Amid a worsening security situation marked by mounting terrorist attacks, troops deployed to stem the tide of violent extremism in Africa’s Sahel region require more predictable funding and broader international support, the United Nations senior peace operations official told the Security Council during a videoconference meeting today.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who is the Organization’s Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in the Sahel region (document S/2021/442), noting that the fight against armed groups has intensified since the Council’s last debate on the topic in late 2020. In that context, he described the joint force first deployed in 2017 by the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) countries — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — as a vital part of the security response to extremist armed groups, and joined his voice to others in the international community calling for a revamped funding structure.
“It is essential that [the joint force] receives the assistance it requires to carry out its mandated tasks,” he said, adding that the current support model leaves little room for flexibility. Recalling that the United Nations recently carried out an assessment of the support provided to the joint force by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), at the Council’s request, he said it found the predictability of funding to be a source of concern. The assessment highlighted both progress made and challenges remaining, while touching on the recent activities of the joint force.
Outlining those, he reported that the regional force continues to enhance its operational capabilities in recent months. Its Operation Sama 2 continued into early 2021, and Sama 3 — buoyed by an additional battalion deployed from Chad — was launched in March. Going forward, strengthening the joint force’s police component will be an important step towards improving oversight over military operations, as well as linking them to State-building, human rights compliance and justice sector reform efforts. While some critical tasks remain pending, he welcomed the force’s demonstration of commitment, alongside the Governments of Chad and Niger, to investigating and prosecuting serious allegations of sexual violence reportedly committed by members of the eighth Chadian battalion deployed in Niger.
While the joint force — alongside national troops, the French-led Operation Barkhane and MINUSMA — has made strides in the fight against terrorism, he emphasized that much remains to be done and the region’s security and humanitarian situation remains dire. In that vein, he welcomed the strengthened coordination mechanisms proposed by the Coalition for the Sahel, which will allow all international partners to take advantage of their comparative strengths and work together more effectively in the areas of development, good governance, humanitarian aid and security. “Faced with the situation in the Sahel, the international community must be motivated by a shared responsibility to act […] in a spirit of solidarity with the populations of the region,” he concluded.
Oumarou Namata, Commander of the G5 Sahel joint force, also briefed the Council, providing a snapshot of the operational activities of his troops. Describing considerable progress registered by the “purely Sahel-owned” force since its establishment four years ago, he said many serious challenges remain — including rapidly escalating security threats and the joint force’s own including its own highly complex operational structure. Since January, in particular, the region has seen a rise in extremely violent incidents and a worsening of intercommunal violence, which is too often exploited by armed groups.
He nevertheless outlined significant progress achieved by the joint force in recent months, which includes efforts to harmonize its future operations with the efforts of national armies, MINUSMA and other partners. It has neutralized hundreds of terrorists and disorganized the logistical capacity of many regional armed groups, capturing and arresting 79 people in the last year alone. He also cited the development of a robust posture and format; increased effectiveness and better harmonization of operations; implementation of a standing operational procedure on internal investigations; and increased ownership of the force’s activities.
Additionally, he said, the joint force is working to harmonize its Human Rights Compliance Framework with those of its European partners. “Progress is being made, yes, slowly […] in improving [the force’s] activities,” he said, calling for additional resources and more streamlining of international support. Other major operational challenges relate to questions of long-term financing. While significant support has been pledged by international partners, the actual rate of fulfilment has been slow. In that regard, he called for the establishment of a United Nations support office to provide the joint force with logistical, operational, practical and strategic support, to be funded by both voluntary and assessed contributions from Member States.
Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees (Egypt), briefing the Council in his capacity as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, recalled that the latter met in April to discuss peace and development trends in the Sahel region. It called for greater coordination among security, development and humanitarian actors, aimed at ensuring effective programming and resource mobilization, including through the development and use of a shared information-management system. He pointed out that the Commission has been supporting peacebuilding efforts in Burkina Faso — at the request and under the leadership of the Government — mobilizing over $400 million from Commission members to support the country’s peacebuilding priorities in 2020 alone.
Encouraging the United Nations and its partners to build on that approach in other Sahel countries, he went on to support the call — made during a summit in N’Djamena, Chad, on 16 February — for a “civilian surge” that would complement military efforts and increase development, humanitarian and good governance initiatives across the region. He also called for additional measures to empower women and youth to undertake leadership roles in peacebuilding and strengthen their role in governance structures, as well as for more structural investment in response to environmental degradation and climate change. In addition, he voiced support for the leadership of regional actors and organizations in confronting and countering terrorists and other organized criminal groups in the Sahel region.
As Council members took the floor, many expressed strong support for the work of the G5 Sahel joint force and condemned the spiking terrorist attacks across the region. While many highlighted the support their countries have provided, they diverged on the question of using United Nations assessed contributions to fund the joint force, with some describing bilateral support as a more appropriate channel. Still others called upon the countries leading the force to accelerate their implementation of human rights standards and due diligence policies, which they said are even more crucial amid the rapidly escalating violence.
Oumar ibn Daoud, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, African Integration and Chadians Abroad of Chad, agreed that the G5 Sahel joint force has made significant progress despite facing a range of new and serious challenges. Terrorists continue to attack national armed forces and civilians in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, killing more than 400 people since March alone. Noting that mercenaries and foreign terrorist fighters have spilled over from the conflict in Libya, exposing civilians in neighbouring countries to extreme violence, he cited the death of President Deby of Chad at the hands of such fighters on 21 April as an example of the severe risks being faced. Indeed, he warned, the African continent risks becoming a battlefield and a base for international terrorism. Describing the full operationalization of the joint force as a one crucial bulwark against such a development, he said its work benefits the world as a whole. However, it remains plagued by a lack of sustainable funding. “Contributions by partners do not necessarily materialize at the needed pace,” he stressed, noting that support from MINUSMA alone does not cover all of the joint force’s diverse and essential needs. In that vein, he joined other speakers in calling for the creation of a United Nations support office, to be financed through assessed contributions of Member States.
The representative of France stated that poverty and climate change are exacerbating tensions in the region, pointing out that 29 million people in the Sahel require humanitarian assistance — 5 million more than in 2020. Further, 10,000 extra people per day since January are in need of such aid, and more than 5,000 schools in the region have closed or otherwise become non-operational. He stressed the importance of United Nations accompaniment to regional efforts, calling particularly for strengthened support of the G5 Sahel joint force. He also supported the creation of an office within the Organization to assist the joint force — financed by assessed contributions — that would allow the Security Council to better monitor the situation in the region. He added that military action, however, must be complemented by increased efforts in the areas of governance, development and humanitarian assistance — a “civilian surge”.
The representative of Ireland said that the negative impacts of climate change are interacting with poverty and economic underdevelopment in the Sahel, leading to intercommunal conflict and displacement within the region. Underscoring the importance of the operational and logistical support MINUSMA provides to the joint force, she pointed out that the temporary nature thereof highlights the need for predictable, sustainable financing. She also stressed that protection for civilians must be at the heart of mission planning, which will require respect for the rule of law, human rights and international humanitarian law. She called on the joint force to increase information‑sharing regarding operational impact on civilians and follow-up to human rights violations committed by its elements, and to meet its commitment to ensure that gender analysis and women’s participation are integrated into assessments, planning and operations.
The representative of Niger, also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the link between security and development is clearly demonstrated in the Sahel, where they interact in a feedback loop. Welcoming the progress made by the G5 Sahel joint force in combating terrorism, as well as its enormous progress in human rights and respect for international law, he thanked the European Union, France, United States, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and many other partners who have provided support for the joint force and individual countries of the region. “However, the results achieved have only been done so within the limitations of a low logistical capacity,” he said, citing delays in the disbursement of promised funds amid a rapidly escalating and increasingly deadly security environment on the ground.
Outlining the serious ramifications of the worsening security situation, he cited a sharp increase in the rate of civilian displacement and an exacerbation of climate‑change-related food insecurity. Noting that the Sahel countries have enjoyed an average annual growth rate of over 2 per cent, he warned that their current security challenges and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic risk rapidly reversing those gains. More support for development in the Sahel region is urgently needed. Describing peace as a “global public good”, he called for a range of international support, including for quick‑impact development projects and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts. He also advocated for the establishment of a United Nations support office for the G5 Sahel joint force as the only option available “to ensure that this dam does not break”.
The representative of the United Kingdom spotlighted the efforts of the G5 Sahel States to address the challenges facing the region, welcoming in particular their commitment through the Sahel Coalition Roadmap to governance, development and the provision of basic services. Emphasizing that there can be no purely military solution to the region’s instability, he urged Chad’s new Transitional Military Council to deliver a peaceful, timely transition to civilian and constitutional rule, including free and fair elections within an 18-month timeframe. Praising efforts by both the G5 Sahel joint force and MINUSMA personnel to build trust with local communities on the ground, he nevertheless voiced concern about continued allegations of human rights violations. The swift action taken by the force and by the Chadian and Nigerien authorities immediately following recent allegations in Niger sent a clear message, but there is more to do. In that regard, he urged the joint force and relevant national authorities to follow through on their commitments to ensure those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable.
The representative of Viet Nam joined others in expressing concern about the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel region, noting that at least 300 people, including peacekeepers, were killed in three major terrorist attacks so far in 2021. Condemning such barbaric acts of violence, including the assassination of the late President of Chad and the failed plot to murder the President of Niger, he said that the G5 Sahel joint force could address the tremendous challenges ahead if they receive adequate and sustainable support, particularly predictable funding. In this regard, his delegation supports the initiatives of three African Council members, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and France on the establishment of the United Nations Support Office for the G5 Sahel to combat terrorism.
The representative of India expressed concern over the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the G5 Sahel countries, noting the use of improvised explosive devices against civilians and peacekeepers and attacks spreading to the borders of neighbouring countries. More than 2 million people are internally displaced, 900,000 have become refugees and the Libyan crisis that caused instability in Mali and the larger region a decade ago continues to adversely impact the Sahel. While welcoming the efforts of various actors on the security front, including the G5 Sahel joint force, he said that the force continues to be plagued by multiple challenges, such as inadequate training, equipment, transport, logistics and sustainable financing. The support that MINUSMA provides to the joint force is important, but overstretching the Mission’s responsibilities can adversely affect its core mandate of securing peace in Mali. He urged strong support for African counter-terrorism operations through sustainable financing, including assessed contributions.
The representative of the United States echoed expressions of alarm over the worsening conditions on the ground in the Sahel. “These upsetting trends are why we must continue our serious, sustainable approach in the region,” she said, welcoming the creation of the role of United Nations Special Coordinator for Development in the Sahel, which will complement national and regional efforts. Noting that the United States is a dedicated partner to the region, she described the G5 Sahel Trust Fund and bilateral support channels as the right approach for funding, and said the use of United Nations assessed funds are not a viable solution. Beyond a security response, partners should honour their commitments and provide governance support to countries of the region. For its part, the United States has provided more than $2 billion in recent years in development, security and humanitarian support to the Sahel region. Also calling for accountability for crimes committed against civilians, she said the G5 Sahel States have an obligation to visibly demonstrate their commitment to human rights and the protection of civilians. In that vein, she went on to praise Mauritania’s recent announcement of plans to carry out credible investigations; Chad’s efforts towards a peaceful, timely political transition; and Mali’s plans to hold free, fair and inclusive elections on schedule.
The representative of Norway stressed that any international support involving the United Nations would hinge on conduct that fully complies with the Organization’s human rights due diligence policy. The joint force operates in a challenging context, but professionalism and protection of civilians must be expected, with special attention to be given to children in armed conflict. However, military solutions alone can never transform conflicts to peace. Security measures must be complemented by understanding and addressing root causes — be it a lack of development, inequality of opportunities or vulnerability to climate change. The Peacebuilding Commission should therefore enhance its advisory role. Citing a recent report by the Peoples Coalition for the Sahel, she stressed the need to prioritize the protection of civilians, create a political strategy to address the root causes of the crisis, respond to humanitarian emergencies and combat impunity.
The representative of Estonia, echoing expressions of concern over the continued deterioration of the situation in the Sahel region, despite efforts by regional actors and international security forces, said civilians can only be effectively protected when a credible State presence is restored. Combating terrorism and violent extremism in the region is a joint effort by national, regional and international actors, requiring constant attention, coordination, information‑sharing and clear command lines. Noting that Estonia contributes personnel to MINUSMA, the French-led Barkhane operation and the European Union Training Mission in Mali — as well as financially to the European Union Trust Fund for Africa — he said the country is also part of Task Force Takuba, which recently achieved full operational capacity. In that vein, he acknowledged calls from regional countries to ensure more predictable and sustainable funding to the G5 Sahel joint force, expressing Estonia’s openness to discussions on more comprehensive funding solutions.
The representative of the Russian Federation, calling for the Security Council to return to in-person meetings given the improving COVID-19 situation in New York, said that the Sahel region has seen a new, forceful surge in terrorist activity and a proliferation of intercommunal and ethnic conflict. Fighters have killed dozens of soldiers and hundreds of civilians, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons has grown and challenges in food security have intensified. She called on regional countries to urgently address socioeconomic problems, strengthen institutions and protect human rights lest conditions conducive to radicalization ripen, especially among the youth. Turning to the joint force, she said that full operationalization thereof depends on ensuring stable financing and providing relevant logistical support, welcoming the assistance MINUSMA has provided to the joint force in line with the Mission’s mandate.
The representative of Mexico stressed that the security strategy in the Sahel must focus on protecting civilians, as they are the main victims of violence in the region. Expressing concern regarding violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by joint force troops — particularly cases of sexual violence and the detention of minors — she called on members of the G5 Sahel to prevent such incidents in the future. She stated that any discussion involving increased Security Council support to the joint force should consider what the force is doing to meet its human rights obligations under international humanitarian law. Beyond the considerable security challenges, however, lasting peace requires addressing the structural factors that facilitate radicalization and intercommunal conflict. To this end, she said that the Peacebuilding Commission has a responsibility to design a comprehensive response to development problems that prevail in Sahel States, coordinating with actors on the ground and ensuring that women and youth are involved in the decision-making process.
The representative of China, Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, calling for strengthened cooperation and coordination to fight terrorism amid the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel region. Expressing concern about the tendency of terrorist attacks to spread, he welcomed Chad’s recent deployment of additional troops to the G5 Sahel joint force, as well as the African Union’s decision to send additional standby forces to the region. As the spillover of the conflict in Libya remains one reported factor in the worsening security situation, he called for the orderly withdrawal of all mercenaries and foreign fighters in line with Council resolutions. Voicing his support for sustainable, predictable funding for the joint force and spotlighting China’s own significant contributions, he expressed hope that a financing solution will be found that accommodates the needs and concerns of all parties. Additionally, he advocated for efforts to eliminate the root causes of conflict, such as development challenges, intercommunal conflict and food insecurity. In that vein, he pointed out that China will convene a high-level debate on 19 May on ways to address the root causes of conflict in Africa amid the world’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.