Peace and Security in Africa - Security Council Open VTC

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16-Nov-2020 01:39:23
Ignoring Sahel region will have ‘disastrous implications’ for West Africa, peace operations chief warns Security Council.

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The United Nations will assess, in early 2021, the support provided by its peacekeeping mission in Mali to the joint counter-terrorism force for Africa’s Sahel region, the head of the Organization’s peace operations told the Security Council during a 16 November videoconference meeting.

“We should be mindful of the disastrous implications of the security situation for the rest of the West African region if the situation in the Sahel is not adequately addressed,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, in his briefing on the Secretary-General’s report on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (document S/2020/1074).

The assessment will highlight the progress and challenges in implementing the enhanced support mandate given to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), he said, noting that the conclusions and recommendations will be reflected on the Secretary-General’s second quarterly report on MINUSMA.

Mr. Lacroix emphasized that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, counter‑terrorism efforts in the Sahel have intensified, with the increased coordination of security players on the ground allowing for a more visible presence of defence and security forces in the region, as well as stepped‑up pressure on terrorist groups. The joint force — established by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, known as the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), in 2017 — remains a vital part of security responses to address extremist armed groups, as well as other cross-border challenges, including trafficking in persons, illicit goods, weapons and drugs, he added.

Since the last report of the Secretary-General, he continued, the joint force has continued to rise in its operational strengths, with Operation Sama 1 leading to significant losses on the part of terrorist armed groups. Operation Sama 2, launched on 1 August, is expected to last until the end of January 2021, with equally high hopes for a positive impact.

Going forward, he said, strengthening the joint force’s police component would be an important step to improving oversight of military operations, linking them to State‑building and supporting justice sector and prison reform, as well as efforts under the human rights compliance framework.

Turning to the implementation of the human rights and international humanitarian law compliance framework of the joint force and the human rights due diligence policy, he said that, while essential work remains pending, the joint force has taken significant steps in the right direction.

The provision of life support consumables by MINUSMA has proven essential to sustain the joint force, notably during the rainy season, he noted. Further to the Security Council’s authorization of MINUSMA to engage commercial contractors to deliver life support consumables to the joint force contingents operating outside of Mali, the Mission began making appropriate arrangements to implement such support, including the advancement of the procurement process. However, the current support model presents challenges, including unpredictable funding and the quarterly planning cycle that makes detailed needs assessments difficult.

The representative of Mali, also speaking on behalf of the four other members of the G5 Sahel, welcomed increasing international cooperation with the region, as well as the growing operational capacity of the bloc’s joint force. In recent months, its troops have carried out numerous operations, neutralizing dozens of terrorist fighters, destroying terrorist bases and combating trafficking in drugs, weapons and human beings. However, he said, the region’s security situation remains a source of concern, and a security-based response alone cannot guarantee peace. In that vein, he outlined the Group’s various development projects and investments, underscoring its belief that security matters, poverty, lack of governance, exclusion, economic challenges and the impacts of climate change must be dealt with holistically.

“We’re working to improve the lives of our population, especially women and children,” he said. Calling upon all the region’s international partners to speed up their contributions to the G5 Sahel and its projects, he welcomed support from the Alliance for the Sahel in particular. Turning to the human rights situation, he emphasized the Group’s commitment to carry out all counter-terrorism operations in strict respect for human rights. He welcomed the outcome of the round tables convened in September by the European Union, Germany and Denmark — during which participants pledged $1.7 billion in humanitarian support to the Sahel region — while calling for further support, a robust MINUSMA mandate under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations and sustainable funding for the G5 Sahel joint force to be provided through the United Nations regular budget.

Also briefing on the Council was Koen Vervaeke, Managing Director for Africa, European External Action Service, who said that, despite the massive support of the international community and the significant investment by the European Union, the situation in the Sahel remains worrying. The European Union continues to remain mobilized while adapting its approach. At the sixth ministerial meeting between the Union and the G5 Sahel, participants had a first exchange of views on the ongoing review of the Union’s Sahel strategy: its future approach is intended to be more ambitious and produce concrete results. The new approach centres on support for genuinely inclusive governance, especially of women and young people.

Citing the lack of adequate means of transport for the joint force, he stressed that the Union provided more than €254.4 million to the force, enabling the delivery of 46 armoured personnel carriers, equipped with radios. The civil political transition in Mali constitutes an opportunity to reform modes of governance, including the return to constitutional order, the fight against impunity and corruption, security sector reform and the restoration of State authority to the entire territory. The implementation of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali will be more priority than ever.

Robert Keith Rae (Canada), speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that, while some progress has been made in recent years in the Sahel region — including in the fight against terrorism — serious challenges remain. Those include a deteriorating security and humanitarian situation, rising levels of displacement, social and economic inequalities, environmental degradation and such cross-border risks as terrorist group movement and trafficking in small arms, light weapons and drugs. Rising tensions between pastoralists and farmers, high levels of youth unemployment, gender inequality, climate change impacts and the recent unprecedented peaks of food insecurity also posed serious threats.

“Many of these challenges have been exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic,” he said. For peacebuilding activities to be truly sustainable, all human rights violations and abuses must also be fully investigated, and those responsible held accountable. Spotlighting the challenges faced by women in the subregion, including sexual and gender-based violence, he advocated for better access to credit by women entrepreneurs as a necessary condition for sustainable development. “These are complex challenges which require a comprehensive approach to address root causes of conflict in the Sahel, prevent further escalation of conflict, build and sustain peace and promote sustainable development,” he said, also noting the need for stronger regional approaches with a focus on cross-border challenges and more engagement with regional partners.

For its part, he said, the Peacebuilding Commission has welcomed the recalibrated United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel and its United Nations support plan. Among other things, the Commission uses its convening power to mobilize support for the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy, collaborating with the Sahelian countries, G5 Sahel, African Union, European Union and others. It also welcomed recent contributions to the Peacebuilding Fund in the amount of $137 million across 10 countries, representing 25 per cent of the Fund’s resources between 2017 and 2019. The Commission is also addressing the growing humanitarian needs and the impact of COVID-19 containment measures in Burkina Faso and stands committed to helping the country consolidate peacebuilding gains and address the pandemic’s socioeconomic impacts.

Calling for additional resources to help countries of the Sahel counter the coronavirus more broadly, he welcomed the Council’s recent request for joint reporting by the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and the Regional Sustainable Development Group to the Peacebuilding Commission. Partnerships with international financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Development Bank are also crucial for the subregion, particularly in the context of recovery from the pandemic, he said.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members exchanged views on ways to effectively support the joint force, including the establishment of a dedicated support office funded by assessed contributions from Member States. Several delegations called on the members of the joint force to respect the rule of law and protect human rights, urging investigations allegedly committed by them against civilians.

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