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Political Will Needed in Fighting Boko Haram, Delegates Stress, as Bolivia, Russian Federation Warn against Interventionism, ‘Outside Meddling’
Despite laudable progress towards democratic consolidation, the security situation in West Africa and the Sahel remained a concern, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council today, stressing that terrorism and violent extremism were hampering efforts to improve infrastructure and create jobs.
Those factors, said Mohamed Ibn Chambas — also Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) — combined with climate change, the “youth bulge”, unemployment and unchecked urbanization, constituted veritable “push factors” underpinning the surge in irregular migration and human trafficking.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the activities of UNOWAS (document S/2017/563), he said instability in Mali was spilling over into Burkina Faso and Niger, while terrorist activities in the Liptako Gourma region linking those countries had expanded significantly. Violent extremist groups had also targeted Burkina Faso’s northern provinces of Soum, Loroum and Yatenga, as well as Niger’s western regions of Tillaberi and Tahoua.
Equally challenging, he continued, was the “pole of insecurity” in the Lake Chad Basin area, where increasingly sophisticated attacks in the north-eastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri and in Diffa, south-eastern Niger, had raised suspicions that Boko Haram had acquired reinforcements. More broadly, smugglers of drugs, human beings and weapons throughout the region were criss-crossing borders and establishing new operational zones in areas from which the State had withdrawn or maintained only a tentative presence. The lawlessness stretched to the Gulf of Guinea, where criminals were resorting to piracy and hostage-taking, he said, noting that those activities had resulted in the displacement 5.2 million people across the region. Failure to provide basic services for the displaced risked derailing recent gains against Boko Haram, he warned.
Recalling that the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel presented a multi-dimensional approach to the region’s governance, security and resilience challenges, he said UNOWAS was complementing development interventions by United Nations country teams with targeted political measures and efforts to strengthen justice and rule-of-law institutions. It was to be hoped that countries would accelerate implementation of regional standards and national legislation promoting women’s participation in decision-making and overall respect for human rights, he added.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates agreed that Sahel countries faced enormous challenges. Several advocated continued cooperation with the African Union, the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the Manu River Union, among other subregional groups, to overcome negative trends.
Uruguay’s representative said political will was essential in fighting Boko Haram, and emphasized that the group’s former combatants must be reintegrated into society.
Kazakhstan’s representative said conflict prevention, mediation and cross-border security threats must remain at the top of the security agenda, adding that it was also essential to fight corruption, advance structural reforms and strengthen human rights, particularly for women.
Bolivia’s representative welcomed actual and pending constitutional reforms in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau, encouraging the Council to continue to work with the African Union in implementing the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.
In a similar vein, the Russian Federation’s representative said those working in the region must improve the Strategy’s effectiveness in coordinating assistance to national Governments. “The priority is the opinion of the countries for whom this Strategy has been developed,” he added, emphasizing that assistance must not be forced on African countries.
Both delegates criticized external actions. Bolivia’s representative described the crisis in the Sahel as a result of interventionist policies, emphasizing that the overthrow of Libya’s Government in 2011 had caused the proliferation of weapons and fighters in the region. The Russian Federation’s representative warned against “outside meddling”, while also recalling the regime change operation in Libya.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 10:38 a.m.
MOHAMED IBN CHAMBAS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), said that despite laudable progress towards democratic consolidation, the security situation in the region remained a concern. Terrorism, violent extremism and the humanitarian crisis were hampering efforts by Member States to deliver development, improve infrastructure, create jobs and strengthen human security, he said, noting that, alongside climate change, the youth bulge, unemployment and unchecked urbanization, they constituted “veritable push factors” underpinning the surge in irregular migration and human trafficking.
He went on to say that in the Sahel, persistent instability in Mali was spilling over into Burkina Faso and Niger, with deadly attacks in the border areas. The Liptako Gourma region linking Mali with those countries had seen a significant expansion of terrorist activities in recent months, including cross-border attacks against security posts and the ransacking of border settlements, he said, adding that violent extremist groups had also targeted Burkina Faso’s northern provinces of Soum, Loroum and Yatenga, as well as Niger’s western regions of Tillaberi and Tahoua.
Recalling the 24 January announcement that Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger would create a multinational securitization force under the auspices of the Liptako Gourma Authority, he said it had been made against the backdrop of discussions on operationalizing the G-5 Sahel Joint Force (Force conjointe du G5 Sahel), an initiative encompassing all three Liptako Gourma Authority countries, as well as Chad and Mauritania. The Security Council had welcomed that development in resolution 2359 (2017), he recalled, commending efforts by those countries to tackle security challenges at the national and regional levels. “More support is needed to assist them in this challenging task,” he emphasized.
Equally challenging was the “pole of insecurity” in the Lake Chad Basin area, he said, adding that recent attacks on Maiduguri, in north-eastern Nigeria, and on Diffa, in south-eastern Niger, had demonstrated the continuing threat posed by Boko Haram, he said, noting that the mode and sophistication of the group’s attacks had raised suspicions that it might have acquired reinforcements. The situation had created devastating humanitarian consequences, with up to 5.2 million people displaced across the region, he said, warning that failure to provide them with basic services risked derailing recent successes against Boko Haram.
He said that amid other pressing threats — intercommunal tensions in several countries, and clashes between farmers and herders across the region — the United Nations advocated for a regional solution, while supporting the strengthening of national peace architecture in various countries of the region. In addition, West Africa and the Sahel continued to feel the impact of transnational organized crime, he said, noting that smugglers of drugs, human beings and weapons were criss-crossing borders and establishing new operational zones where the State had withdrawn or maintained only a tentative presence. The lawlessness had stretched to the Gulf of Guinea, with criminals resorting to piracy and hostage-taking.
In that context, the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel presented a multidimensional approach to addressing governance, security and resilience challenges, he said. There had been progress in its implementation, notably by the Steering Committee, which had agreed in May and June on a division of responsibilities among United Nations entities covering advocacy, strategic guidance and programmatic activities. At the same time, the various country teams were stepping up efforts to ensure results.
In Burkina Faso and the Gambia, he continued, the United Nations continued to pursue the “sustaining peace” approach in support of the priorities of their respective Governments. UNOWAS was complementing development interventions by United Nations country teams with targeted political interventions and the strengthening of institutions in politically sensitive areas such as justice and the rule of law. He added that he would soon visit Côte d’Ivoire to work with Ivoirian stakeholders in sustaining national recovery, peace and security efforts. Given the recent mutinies that had threatened the country’s impressive recovery, it was imperative to provide continuous support so as to deepen reform of the defence and security sectors, as well as national reconciliation and disarmament, he stressed.
He went on to underline the importance of conducting national constitutional review efforts in an inclusive and transparent manner, recalling that he had engaged with national political stakeholders, civil society organizations and diplomatic partners with a view to building consensus on that and other critical issues. Expressing hope that countries would accelerate implementation of regional standards and national legislation promoting women’s participation in decision-making and overall respect for human rights, he pledged that UNOWAS would continue to work with all stakeholders to consolidate peace and stability in West Africa and the Sahel.