Peace and security in Africa - Security Council, 9035th meeting
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Report of the Secretary-General on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (S/2022/382) 

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Terrorism in the Sahel is a slow-burning, mortal threat, a senior United Nations peace operations official told the Security Council today as speakers expressed alarm about the recent departure of Mali from the region’s security architecture.

Briefing the 15-member body 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), Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, highlighted the impact of the 15 May decision by the Malian transition authorities to withdraw from the G5 Sahel and its Joint Force.

Noting that the operationalization of the Joint Force was already suffering due to the uncertain political transitions in Mali and Burkina Faso, she pointed out that the G5 Sahel, whose Heads of State created the Force in 2017 to tackle terrorism head on, has not convened a high-level political meeting since November 2021.  Also stressing the importance of upholding human rights, she pointed to the unique challenge of uprooting terrorism in Sahel where terrorist groups are often deeply embedded within communities.  If civilians fall victim to counter-terrorism operations, those efforts will only undermine trust in the State, she warned.

Underscoring that the international community, donors and partners have struggled to reach a consensus on the most effective support mechanism for a collective security response in the Sahel, she told the Council that it is time to rethink current approaches.  Urging stakeholders to agree on how to best bring the transitions in Mali and Burkina Faso to a swift conclusion, she said the countries of the region need to bridge their differences and pursue common security aims.

Also briefing the Council was Eric Tiaré, Executive Secretary of the G5 Sahel, who recalled that the Group, based on the shared understanding that no country can combat terrorism alone, was established under the chairmanship of Mali with 55,000 troops.  Describing the withdrawal of that country from the G5 Sahel as unfortunate, he underscored the need to pull resources together and pointed to the impact of COVID-19, as well as sanctions.  The Joint Force was able to carry out 26 operations since 2019, he noted, adding that it has also established a standard operating procedure to abide by international humanitarian and human rights law.

The Council also heard from Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Coordinator and President of the Rights and Resources Initiative, who cautioned delegates about the dangers of analysing conflict dynamics in the Sahel without considering the impact of climate change.  All political stabilization efforts must consider intersecting issues related to environmental degradation, demographic factors, changes in livelihoods and weak governance, she stressed.  Foreign and national Governments must move beyond counter-terrorism and divert a greater share of resources towards reconciliation and tangibly improving vulnerable people’s livelihoods, she emphasized.

In the ensuing discussion, several Council members expressed concern over Mali’s departure from the G5 Sahel Joint Force and highlighted the volatile security and humanitarian situation in the region.  They also stressed the importance of accountability and upholding human rights standards in the battle against terrorism.

Mali is at the centre of the Sahel crisis, as well as a crucial regional partner, the representative of Ghana, also speaking for Kenya and Gabon, noted.  Expressing concern about the country’s decision to further isolate itself by withdrawing from the G5 Sahel Joint Force, he urged its authorities to engage in dialogue and called on G5 Sahel member countries to deal with the political leadership crisis.  Acknowledging the funding and logistical challenges that have affected the Joint Force’s effectiveness, he said the Force would benefit from predictable funding, as well as the establishment of a United Nations support office.

Likewise, France’s delegate said creation of such an office would have helped avoid the current difficulties, as lack of support can lead to countries turning to dangerous solutions such as mercenaries.  He highlighted the European Union’s support for the G5 and cautioned against arriving at hasty conclusions regarding the G5’s future, noting that the Joint Force was able to conduct operations in the last six months.

The situation in the Sahel “is deteriorating at a rate that defies belief”, Ireland’s delegate said, pointing to the high rates of terrorism, food insecurity and human rights violations.  Voicing regret over the Malian transitional authorities’ decision to withdraw from the G5 Sahel, she called for regionally led initiatives, supported by predictable and sustainable funding.  Also stressing the importance of respecting human rights and international humanitarian law while tackling terrorism, she stressed:  “We simply cannot compromise on basic accountability and standards.”

Echoing the call for civilian rule as soon as possible in Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali, the representative of the United States said the Russian Federation-backed Wagner Group is the newest variable in regional instability.  Across Africa, its forces are actively undermining stability, rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights, he said, adding that it often targets marginalized groups, exploiting long-standing grievances that fuel violent extremist recruitment.

Along similar lines, the representative of the United Kingdom urged the Malian authorities to end their relationship with the Wagner Group, highlighting its track record of exploiting natural resources and spreading destabilizing disinformation.  MINUSMA must have unfettered access to conduct a transparent and independent investigation into allegations that Malian troops, operating alongside Wagner mercenaries, massacred civilians in March, she said.

The Russian Federation’s delegate said that Mali’s decision to withdraw from G5 Sahel, caused by the confrontational behaviour of its neighbours, is logical.  Due to Western pressure, especially from France, she said, that country was denied the Group’s presidency, and the February summit of the Joint Force, which it was supposed to chair, was never held.  Noting the role of Western mercenaries in multiple coups d’état in Africa, she also pointed to the impact of Western and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sanctions against Mali.  Her country will continue to extend bilateral support to African countries to improve their military capabilities, she said.

Mexico’s delegate noted the plethora of new stakeholders in the Sahel and pointed out that the deterioration in security coincides with disruptions in constitutional order in three of the member countries of the G5.  That is “not a simple coincidence”, he said, urging the authorities in Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso to re-establish order and work to create the political conditions needed for a stable and prosperous Sahel.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council observed a moment of silence in memory of the United Arab Emirates President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who died on 13 May.  Thanking delegates afterwards, the representative of the United Arab Emirates described Sheikh Khalifa as a distinguished leader and visionary man, who inspired his people with his dedication and humility.  He was a strong advocate for multilateralism and a true champion of the most vulnerable, she said, highlighting the many strides her country made during his tenure.

Also speaking today were representatives of Albania, Brazil, China, India and Norway.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:54 a.m.