Let me offer a special welcome to President Gnassingbe. Thank you for your attendance here today.
There is growing concern about stability in West Africa and the Sahel region, and with good reason.
Organized crime, drug-trafficking and piracy are on the rise.
The upheaval in Libya is having side effects such as an influx of weapons.
A growing food crisis rooted in drought, high food prices and conflict currently affects millions and has raised fears that the situation could worsen further still.
And there are reports of links between insurgent groups, criminal groups and terrorist organizations.
There is even fear that we could see in this region a crisis of the magnitude of the one in the Horn of Africa.
We must not allow this to happen.
This meeting is thus very timely, and I commend the initiative of Togo in using its presidency of the Council to highlight the urgency of the various threats.
Transnational organized crime, including drug-trafficking, affects peace, security and stability wherever it occurs.
It undermines the authority and effectiveness of State institutions, erodes the rule of law and weakens law enforcement structures.
As West Africa remains a transit point for drug traffickers between South America and Europe, the potential for instability will continue to grow.
This is horrendous for the people of the ECOWAS region.
It also presents a serious challenge to the peace operations in the region authorized by this Council.
To address the issue, we are working closely with the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the context of the West African Coast Initiative.
We have begun to build Transnational Crime Units trained by the UN Police.
But this is merely the beginning of what we must do.
The governments of the region will need the support of regional organizations and the wider international community to build and sustain the required capacity in information-sharing, prevention, investigation, law enforcement and border management.
This should unfold in parallel with creating alternative sustainable livelihoods and addressing the challenges of poverty, human insecurity and underdevelopment.
We must also strengthen the capacity of peace operations in the region by embedding specialized units in our missions to complement the efforts of host state police and other law enforcement agencies.
I am especially disturbed by reports of terrorist activity.
The assessment mission I dispatched in December 2011 to look at the effects of the Libya crisis on the Sahel found that terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, have begun to form alliances with drug traffickers, and other criminal syndicates.
Such alliances have the potential to further destabilize the region and reverse hard-won democratic and peacebuilding achievements.
The growing incidence of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea exacerbates the situation.
The consequences of inaction could be catastrophic, especially for oil-producing countries that are frequently targeted for their high-value petroleum assets, and for countries – both coastal and in the hinterland – that rely extensively on their ports for national revenue.
Just last week off the coast of Nigeria, an incident of piracy resulted in the murder of the ship’s captain and engineer.
You will recall that in November 2011, I deployed an assessment mission to the Gulf of Guinea to assess the threat and help the Government of Benin in formulating its response.
The mission highlighted that any comprehensive maritime security strategy to combat piracy should be encompassed within a wider transnational organised crime response.
This should include drug trafficking, illicit fishing, illicit dumping of toxic waste, and illegal or clandestine immigration or migration.
As you continue your discussions, I would like to reiterate the assessment mission’s recommendation for a regional Summit of Gulf of Guinea Heads of State to be convened as early as possible in 2012, with a view to developing a comprehensive regional anti-piracy strategy.
The United Nations is already deeply engaged in helping the countries of West Africa and the Sahel to combat crime, drug-trafficking, piracy and terror.
We have seen this toxic brew in other regions, in Africa and elsewhere.
We must now be ready to do even more to keep the situation from escalating.
The warnings are there; the trends are clear.
We have a responsibility to cooperate even more closely with Member States, as well as with regional and international organizations.
Our common goal must be to ensure durable peace and stability in West Africa and the Sahel region.