Amid a persistently unstable security situation punctuated by alarming terrorist attacks, troops deployed to combat violent extremism in the Sahel region need more predictable funding and broader international support, the United Nations senior peace operations official told the Security Council today.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, presented the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the activities of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) and United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), noting that the region remains severely unstable, with civilians paying the highest price.  Many lives are lost daily due to terrorist attacks, millions of people are displaced, and primary health care remains inaccessible, even as the pandemic continues to rage.

Against such a challenging backdrop, the work of the G5 Sahel Joint Force remains crucial, he said, pointing out that it has stepped up its operational pace since its inception in 2017, and has even recently demonstrated its ability to nimbly mount an ad hoc operation in response to an imminent attack on civilians in Burkina Faso.  The Secretary‑General’s report, as well as his letter setting out an assessment of operations by the Secretariat, affirm that the Joint Force is a key part of a collective security response to the multiple challenges facing the region, including terrorism, weak border security, trafficking in persons, illicit goods, weapons and drugs.  However, he cautioned, there is a risk that the Joint Force will lose the gains that have been made.

Highlighting progress in protecting civilians and preventing and mitigating human rights violations by armed and security forces while carrying out counter terrorism operations, he underscored the need for a dedicated support office funded through assessed contributions — rather than the current model which relies on unpredictable donor financing — to reinforce such work and ensure greater coherence between military and political and development efforts.

Also briefing the Council was Fatimata Ouilma Sinare, of the Burkina Faso chapter of the Network on Peace and Security for Women in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Space, who described how the ongoing crisis has disproportionally affected women.  In Niger, 76  per cent of girls are married before the age of 18 while in Mali, the rate of female genital mutilation is 82 per cent among females aged 15 to 49.  There are rampant reports of sexual abuse and rape in the Lake Chad Basin region.  Moreover, women continue to be woefully underrepresented in decision-making positions.  While women’s civil society organizations are trying to address such concerns on the community level, they require technical and financial support, she said.

Ammo Aziza Baroud, from Chad, speaking on behalf of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, described the persistent security challenges in the region, noting an increase in terrorism and intercommunal conflicts.  She expressed regret that the international community has failed to honour its promises to support the region in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has led to disillusionment and resignation among the populace.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members expressed concern about the alarming security and humanitarian situation and commended the work of the Joint Force in protecting civilians and curbing extremist activities.  Several members echoed the Under-Secretary-General’s call for more consistent, predictable funding to help meet the demands of the worsening situation on the ground, while others raised concerns over allegations of human rights violations during counter-terrorism operations and questioned the appropriateness of the United Nations as a support mechanism for the Joint Force.

The representative of France called for resolute action by the international community, given the heavy burden civilians continue to pay despite the Joint Force’s recent achievements in bolstering regional counter-terrorism efforts.  He called on Council members to lend their support to the Secretary‑General’s appeal to operationalize a support office, pointing out that members with reservations about the proposal have yet to offer credible alternatives.

In a similar vein, Niger’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that a United Nations support office remains the most appropriate option to ensure the G5 Sahel Joint Force predictable funding and strengthen its operational planning capacity.  He pointed out that the potential flow of combatants as well as arms after the withdrawal of foreign combatants from the Libyan theatre underline the need for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, MINUSMA, and allied international forces to close the security gap in the region.

The representative of Estonia, meanwhile, expressed concern over reports of human rights violations allegedly committed by security forces during counter-terrorist activities, and emphasized the need for such activities to be undertaken in strict compliance with international humanitarian law.  All human rights violations must be investigated and perpetrators held fully accountable, regardless of their status, he said.

The United Kingdom’s delegate also emphasized the need to enhance human rights protections and compliance with international humanitarian law, without which there can be no sustainable peace and security in the Sahel.  He welcomed the Malian authorities’ decision to bring three cases before the Military Tribunal in Bamako this month, calling it “an important step forward in the fight against impunity”.  While the Joint Force is a crucial solution to the region’s challenges, he nonetheless stressed that the United Nations is not the right vehicle to provide it durable support, and that bilateral and multilateral support mechanisms that do not involve the Organization should be explored.

Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation expressed concern about the worsening humanitarian situation in the Sahel, leading to an increase in the number of internally displaced persons and refugees.  If steps are not taken to improve the situation, the conditions for radicalization will amplify, she warned.  For its part, the Russian Federation has provided military and technical assistance, including training of military and police personnel, to several countries, and intends to continue to undertake such work.

Also speaking today were representatives of India, Norway, Ireland, China, Viet Nam, the United States and Mexico.

The meeting began at 10:25 a.m. and ended at 11:55 a.m.

Briefings

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, briefing the Council on the Secretary‑General’s report on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) (document S/2021/940), said the situation in the region remains severely unstable, with civilians paying the highest price.  Many lives are lost daily due to terrorist attacks, millions of people are displaced, and primary health care remains inaccessible, even as the pandemic continues to rage.  Against this backdrop, he said the formation of the G5 Sahel Joint Force is an important achievement.  Since its first deployment in 2017, despite many setbacks, it has stepped up and maintained its operational pace, and will meet next week to approve its operational plan for 2022‑2023.  In recent weeks, it has also demonstrated its ability to nimbly mount an ad hoc operation to respond to an imminent attack on civilians in Burkina Faso.

Nonetheless, the Joint Force is now at a crossroads, and there is a risk that it will lose the gains that have been made, he said.  A letter from the Secretary‑General on 8 October describing an assessment carried out by the Secretariat and the report on recent developments both highlight the fact that the Joint Force remains a vital part of a collective security response to the multiple challenges facing the region, including terrorism, weak border security, trafficking in persons, illicit goods, weapons and drugs, he said, adding:  “It is the collective responsibility of the international community to support the efforts of the G5 Sahel member States.”

He went on to commend the European Union for its financial support, which has made the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) possible.  Since his last briefing to the Council on the Joint Force, he said the Mission has undertaken all necessary steps to ensure that contractors can deliver life support consumables to all seven battalions deployed under joint force command.  However, he pointed out that the support model has its limits, as it relies on unpredictable donor financing, which cannot entirely meet the Joint Force’s needs.  A dedicated support office, funded through assessed contribution, is needed to enhance the efficiency and scope of its work.  However, he pointed out that setting up an office, should the Council decide to do so, will require strengthened collaboration to improve institutional governance and dialogue, with the full cooperation of all relevant entities of the G5 Sahel, including the Defence and Security Committee and the Executive Secretariat.  Moreover, G5 Sahel States would also need to clarify civilian oversight and command and control over the joint force’s operations and strengthen mechanisms to protect human rights.

Turning to progress made, he said the establishment of a Human Rights Compliance Framework and the strict application of human rights due diligence policy on United Nations support to non-United Nations security forces has helped prevent and mitigate human rights violations by armed and security forces while carrying out counter terrorism operations.  Moreover, enhanced patrolling has helped strengthen the protection of civilians.  However, a support office would help scale up logistical and operational support, better protect civilians and ensure greater coherence between military and political and development efforts.

He went on to point out that security efforts alone could not address the crisis in the Sahel; a holistic approach is required.  Such an approach must encompass politics, and address root causes such as poverty and exclusion, he added.  He therefore reiterated the Secretary‑General’s call to establish a dedicated political forum, composed of the G5 Sahel and other international and regional organizations, such as the African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations and the European Union, and Council members.  This forum could promote regional ownership and ensure that the force’s operations are aligned with political processes, including the implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, he said.

AMMO AZIZA BAROUD (Chad), speaking on behalf of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, noted that security in the Sahel region is still a grave concern, with terrorism and other multidimensional challenges increasing, despite efforts to curb them.  Intercommunal conflicts are also on the rise, stemming from the security crisis and limited resources due to climate change.  The international community has failed to honour its promises to support the region in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she lamented, leading to disillusion and resignation among the populace.  Stressing that G5 Sahel is the only solution for the region’s challenges, she said it is an initiative of its members States that will also benefit international peace and security.

Noting that considerable progress has been made to operationalize the Joint Force, she said support is needed in facing major challenges lying ahead.  To ensure that G5 Sahel has effective governance, efforts have been made to speed up the institutional reform process, she said.  Strides have also been made to bolster human rights in the region, although challenges remain, and G5 Sahel will continue working with partners to achieve international standards.  As for the Secretary‑General’s options for the region, a United Nations support office would be the most appropriate, as it would provide predictable, trustworthy and lasting financing in restoring the region’s development and security.

FATIMATA OUILMA SINARE, President of the Burkina Faso chapter of the Network on Peace and Security for Women in the ECOWAS Space, said the ongoing crisis has disproportionally affected women.  Highlighting the current situation, she said that in Niger, 76 per cent of girls are married before age 18, the rate of female genital mutilation in Mali is 82 per cent of females aged 15 to 49, and rampant reports continue of sexual abuse and rape in the Lake Chad Basin region.  At the same time, women are underrepresented in decision-making positions.  They hold  less than 15 per cent of seats in the National Assembly in Burkina Faso, where insecurity has shuttered schools, affecting more than 300,000 students.  To address these and other serious concerns, she said women’s organizations are offering solutions, from initiatives to combat violent extremism and terrorism to efforts to address multiple forms of violence at the community level.  Several groups are making inroads, she said, highlighting numerous projects operated by Réseau Ouest Africain des Jeunes Femmes Leaders and Groupe de travail Femmes, Jeunes, Paix et Sécurité en Afrique de l’Ouest et au Sahel.

Emphasizing the breadth of pressing challenges, she drew attention to the increasing manipulation of women and girls to join armed groups.  Offering several recommendations to change the current trajectory, she said technical and financial support for national strategies and women’s civil society organizations can, among other things, forge progress in establishing plans of action that favour women and youth.  Such initiatives should include projects that have such long-term positive effects as an increased socioeconomic and political empowerment of women and girls.  In addition, efforts must focus on encouraging dialogue among armed groups and State and regional authorities to quell violence, and support is needed to improve the quality of health and education services and to bolster conflict prevention activities, she said.

Statements

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said the international community’s resolute action is needed more than ever before, given the heavy burden civilians continue to pay despite the Sahel Force’s recent achievements.  United Nations support for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which has been a crucial regional counter-terrorism response, is essential, he said, recalling that recent operations have hampered terrorist groups’ activities and strengthened trust between armed forces and local populations.  Highlighting global support for the Joint Force, he said that while regional States have contributed $12 million for Operation Sama 3, political and financial support remains insufficient.  To fully plan and conduct operations, the Joint Force needs predictable and sustainable support.  The Secretary‑General’s appeal to operationalize a support office for the Joint Force can, among other things, promote human rights, he said, calling on Council members to support its creation.  Noting that members with reservations about the proposal have yet to offer credible alternatives, he said the Council must urgently respond at a time when terrorist groups continue to gain ground amid a worsening situation.  Supporting the Joint Force is just one part of globally combatting terrorism, he said, voicing France’s continued contributions to help countries in the region, including €600 million in 2020.

MOUSSA MAMAN SANI (Niger), also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, noted that civilians are bearing the brunt of violence in the Sahel region and condemned the latest cowardly and barbaric attack on them in western Niger.  Reducing numbers in the Barkhane Force and Chadian contingent in the Central Sector, and the potential flow of combatants as well as arms after the withdrawal of foreign combatants from the Libyan theatre, he said, underscore the need for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, MINUSMA and allied international forces to close the security gap.  Adding that a United Nations support office remains the most appropriate option, he said this would allow the G5 Sahel Joint Force predictable funding, strengthen its operational planning capacity, and provide a human rights protection framework.  Due to the combined effects of insecurity and climate change, the humanitarian situation in the Sahel has also deteriorated, he noted, with just under 30 million people requiring protection.  Intensified efforts to address the needs of these vulnerable people are vital in warding off a breeding ground for recruitment of youth by armed terrorist groups, he said.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) noted that the situation in the Sahel has worsened during the reporting period, with a spike in terrorist activities and inter-ethnic conflict, which has led to the unfortunate killing of servicemen and civilians.  Further, the humanitarian crisis has been worsening, leading to an increase in the number of internally displaced persons and refugees.  If steps are not taken to improve the situation, the conditions for radicalization will amplify, she warned.  Turning to the activities of the Joint Force, she called for more coordination with MINUSMA as well as other military presences in region.  She added that the Joint Force’s proper functioning depended on two important factors:  ensuring stable and predictable financing and providing appropriate transport and logistical support.  She recognized the need for more sustained international support, due to significant challenges it faced, adding that her country is ready to consider the proposals set out in the Secretary General’s letter.  However, these proposals require a clear understanding of their feasibility, effectiveness, costs required and sources of funding.  Moreover, the Russian Federation is closely monitoring the situation in the region, and has provided military and technical assistance, including training of military and police personnel, to several countries, and intends to continue to undertake such work.

MADHU SUDAN RAVINDRAN (India) noted that security in the Sahel continues to be a matter of serious concern, with terrorism and attacks by armed groups increasing.  As terrorists are continuing to expand their strength and control, addressing this issue is a vital precondition to achieving peace in the region.  Stressing that this is not only an obligation of the region, but the international community, he said Council indecision on the issue has allowed terrorists to expand their grip, underscoring the need to fight them more effectively.  Operational support for the Joint Force is insufficient, he said, urging the Council to support it by providing necessary finances.  Pointing to the limited support the Joint Force receives from MINUSMA, he said it needs sustainable and predictable support to ward off serious political and security challenges in the region.

MONA JUUL (Norway) said the Council’s trip to the Sahel was spent listening for solutions.  Understanding the need for flexibility, sustainability, and predictability for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, she said the initiative requires the Council’s attention and support.  Norway looks forward to further discussing the Secretary‑General’s proposal to set up a support office for the Joint Force, but any United Nations support must hinge on conduct in line with the Human Rights Due Diligence Framework, with military operations upholding obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law.  Deeply concerned by attacks against civilians reportedly committed by members of the Joint Force, she commended cases where perpetrators were removed from positions or prosecuted.  Yet, military and security measures alone will never be enough to ensure stability and sustainable development for the Sahelian population, she said, underlining the need to maintain a holistic focus on good governance, human rights, climate change adaption and basic services.

JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) said a military response to the region’s insecurity must be integrated into broader efforts to improve governance.  A timely democratic transition in Mali is key.  The United Kingdom will support the work of Niger’s High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace, which aims to improve the resilience of local populations in the tri-border area and promote dialogue between communities and state representatives to help resolve disputes.  There can be no sustainable peace and security in the Sahel without human rights protections and compliance with international humanitarian law.  He urged all Governments to investigate and allegations of human rights abuses as they arise and prosecute those responsible.  Respect for international human rights standards and judicial processes during counter-terrorism operations must also be ensured.  He welcomed the Malian authorities’ decision to bring three cases before the Military Tribunal in Bamako this month.  “It is an important step forward in the fight against impunity,” he said.  The G5 Sahel Joint Force is crucial to a solution to the Sahel’s challenges.  Noting the Secretary‑General’s October letter on alternative support models for the Joint Force, he said the United Kingdom had hoped for bilateral and multilateral support mechanisms that did not involve the United Nations.  Concerned with the Organization’s involvement in offensive, national counter-terrorism operations, he said it is not the right vehicle to provide durable support to the Joint Force.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), expressing concern about the volatile and deteriorating security situation in the Sahel, strongly condemned all attacks against civilians, including the recent one in Niger’s Tillabéri region that left 69 people dead.  Stressing the importance of re-establishing a security presence, as well as police and judicial institutions, he said the fight against terrorism and violent extremism in the Sahel can only succeed through a joint effort by national, regional and international forces.  How to organize effective international support to the G5 Sahel Joint Force remains a central issue, he noted, emphasizing that the Council should consider the Secretary‑General’s proposed United Nations support office for the Joint Force.  Adding that an integral part of counter-terrorist efforts is compliance with international humanitarian law, he expressed concern over reports of human rights violations allegedly committed by security forces during counter-terrorist activities.  It is essential to investigate all human rights violations, he said, and hold perpetrators fully accountable, regardless of their status.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), recalling the Council’s recent visit, said members heard first-hand how conflict is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, compounded by the challenges of climate change and food insecurity.  The Council has a responsibility to assist citizens as they strive to create a better future for themselves, their countries and the region.  Security operations must be complemented by coordinated humanitarian and development action, reaching the furthest behind first.  A strategically focused and operationally effective G5 Sahel Joint Force has a key role to play, from protecting civilians to respecting human rights.  Greater inclusion of women can significantly enhance the effectiveness of operations and more must be done to improve their representation, she said.  She encouraged the Joint Force to increase efforts to gather and share information on the impact of operations, and, crucially, to differentiate national operations from its own.  Ireland remains committed to supporting the countries of the Sahel in their efforts, and in addition to troop contributions to MINUSMA, will continue to work bilaterally and with partners across the region to pursue peace and security.

DAI BING (China) said the recent Security Council visit to the Sahel further deepened the organ’s understanding of the grim security situation in the region.  Noting that G5 countries have joined forces to counter terrorism and enhanced their own capacity to eliminate the scourge, he expressed his country’s support for MINUSMA in improving its logistics operation.  MINUSMA should form a corresponding logistical programme to support the Joint Force’s military operations.  He encouraged the European Union to increase its financial support to the Joint Force.  As for the reorganization or downsizing of military deployments, close communications and coordination with regional countries are crucial to avoid a security vacuum.  China will continue to provide financial support and equipment to the Joint Force through bilateral channels.  Stressing the need to address the root causes of instability, he underscored Beijing’s commitment to support Africa’s development.

TRA PHUONG NGUYEN (Viet Nam) called on all stakeholders in the region to exercise utmost restraint and promote reconciliation through dialogue and consultations, with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and youth.  Reiterating the Joint Force’s key role in combating terrorism and maintaining peace, security and stability in the region, she said these efforts require further cooperation and adequate resources from the United Nations, regional organizations and the international community.  Also vital is ensuring the safety of peacekeepers, including those working for MINUSMA, especially amid increasing extremist attacks and deteriorating security situations.  The humanitarian issue has added layers to region’s already complex challenges.  As such, it is vital to remove all restrictions on civilian movements, provide unhindered access for aid efforts and ensure funding and essential services for vulnerable people.  She also called for a holistic approach to security, humanitarian and development challenges in the Sahel, with more focus on social services and sustainable economic development and the inclusion of women and youth in this regard.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) expressed alarm over the recent uptick in violence and some instances of democratic backsliding in the Sahel region and offered his condolences to Niger after the horrific terrorist attack earlier this month.  During the Council’s recent visit to Mali and Niger, he recalled that a strong message was conveyed to Mali to hold elections by the agreed time frame.  The United States has provided $588 million in security assistance to the Joint Force since 2017, he said.  Increased international support is required to fill critical gaps, including help with education, health and climate change, he said, adding that non-United Nations options must be explored in this regard.  The United Nations is not an appropriate vehicle to support the Joint Force, as it is not a multilateral force mandated as a peacekeeping operation on foreign soil.  Therefore, collective efforts must be made to go beyond a solely military response, and to tackle problems with governance.  He extended support to MINUSMA for its work and said its exit strategy is not aligned with that of the Joint Force’s counter-terrorism operation, adding:  “and nor should it be.”  He called on the Joint Force to strengthen accountability by fully implement its international humanitarian law compliance framework.  Further, he underlined the need for democratic transitions to take place in Mali and Chad, as it would pave the way for bilateral and regional support, which are currently restricted due to coups.

JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico), Security Council President for November, noted that the Council saw in its recent visit to the Sahel that insecurity is its main problem, fuelled by the growing activity of terrorist groups and intercommunal clashes over resources.  Adding that the security problem needs a response far beyond a military solution, he stressed the need to address the root causes of conflicts in the Sahel as well as the importance of including women in any efforts as agents of change.  Pointing to the Secretary‑General’s options to provide predictable and sustainable support to the Joint Force, he emphasized the need to resolve Council reservations on the matter, as any terrorist threat affects international peace and security.  He added, however, that any support to the Joint Force must be accompanied by full respect for the United Nations Charter, as well as international humanitarian and human rights law.

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