Facing a significant spike in armed group attacks, countries of Africa’s Sahel region need redoubled support to prevent a flood of terrorists from spreading across the wider continent — and even beyond — the Security Council heard today, as it was briefed by a range of stakeholders.
“Terrorism is a shared problem — a problem for all,” said Bintou Keita, United Nations Assistant Secretary‑General for Africa, as she outlined the recent activities of, and challenges facing, the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) joint force tasked with combating terrorism and extremism across the region. Describing a deteriorating situation and a threefold increase in security incidents in the last year, she recalled that 40 civilians and soldiers were recently killed in north‑east Burkina Faso and nearly 100 joint force troops lost their lives in a span of just 10 days. However, she also reported several successful counter‑terrorist operations and welcomed new expressions of solidarity from both the wider subregion and abroad.
Burkina Faso’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Alpha Barry, said the enemy has become more active principally in Mali, Niger, Chad and his own country. The joint force, still in a phase of building strength, continues to grapple with recurrent functional difficulties. Meanwhile, armed terrorist groups have mastered the fabrication and use of improvised explosive devices, keeping State leaders out of official buildings and thereby preventing the administration and delivery of services. Outlining plans to further harmonize efforts between the various forces present on the ground — including the joint force, national forces and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) — he warned that “there cannot be more promises” without more support from international partners.
Fatima Kyari Mohammed, the Permanent Observer for the African Union, echoed concerns over the deteriorating situation, noting that dozens of people have been killed in Mali during a sharp uptick in terrorist attacks. Niger continues to face insurgents from Boko Haram in its southern region, while Burkina Faso is witnessing “a fury” of terrorist activity, including targeting civilians, churches and mosques. Condemning such heinous acts, she agreed with other briefers that the joint force requires adequate resources to take up an offensive position.
Briefing via video‑teleconference from Brussels was Koen Vervaeke, of the European External Action Service, who outlined the European Union’s assistance to the Sahel — including support for political dialogue, security, development and humanitarian aid. Commending the operationalization of the joint force, he said a strategic framework is being developed to help the Union provide more effective support on the basis of a compliance framework. Cooperation with the Security Council is also paramount, he said.
Also addressing the Council via video‑teleconference, this time from Bamako, was Assitan Diallo, President of the Association des Femmes Africaines pour la Recherche et le Développement. Noting that Mali has suffered from a bloody conflict since 2012, she recounted instances of gang rapes, early and forced marriages and the abduction of women and girls for the purpose of sexual slavery. To date, no perpetrators of such sexual violence crimes have been held accountable. Stressing that there can be no peace or development in the country without gender equality, she also drew attention to the continued underrepresentation of women in the joint force and cited widespread frustration over MINUSMA’s inability to effectively protect civilians.
Following those briefings, the representative of Côte d’Ivoire, also speaking on behalf of Equatorial Guinea and South Africa, said the Sahel countries serve as a defence which, if breached, will unleash a flood of terrorists across the continent and beyond. He called for international support to bridge the joint force’s funding shortfalls, adding that financing should dovetail with regional efforts and match the magnitude of the threat. In that regard, he commended a recent decision by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to mobilize $1 billion to tackle terrorism, while calling for more predictable, lasting financing from the broader international community.
The representative of France, noting the rising terrorist toll in the Sahel, said the joint force is the best tool to fight the threat. Its results have been striking, with the destruction of logistics capacity and weapons and an increasing capacity to protect civilians. He agreed with the briefers that support for the force requires the commitment of both local Governments and international partners. He also spotlighted a newly developed Franco‑German security partnership, which is harmonizing its efforts with ECOWAS and other forces across the region.
The delegate of Peru was among those speakers who underlined the importance of ensuring that the joint force receives adequate and predictable financing and remains compliant with international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, he called for measures to promote development and grapple with the root causes of extremism and conflict in the Sahel. Indeed, more work is needed to empower women and young people, with a range of coherent efforts all working towards the shared goal of sustaining peace in the region.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the Russian Federation, Indonesia, Germany, Dominican Republic, China, Poland, Belgium, Kuwait, United States and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 3:35 p.m. and ended at 5:27 p.m.
BINTOU KEITA, United Nations Assistant Secretary‑General for Africa, briefed the Council on the recent activities of, and challenges facing, the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) joint force, which was formed in 2017 to combat terrorism and extremism across the region. Over the last six months, she said, the security situation in the Sahel has continued to deteriorate with a rising number of attacks against civilians and security forces. On 6 November, in the north‑east Burkina Faso town of Boungou, 40 civilians and soldiers were killed in an attack attributed to terrorist groups. In just 10 days, nearly 100 joint force troops from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger lost their lives. Security incidents have risen threefold in the last year — especially in Burkina Faso, where 489 incidents were recorded in 2019, compared to 151 in 2018. Meeting recently in Dakar, regional Heads of State renewed their calls for a more robust mandate for the joint force. “The situation in the Sahel is of serious concern and urgent action is needed,” she said.
Welcoming the joint force’s recent tempo increase, she recounted a recent operation carried out along the border between Mali and Burkina Faso, which involved over 1,000 joint force troops alongside French forces. It resulted in the neutralization of 24 suspected terrorists and the seizure of arms, ammunition and vehicles. However, the recent terrorist attacks against the joint force base in Boulekessi — in which dozens of soldiers were killed — was a painful reminder of the many serious security challenges still faced. The joint force remains a critical part of a series of regional and international security responses to address extremist armed groups in the Sahel, along with other cross‑border challenges such as trafficking in persons, illicit goods, weapons, migration and displacement. “The joint force alone cannot secure the Sahel,” she stressed, calling for efforts to prevent the further deterioration of the situation.
Welcoming expressions of solidarity from abroad, she outlined a new partnership in the region recently announced by Germany and France, aimed at reinforcing the region’s troops and police forces and combating terrorism. She also described another important initiative — announced by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in September — noting that the subregion has pledged $1 billion over the next five years to fight extremism and terrorism, a clear sign of the Sahel countries’ renewed commitment. Parallel support from international partners will be crucial. Recalling that Council resolution 2480 (2019) lifted geographical restrictions on the provision of water, rations and fuel to the joint force, she said the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) took swift action to provide the required support after completing a risk assessment required under the United Nations Human Rights Due Diligence Policy. More equipment, capabilities and training will be needed to allow the joint force to make a difference on the ground.
“Terrorism is a shared problem — a problem for all,” she said, noting that most Sahel countries are devoting around 20 per cent of their national budgets to rooting out the phenomenon. The international community must also do its part, she said, calling on partners to lend their support and on the joint force to use those resources to achieve tangible results. Security initiatives will only bear fruit if underlying issues are also addressed, including underdevelopment, poor governance, lack of basic services, systematic marginalization and exclusion, and the impacts of climate change. Young people must have economic opportunities, she said, calling for bolstered national cohesion as well as strengthened efforts to ensure the region’s development. In that context, she also called on all Member States to promptly disburse all funds committed to the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel.
ALPHA BARRY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Burkina Faso, said that the Secretary‑General’s report shows the sad reality on the ground in the Sahel as well as the much‑appreciated engagement of the United Nations and numerous bilateral and multilateral partners to render the joint force operational. It is true that in recent months, the security situation in the area of the G5 Sahel has deteriorated, with attacks and their victims surpassing earlier periods. The enemy has become more active principally in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad, while the joint force, still in a phase of building strength, continues to grapple with recurrent functional difficulties. Armed terrorist groups, meanwhile, have mastered the fabrication and utilization of improvised explosive devices. Destruction of public buildings keeps State presence out of many localities, preventing administration and delivery of services. The terrorists can then exploit these areas through illicit activities and control populations. Their dream is the creation of a sanctuary or califate in the “Liptako Gourma”, that is to say, in the zone of the merged frontiers of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. There is some evidence of connections between terrorist groups and Al‑Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).
The joint force has meanwhile carried out eight operations in three zones, he said. In October it carried out a major operation to deter and break up the logistical flow of the armed groups in the border areas near Libya. Another operation along with Barkan mobilized more than 1,400 men. Looking forward, a campaign plan for the next one or two years aims to harmonize operations between the joint force, national security forces, Barkan and MINUSMA. The technical arrangements that have yet to be signed have inhibited progress, however. In addition, significant constraints remain. In that light, the procurement of equipment has lagged well behind pledges and only 10 out of 40 requests from partners have been implemented. Much of the munitions have yet to be delivered and many kinds of logistics rely on partners. Among such partners, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) allowed what he called “judicialization” action. As the joint force doesn’t have its own aircraft, which are very much needed, most transport takes place on the ground. Sensors and surveillance equipment is also inadequate.
Despite such challenges, there is great expectation of results, however, given the deterioration of security in the Sahel. To face them, resources must be pulled from other initiatives. He welcomed the results of a recent summit of ECOWAS that will fund counter‑terrorism initiatives in the region. An international partnership is also developing that should better support the war on terrorism in the Sahel. He stressed, in that regard, that the war on terrorism is a global challenge that must be faced globally through concrete action on the ground. “In the Sahel there cannot be more promises,” he said, without such action. The humanitarian consequences of terrorism are tragic and people want action. As the situation is getting worse quickly, the G5 Sahel must have operational capacity on the ground. He commended all partners for their support so far. He called for MINUSMA in addition to be given a more robust and aggressive mandate that can support counter‑terrorism action. The joint force, as a major supporter of international peace and security, needs predictable and sufficient funding. “I am sounding the alarm now because later will be too late,” he said.
FATIMA KYARI MOHAMMED, Permanent Observer for the African Union, said the security situation in the Sahelo‑Saharan region is of great concern to the bloc, with an increase in terrorist attacks in recent days and weeks in the Liptako‑Gourma region between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Dozens of people have been killed in Mali during a sharp uptick in terrorist attacks in the northern and central regions of the country, with an incident on 18 November killing 30 Malian soldiers and wounding 29 others. Niger continues to face insurgents from Boko Haram in its southern region in Diffa, while Burkina Faso is witnessing “a fury” of terrorist activity, including targeting civilians, churches and mosques. She noted Chad is also facing insecurity due to Boko Haram activity.
Condemning “these heinous acts” and expressing solidarity with the countries of the region, she noted the increasing complexity and sophistication of attacks against those States’ armed forces. That deteriorating security situation had led to the formation of the joint force, a highly responsible decision welcomed by the bloc. More than ever before, she said, the joint force urgently requires adequate resources to take up an offensive position.
Consequently, ECOWAS member States decided at their 14 September summit to mobilize support for the Sahel countries, she continued. The African Union supports the initiative and calls on the international community for substantial assistance. She also recalled persistent requests by G5 Sahel Heads of State for direct United Nations funding to the joint force, and for it to operate under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations. The Union remains politically committed to the peace process in Mali and Libya, and supports development in the countries of the Lake Chad Basin region under the Regional Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience Strategy for Areas Affected by Boko Haram.
KOEN VERVAEKE, Managing Director for Africa, European External Action Service of the European Union, speaking via videoconference from Brussels, said that European Union assistance to the Sahel includes support for political dialogue, security, development and humanitarian assistance. As part of this, agreements have been recently developed for an accountable partnership, with a strengthened human rights compliance framework. As a result, the Union has increased its aid package for the joint force and for strengthening its police component.
Commending the operationalization of the force, he described the development of a joint strategic framework to allow the Union to provide more effective support on the basis of the compliance framework. The bloc is supporting in addition broader coherence between initiatives in the Sahel, including the plan of action of ECOWAS. It is also working in cooperation with multiple United Nations entities in the region. Cooperation with the Security Council and such initiatives is paramount, however. The G5 Sahel will continue to be able to count on the support of the European Union, he pledged.
ASSITAN DIALLO, President of Association des Femmes Africaines pour la Recherche et le Développement, speaking via video‑teleconference from Bamako, said that Mali has suffered from a bloody conflict since 2012. As has been well‑documented, gang rapes, early and forced marriages, as well as abductions of women and girls for the purpose of sexual slavery are part of a broad pattern of gender‑based violence in Mali. To date, and as documented by the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, no perpetrators of the sexual violence carried out during the crisis in 2012 and 2013 have been held accountable.
There can be no peace or development in Mali without gender equality, she said. Ongoing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and security sector reform processes must be gender sensitive and include equal representation of women to ensure that their needs and experiences are taken into account. The current underrepresentation of women in the G5 Sahel’s defence and security structures prevents Mali’s women from fully contributing to peace and security in the region.
There is widespread frustration with MINUSMA’s inability to effectively protect civilians, as well as a prevailing sense of insecurity, despite the presence of United Nations and regional forces, she continued. Youth attacks on MINUSMA camps in Gao and the refusal of a district in Bamako to allow the G5 Sahel joint force to establish its headquarters there out of fear they would become targets of violence speak to the people’s lack of confidence in international forces. It is clear that MINUSMA’s presence does not make people feel secure. MINUSMA must also do more to address the gender dimension of security and the joint force must ensure that its recently established women’s platform is able to robustly address their rights across the Sahel region. She called on the Security Council to encourage the Government of Mali to promote inclusion in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and security sector reform processes and to ensure that these have robust oversight mechanisms to deter corruption and abuse. It should also hold the leadership of MINUSMA and the G5 Sahel joint force accountable for effectively protecting civilians and mainstreaming gender across all of their operations.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France), noting the rising terrorist toll in the Sahel, said that the joint force is the best tool to fight the threat. Applauding the operationalization of the force, he said that the results are striking, with the destruction of logistics capacity and weapons. Capacity to protect civilians is also increasing. Support for the force requires the commitment of both local Governments and international partners. France encourages those donors who have not yet honoured their pledges to do so and supports the request of the countries in that regard. The Franco‑German security partnership has been harmonizing its efforts with ECOWAS and other forces in the region. As redoubling development efforts is integral to security, his country had greatly increased aid in that light as well as for humanitarian assistance, he added.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), concurring with the assessment of the growth of terrorism in the Sahel, said that the deterioration resulted from the collapse of Libya. It is thus necessary to normalize the situation in that country. He welcomed reports of successful operations by the joint force. He expressed concern, however, that a headquarters for the force has yet to be established, training is still inadequate and not all pledged resources have been delivered. Further coordinated efforts between the Sahelian countries and the international community are needed, but also vital is fighting the ideological battle against extremism, development and related efforts. His country has already delivered technical assistance to the region and has trained personnel. He expressed hope that the force gains capacity to successfully restore and maintain peace in the area.
PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) said his country is monitoring with concern the deterioration of security conditions in the Sahel. He expressed condolences over recent victims of terrorist groups. Affirming the importance of the joint force, he said it must receive adequate and predictable financing, with its capacities built up and operations ensured to be compliant with international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, measures to promote development and grapple with root causes are needed. The United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel should be supported for that purpose. Such efforts much go hand in hand with measures to empower women and young people, and coherence of all initiatives must be ensured. He expressed his country’s commitment to working towards the shared goal of sustaining peace in the Sahel.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), speaking also on behalf of Equatorial Guinea and South Africa, voiced concern over persistent attacks by terrorist groups as well as other threats facing the Sahel. Given the region’s multifaceted challenges, its countries — especially Mali and Burkina Faso — serve as the ultimate defence, which if breached will unleash a flood of terrorists across the continent and beyond. Noting that the situation in the Sahel amply justifies the presence of the joint force, he called for international support to bridge funding shortfalls, adding that financing should dovetail with regional efforts and match the magnitude of the threat. In that regard, he commended the recent decision by the Heads of State of ECOWAS countries to mobilize $1 billion to tackle terrorism across the region and hailed the partnership between the joint force and MINUSMA as a model of constructive cooperation between a United Nations peace operation and one led by Africa. However, the joint force requires more predictable, lasting financing. The United Nations must deliver on its commitments in that regard, especially at a time when the threat of terrorism is ever increasing, he said.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said he remains deeply concerned about the security situation in the Sahel. Stronger collaboration is required to combat the challenges outlined in the latest report, including the deteriorating humanitarian situation, terrorism and communal violence, he said. Indonesia supports the G5 Sahel joint force in addressing such challenges; however, it notes with concern that the force continues to face shortfalls in training, capability and equipment. Moreover, he hoped that a permanent location could be identified and established for its headquarters. Indonesia also supports joint efforts by regional and international actors in the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) voiced regret over the further deterioration of the security situation in the Sahel, as well as indications that the violence may spread to coastal States and the Gulf of Guinea. All partners must do more to stabilize the situation, he stressed, describing the partnership recently launched by Germany and France and inviting more Council members to participate in it. Germany also stands ready to consider new ways to increase the United Nations support for the G5 Sahel joint force, he said, adding that while countries of the region have made great strides, “we are not quite there yet”. Indeed, considerably more leadership and ownership by the G5 Sahel countries is still required, and MINUSMA meanwhile remains a critical presence in the region. Turning to human rights, he said their safeguarding is a prerequisite for combating terrorism and there can be no compromises in that regard.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) echoed expressions of concern over the heightened risk that terrorism could spread more broadly across West and Central Africa. Calling for action to stem that tide, he declared: “This is no easy task.” Terrorist groups continue to take advantage of governance vacuums in Mali and elsewhere to spread their ideologies. Making several recommendations, he called for continued efforts to empower civilians and to ensure that the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali is implemented without delay. The offensive against the violence by armed groups and the fight against transnational organized crime must both be beefed up, he said, also advocating for enhanced cooperation between the various security forces active on the ground.
ZHANG JUN (China), noting the severe challenges being faced in the Sahel, said that the international community must support regional initiatives such as the joint force. The force makes an important contribution to peace and security, he affirmed. MINUSMA should also provide support for the force. With respect for national sovereignty, the international community should also support peace and reconciliation in the countries of the Sahel, helping Africa’s countries solve African problems in African ways. National strategies, regional strategies and the United Nations Sahel strategy must be harmonized for that purpose. As part of such efforts, sustainable development must also be supported to address root causes of violence and to achieve sustainable peace. His country has long supported African countries to build capacity in facing their challenges, he said, and remains committed to that effort.
PAWEŁ RADOMSKI (Poland) pointed to an alarming increase in the number of suspected terrorist attacks as well as civilians killed in the Sahel, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso. Terrorist groups have strengthened their position across the Sahel region, he stressed, making many parts of it unstable. This instability, as well as poverty, marginalization, impunity and limited State presence have caused terrorism to increase. He also expressed deep concern about information coming from the Mopti region that members of the Malian Armed Forces operating under the joint force may have committed serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions of two men in the village of Boulekessi. Emphasizing the importance of a timely investigation into allegations against joint force units, he said this will strengthen transparency on compliance with the human rights framework and international humanitarian law.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said that, in an extremely fragile context, the initiative of the G5 Sahel countries to unite their forces warrants support. His country reaffirms the goal of cross‑border cooperation through the establishment of the joint force. For several years, Belgium has contributed to this effort. When it comes to MINUSMA’s support, Belgium pledged €1 million from 2018 for this goal, he said, noting that some equipment has not been delivered and that this has an impact on operations planning. There is work to do and some progress can be achieved without additional resources. He also expressed regret over the development of the security and humanitarian situation in a part of the Sahel, noting that attacks against civilians and uniformed personnel are too many to number. The solution is first and foremost a political one and many actions need to be taken, he said, noting that terrorist networks need to be dismantled.
TAREQ M. A. M. ALBANAI (Kuwait) said that he welcomed the information provided that sheds light on the situation in the Sahel, specifically the challenges faced by this region, including the humanitarian situation with 12 million people in need of assistance, as well as the security situation due to the heightened activities of terrorists. He highlighted the efforts of the joint force as well as regional cooperation. There is no doubt that the force plays a critical role in countering security related challenges, he said. Kuwait stands ready to consider the methods and tools at the disposal of the Council to buttress the efforts of the force and to provide financial stability over the long term. Kuwait awaits the 2020 action plan and hopes that there will be full success in the operations of the force especially given that the security situation continues to unravel in the region. He welcomed the efforts of MINUSMA in delivering the necessary support for the joint force as well as the efforts of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Mr. BARKIN (United States), expressing hope that today’s meeting is part of an effort to ensure well‑reasoned support for security in the Sahel, called on all donors to support the joint force, noting substantial contributions from his own country. Governments of the G5 member States should be leading the effort, however. He called for the parties in Mali to work together so that that country can do its part. Affirming that all forces must comply with international law, he called for holding perpetrators of violations accountable. Welcoming ECOWAS’ contribution to security, he also paid tribute to European partnerships. He said that a new funding for direct support of the joint force should be avoided, rather existing international modalities of support should be leveraged by the countries of the Sahel.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), President of the Security Council for November, speaking in his national capacity, shared concerns over the deterioration of the security situation in the Sahel. He commended and supported G5 Sahel and ECOWAS efforts to fight that insecurity. The United Kingdom, he noted, continues to contribute resources, but the leading role must be played by the countries involved. The joint force should focus on border areas, he added, and comply fully with international law. He urged for a full investigation of reported violations and full implementation of the European framework in that context. He added that his country’s contributions to security in the Sahel, bilaterally and through the European Union, are in addition to development aid being provided.