8698th Security Council Meeting: Peace Consolidation in West Africa

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08-Jan-2020 01:38:29
Amid unprecedented violence, escalation of terrorist attacks in West Africa, United Nations Regional Office needs greater role, speakers tell Security Council at 8698th meeting.

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The United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) has an increasingly important role as the countries in the region seek to counter an unprecedented level of violence, relentless terrorism and other cross-border threats, speakers said today, as the Security Council continued to discuss the Office’s mandate renewal.

“Stakes are high in the region this year, both in terms of security and political developments,” said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of UNOWAS, calling for the Council’s continued full support to his Office.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Office in a biannual briefing, he said that since July, the region has experienced a “devastating” surge in terrorist attacks against military and civilian targets, with alarming humanitarian consequences.

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, deaths from terrorist attacks jumped five-fold from 2016 to more than 4,000 in 2019, with the geographic focus of attacks shifting eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso, increasingly threatening West African coastal States, he said. In Burkina Faso, casualties surged from about 80 in 2016 to more than 1,800 in 2019, the number of displaced persons rose 10-fold to about 500,000, and an additional 25,000 sought refuge in other countries.

Stressing the importance of regional cooperation, he recalled that at a summit on 21 December, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a 2020-2024 action plan to eradicate terrorism in the subregion and pledged to mobilize $1 billion internally. UNOWAS also worked closely with the Mano River Union to resuscitate the Basin’s cross-border security and confidence-building measures.

In the ensuing debate, Council members expressed concern about the spread of terrorism and organized crime in the region, including to previously unaffected countries, and its humanitarian impact. They roundly condemned attacks against civilians, security and defence forces, as well as peacekeepers, stressing that intercommunal and sectarian violence is jeopardizing regional growth, and requires development-focused political and security approaches to tackle poverty, unemployment and other underlying causes of instability.

The speakers for Belgium and South Africa called for effective steps to resolve violent clashes between farmers and herders, with the latter welcoming collaboration between UNOWAS, the Peacebuilding Support Office and the Peacebuilding Fund to support cross-border programmes in that regard.

Tunisia’s delegate noted that the security situations in the Sahel, West Africa and the Maghreb are inextricably linked, while his Russian Federation counterpart said that the real trigger of the current crisis was the reckless action of those who wreaked havoc in Libya. If the situation in that country is not stabilized, it will hardly be possible to achieve peace and stability in the Sahel, he added.

They agreed that that the Multinational Joint Task Force and the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel) require more international support and joined other Council members in calling for the strengthening of UNOWAS mandate, which is set to expire on 31 January. In December, the Council decided to renew the mission for one month to have more time to examine the Secretary-General’s proposal for the mandate.

Niger’s delegate recommended that UNOWAS be given a mandate to address the challenges posed by terrorism and intercommunal conflict, in addition to supporting political processes. He cautioned that combating terrorism accounts for 15 to 30 per cent of national budget, diverting resources from other socioeconomic priorities such as sustainable development.

Indonesia’s delegate said that the Council should task UNOWAS with: continuing its good offices roles, including in the context of electoral processes or peace processes; conducting regional political and security analysis; and enhancing synergies and complementariness with the United Nations country team, regional and subregional organizations.

France’s delegate, pointing to the region’s strategic importance for her country and the European Union, said that President Emmanuel Macron will meet on 13 January with the Presidents of the G-5 Sahel countries and other multilateral partners to devise a common road map, expressing support for the renewal of UNOWAS mandate, with its coordination role augmented.

Germany’s delegate, expressing deep concern over increased terrorist acts and both ethnic and social conflict, said that cross-cutting issues aggravating such challenges must be reflected in the renewed UNOWAS mandate, including the security implications of climate change.

Many Council members - including the speaker for Viet Nam, Council President for January, and the representative of the United States - also stressed the need for the peaceful holding of upcoming presidential elections in six West African countries – Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger and Togo, as some tensions are foreseen.

Today’s meeting was the Council’s first formal meeting in 2020, with Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Viet Nam replacing Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Peru and Poland as non-permanent members.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, China and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 10 a.m. and ended at 11:39 a.m.

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