Need for Security Council Attention in Sahel ‘Greater than Ever’, Members Hear in Briefing, Warned of Criminal Networks, Disquieting Humanitarian Indicators
Weak institutions, cyclical environmental shocks, vast ungoverned spaces, fragile economies and poverty had contributed to suffering and created conditions for transnational criminal organizations in the Sahel, the Security Council heard today, as the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for the region said the need for sustaining the 15-member body’s attention there was “greater than ever”.
The crisis in Burkina Faso and the persistent conflict in Mali attested to the fact that efforts in the Sahel would not be productive until the countries of the region committed to some standards of governance, said Hiroute Guebre Sellassie in her briefing.
The security situation in the Sahel continued to be impacted by the crises in Libya, northern Nigeria, northern Mali and the Central African Republic, she said, adding that persistent allegations that the Islamic State had set up training camps in Libya were particularly worrisome. The unspeakable Boko Haram atrocities in northern Nigeria had become a major threat to some Sahel communities and countries.
While the interconnections between terrorist and criminal networks in Libya, Mali and northern Nigeria were becoming clearer, she said, humanitarian indicators across the Sahel remained disquieting, with food insecurity, malnutrition, and displacements on the rise since the last reporting period.
Highlighting achievements in mainstreaming the priorities of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel into the existing programming frameworks in the resilience, governance and security pillars, she said several non-United Nations partners continued to implement complementary initiatives.
Welcoming the integration of national strategies, the representative of the United States said the primary focus should not be so much on process, but on outcomes. The measure of success was real solutions that address security, humanitarian, and governance problems.
The representative of Nigeria said that fighting extremist groups in the Sahel should remain a top priority for the international community, and Governments in the region must address the root causes of the extremism. There were many unique cultural and linguistic identities in the region, the representative of Jordan said, adding that marginalizing them only exacerbated the conflict.
Speaking in his national capacity, the representative of Chad underscored that youth unemployment led to terrorism and extremism, and voiced confidence that the integrated strategy would bring about socioeconomic and governance benefits.
The representative of the Russian Federation said it would be fundamentally flawed to view the region as a ground for competition among donors, warning against intervention in the internal affairs of countries under any pretext.
Also making statements today were the representatives of Argentina, Australia, Chile, China, France, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Republic of Korea, Rwanda and the United Kingdom. Ms. Sellassie responded to comments and questions from representatives.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at noon.
HIROUTE GUEBRE SELLASSIE, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, said the particular and sustained attention of the Security Council had enabled a regional approach towards addressing regional challenges. The recent Ebola epidemic in Mali underlined the urgency of sustained efforts to prevent its spread. The crisis in Burkina Faso and the persistent conflict in Mali attested to the fact that efforts in the Sahel would not be productive until the countries of the region committed to some standards of governance.
The security situation in the Sahel continued to be impacted by the crises in Libya, northern Nigeria, northern Mali and the Central African Republic. The persistent allegations that the Islamic State had set up training camps in Libya were particularly worrisome. If the situation in Libya was not quickly brought under control, many States in the region could be destabilized. In Mali, despite progress achieved in the inter-Malian talks in Algiers, the security situation in the north had deteriorated, with the intensification of deadly attacks targeting peacekeepers and communities along the border with Niger. It was encouraging that the recent meeting, hosted by Niger, of African troop-contributing countries to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) had concluded that there was a need to strengthen regional security cooperation mechanisms. She was also pleased that the Council had held a brainstorming session to consider options to address the challenges, including through the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel.
The unspeakable Boko Haram atrocities in northern Nigeria had become a major threat to some Sahel communities and countries. An estimated 100,000 had fled to the Diffa region of Niger and some 10,000 were in Chad and Cameroon. Perhaps more alarming were the recent allegations that Boko Haram was recruiting rebels from among the refugee populations. The interconnections between terrorist and criminal networks in Libya, Mali and northern Nigeria were becoming clearer. Those networks provided the markets for the exchange of weapons, fighters and other forms of illicit trade, she said, adding that an estimated 20,000 firearms form Libya had crossed into the Sahel, and cocaine worth $1.25 billion had been dumped in West Africa through transit through the region. The profits from that illicit trafficking exceeded the security budgets of most countries in the region. Her office intended to work more closely with MINUSMA, the United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIL) and other relevant entities in order to enhance regional analysis and programming.
Calling for particular attention to the thousands of migrants who crossed the Sahel and the Sahara en route to Europe and the Middle East, she said 60 per cent of the human trafficking victims detected in the region were children. Humanitarian indicators across the Sahel remained disquieting, with food insecurity, malnutrition, and displacements on the rise since the last reporting period. With just over $1.1 billion provided by donors against a $1.9 billion appeal, humanitarian interventions remained underfunded. She had convened a meeting of major partners in November, which had resulted in the establishment of an International Contact Group on the Sahel, and had been engaging with Governments and regional organizations in order to enhance regional ownership of the integrated strategy.
Highlighting achievements in mainstreaming the priorities of the strategy into the existing programming frameworks in the resilience, governance and security pillars, she said several non-United Nations partners continued to implement complementary initiatives. The World Bank had launched a new multi-donor Sahel Adaptive Social Protection Trust Fund and the African Development Bank had approved a $240 million programme to enhance agricultural productivity. The African Union was promoting a regional approach to address security threats.
Given the deterioration of the political and security situation in the region and the adverse impact on humanitarian and development gains, the need for sustaining Council attention on the Sahel was greater than ever. Despite the enormous strides made by her office in helping put together the necessary structures and coordination mechanism, the situation called for Governments in the region to improve governance and work towards greater regional cooperation and economic integration.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) stated that the countries of the Sahel faced many complex threats, the most visible among them being violent extremism. Weak institutions, cyclical environmental shocks, vast ungoverned spaces, fragile economies and poverty had contributed to suffering and created conditions for transnational criminal organizations to thrive. Commending the Sahel States for their efforts to tackle those problems, he added that the Group of Five for the Sahel was promoting funding initiatives to assist them. Welcoming the integration of national strategies, he said, “Our primary focus should not so much be on process, but on outcomes.” The measure of success was real solutions that addressed security, humanitarian, and governance problems. It was also important that the Sahel States took ownership of solutions. The United States was committed to supporting the wider promotion of regional stability. President Barack Obama had announced the Security Governance initiative to fund security sector reforms in the region.
GARY FRANCIS QUINLAN (Australia) stated that that the sharp rise in targeted attacks against peacekeepers in Mali, the barbaric terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, and the political crisis in Burkina Faso, among others, had exacerbated the region’s problems, which also hosted more than 1 million refugees. With the large number of actors in the Sahel, coordination was vital, but that was not a substitute for concrete action. Breaking down institutional barriers between the different organizations in the region was crucial, and Australia asked for greater clarity on the division of labour between the Special Envoy’s office and the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA). The participation of the Group of Five was a signal of increasing coherence.
At the same time, he said, Al‑Qaida was exploiting local conflicts and criminal networks, and small arms smuggling was increasing, especially in Libya. It was essential to establish programmes targeting youth, almost half of whom were unemployed and susceptible to extremism. The key was for all United Nations entities in the region to work together in support of solutions that targeted organized crime and terrorism, while also tackling the root causes of poverty.
MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) said it was important to not lose sight of the Sahel region, which had so far avoided a full-blown Ebola crisis. The Sahel region remained on the front lines of terrorism, drug trafficking and instability. The situation in Burkina Faso underscored the need for sustained international effort in early intervention. Success in Mali continued to elude the international community, he said, adding that only a political settlement could resolve the conflict there. The parties in Mali were primarily responsible for the attainment of peace and stability and must redouble their efforts. The Boko Haram threat had spurred greater cooperation in addressing the threat, however the growth of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL) risked further destabilization. While the integrated strategy’s three pillars was the right way ahead, much more could be done, including through regional cooperation.
SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg) said the briefing underscored the importance of a coordinated and coherent regional approach to the Sahel region. The security situation there had continued to worsen since the last reporting period, she said, adding that the humanitarian situation also had been exacerbated by the increasing violence. No State was in a position to face the threat alone and sustained regional cooperation was critical. The Ministerial Coordination Platform for the Sahel and the Sahel Group of Five were important achievements, she said, while seeking details from the Special Envoy on ways to coordinate the efforts. Accountable institutions capable of providing basic services must be built and the participation of women and civil society must be encouraged.
KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) said that fighting extremist groups in the Sahel should remain a top priority for the international community. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons contributed to the insecurity, along with porous borders and vast uninhabited spaces. Nigeria was actively engaged in cross-border intelligence and encouraged genuine cooperation between countries of the region. Turning to governance, he said that Governments must address the root causes of extremism, and political leaders must promote inclusion and foster a sense of belonging for all groups. The humanitarian situation remained fragile and human rights organizations, within and outside the United Nations, were bringing relief to millions. But much more needed to be done and the international community must sustain its engagement.
DINA KAWAR (Jordan) said that the Sahel had become a fertile ground for terrorism and the Al‑Qaida, the Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups had taken advantage of that. Economic vulnerability, climate change, and food insecurity were other overlapping issues. Only regional cooperation would achieve peace and security. The United Nations must “activate preventive diplomacy” and redouble its efforts to enhance coordination. It was also important to note that there were many unique cultural and linguistic identities in the region, and marginalizing them only exacerbated the conflict. Therefore, long-term solutions to the problems of the region called for social participation and consensus. Regional organizations played a key role in implementing measures to achieve stability, and more must be done to support Government efforts at building institutional capacity.
CARLOS OLGUÍN CIGARROA (Chile) said implementation of the integrated strategy was of great importance and it should consider, not only security, but also development and inclusion, in a way that would help bring the peoples of the region out of poverty. There must be national ownership of solutions, he said, commending the Group of Five and the Ministerial Platform as important initiatives. The democratic system was the best way to bring about fair economic development and peaceful coexistence. Also important was the Council’s work to protect civilians and internally displaced persons. Terrorism, criminal activity and now Ebola threatened the region, which underscored the need for joint efforts by the international and national authorities.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said the briefing underlined the complexity of the challenges gripping the region as well as the need for sustained international attention. Positive action would require a steady fine-tuning of international efforts through a single nucleus. It would be fundamentally flawed to view the region as a ground for competition among donors. The so-called Arab Spring and external intervention in Libya had exacerbated regional tensions, he said, warning against intervention in the internal affairs of countries under any pretext.
MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) said that the integrated strategy was a significant step towards a comprehensive focus on the Sahel. Recognizing the importance of coherence and coordination, she added that it was vital to not get lost in the conflicts’ individual characteristics. The integrated approach took into account both the humanitarian and security aspects, aiming at eradicating poverty and terrorism. The serious situation in the Sahel was a reminder of the need to tackle the structural causes of conflict; a response focused on security was not enough. Security did not bring about development and progress, and strengthening rule of law was not the only solution to the problem. “We also need to look at ourselves as an international community and ask if we couldn’t make a contribution to sustainable development by changing how the global economic system works,” she said. Global finance should be at the service of development instead of simply producing and reproducing injustice.
LIU JIEYI (China) cited the region’s multiple challenges, such as the fragile security situation and the spread of terrorism. The Sahel covered a broad area with intertwined conflicts. China believed that issues should be tackled with measures at the national, regional and international levels. Settling regional hotspot issues such as Libya and Mali was a priority. The international community should take targeted measures to improve security while respecting national sovereignty, as that would “reduce heat at the hotspot”. Proactive support for regional and subregional organizations was also crucial. African regional organizations enjoyed a unique advantage in resolving the problems and must be offered more support. The tripartite cooperation between the United Nations, financial institutions, and regional organizations must continue. China attached great importance to its relationship with Africa and would continue to support the concerned countries at the bilateral level.
EMMANUEL NIBISHAKA (Rwanda) said terrorism and extremism were gaining ground in the Sahel, threatening political stability and undermining the search for peace. The interlinked challenges should be addressed in a coherent manner; that task was daunting but not unattainable. Implementation of the integrated strategy must be nationally owned, and greater coordination and cooperation among international partners and institutions must be encouraged to foster efficiency and to avoid duplication. The Strategy must be reviewed and adapted in line with realities on the ground.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the stabilization of Mali was crucial to peace and security in the Sahel. He welcomed the involvement of Algeria and the United Nations in recent initiatives to promote a settlement there and urged national authorities to compromise in a spirit of cooperation. France’s Sahel-Sahara strategy focused on key priorities such as social development and cohesion, institution-building and regional security and stability. Its military operation in the region, at the request of the countries there, aimed to combat terrorism at the regional level and to develop security capacities of Governments. The growing partnership among international institutions had been coupled by regional initiatives such as the Ministerial Platform and the Group of Five, and those should be bolstered. The integrated strategy must address all of the region’s challenges and the people must be central to determining their future.
NIDA JAKUBONĖ (Lithuania) said that the deterioration of the political, security, and humanitarian situation in the Sahel region called for complex, well-coordinated responses and the international community’s consistent engagement. Enhanced intelligence-sharing, reinforcement of existing mechanisms, and regular meetings of the intelligence and security services of the countries of the Sahelo-Saharan region should be considered. The United Nations counter-terrorism machinery must continue to assist the countries. It was regrettable that there was not yet a sustainable peace agreement to the crisis in Mali, while Libya risked becoming another hotbed of radical extremism and terrorism. Lithuania commended the joint efforts of the Organization, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States in Burkina Faso and would remain vigilant about the political situation there.
OH JOON (Republic of Korea) said that since the joint high-level visit to the Sahel region led by the Secretary‑General last year, the international community had scaled up political commitments and resources to meet the multitude of threats. However, the region continued to face persistent challenges, for which the integrated strategy was crucial. Building security capabilities and strengthening regional security cooperation was essential and should include more effective border controls and counter-terrorism operations. To ensure lasting peace in the region, it was imperative to tackle chronic problems such as environmental degradation, food insecurity, and youth unemployment. Long-term solutions would build the region’s resiliency. Coherence and coordination between the initiatives was important to ensure that resources were utilized most effectively.
MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad), speaking in his national capacity, said that “the international community has no time to waste”. Welcoming the mobilization of resources, he underscored that youth unemployment led to terrorism and extremism. Chad condemned the terrorist attacks, especially those against MINUSMA soldiers, and remained confident that the integrated strategy would bring about socioeconomic and governance benefits. Chad hoped that with the establishment of peace and security, development would follow. Reiterating the presidential statement of August, he urged strengthened information exchanges with the region’s countries, and asked the Special Envoy for more detail about enhancing cooperation for security.
Responding to the comments and questions of members, Ms. Sellassie said international organizations had been working in partnership in the Sahel. With the strengthening of the coordination mechanism, she expected cooperation to be further consolidated.
On the demarcation of responsibilities between the United Nations Office for West Africa and her office, she said part of the Sahel was in West Africa and, therefore, the entities had clearly defined roles.
In terms of coordination among regional bodies, Mali, as chair of the Ministerial Platform, had invited the Group of Five to its third meeting. The Group, organized to promote national ownership, had become part of the Platform, and the roles of the two entities had been clarified. Her office sought to enhance cooperation among countries through advocacy as well.