cooperative manner.  Development gains throughout the region would address some of the poverty-related concerns that contributed to the root causes of the conflict, but such efforts must be made undertaken alongside military action in order truly to guarantee comprehensive progress moving forward, he stressed.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, noting that the Joint Force continues to work in a very difficult environment, requiring sustainable funding, training and capacity-building.  He expressed concern over the continuing deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in the Sahel, marked by continued attacks by terrorists and an uptick in intercommunal violence.  The persistent insecurity has led to heightened humanitarian needs, increasing the number of internally displaced persons and people suffering from malnutrition, he said, adding that the situation in the G5 Sahel countries also has spill-over effects on neighbouring countries in West Africa.  “It is important to win the hearts and minds of the population in addressing security challenges in the Sahel,” he said, stressing that good governance, addressing poverty and inequality, creating opportunities for young people and fighting climate change remain crucial.

For information media. Not an official record.