Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sahel: UN Lays Out Progress in Developing Integrated Regional Strategy for Political, Economic, Humanitarian, Human Rights Challenges

Source: UN Security Council

Political Affairs Head, Jeffrey Feltman, Briefs; C ôte d’Ivoire,
on behalf of West African States, Updates on Proposed Mali Stabilization Force

The kinds of stress factors tearing at Mali’s social and political fabric reflected the deep-seated fragilities stretching across the broader Sahel region, and it was critical for the international community to commit to dealing effectively with the underlying structural causes of that vulnerability, the Security Council was told today.

With that assessment, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman laid out the progress made in developing an integrated response strategy for the Sahel, as requested of the Secretary-General by the Council, in its resolution 2056 (2012) of 5 July. His briefing was followed by a statement by Côte d’Ivoire’s Ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, on behalf of the Chairman of the Authority of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State and Government.

The strategy, explained Mr. Feltman, encompassed security, governance, development, human rights and humanitarian dimensions. It was comprehensive in scope, preventive in nature, respectful of States’ human rights obligations, and built on regional mechanisms. Its focus would be on areas where the United Nations could best engage on regional or cross-border issues and help strengthen regional and subregional cooperation, he said, drawing attention to the planned 26 September high-level meeting of the Secretary-General, the key objective of which was to present the strategy and generate broad support for its implementation.

He said the region was receiving renewed attention as a result of the complex and deeply worrisome crisis in Mali, whose components were not unique to that country. Politically, the Sahel region had long been characterized by cyclical instability and unconstitutional changes in government. State fragility was also visible in the economic and social spheres, given the limited capacity of authorities to deliver basic services and institutionalize dialogue.

Economically, he said, the Sahel States suffered from extreme poverty, with human development levels among the lowest in the world. Socially, the region suffered from fractures rooted in societal divides in some countries of the region. Political uprisings in those countries had been spurred as much along ethnic lines, including successive Tuareg revolts in Niger and Mali and political conflicts in Mauritania. While States recognized the need to engage inclusively with the population to heal the social rifts that divided it, in a context of weak institutions, corruption and marginalization, that had proved difficult.

The challenges in the Sahel were not only political, but also involved the areas of security, humanitarian resilience and human rights, he said. The long, porous State borders of the region presented a significant security challenge because they facilitated the activities of transnational crime and terrorist groups, especially in remote and poorly administered regions. Porous borders also facilitated trafficking in arms, drugs and persons. Coupled with the effects of continued internal armed conflict, those threats undermined economic development.

Human rights challenges stemmed from a mix of long-standing weaknesses in the rule of law, social exclusion and discrimination, he said. Countries in the Sahel had traditionally suffered from weak human rights protection systems, with judiciaries that often lacked independence or resources. Accountability was also lacking and discrimination against women and minorities was commonplace.

Too often households and communities did not have the capability to withstand the damaging effects of the multiple climate and market shocks, he said. For the most vulnerable, survival strategies during a severe crisis included selling off assets, particularly livestock, pulling children out of school, reducing the quantity and nutritional quality of food, and consuming grain that might be required as seed for the next planting season. While those might save some lives, such strategies compromised the ability of households to rebuild after a crisis and also had a life-long impact on children’s development. To break that negative spiral, he advocated for programmes that supported the households most vulnerable to humanitarian crisis.

Turning to the humanitarian plight of the people of the Sahel, he said the emergency this year — the third of its scale since 2005 — had put more than 18 million people at risk of food insecurity and more than 1 million children at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Six million people had received food and nutrition assistance since the beginning of the year, and 520,000 children had been admitted to malnutrition treatment.

To respond to the unfolding emergency, he said, humanitarian partners had boosted their capacity on the ground. However, several critical sectors remained underfunded, notably health, education, water and the response to refugees. Of the $1.6 billion required for the response, only 54 per cent had been funded so far. Compounding that situation was the flooding, which had affected most countries of the region since mid-August.

Food and nutrition insecurity might ease in October with the first harvest and subsequent drop in food prices, but many individual households would continue to feel the consequences of the crisis, he noted. As humanitarian agencies provided life-saving assistance and addressed the most acute needs, it was also critical to collectively aim to rebuild assets, support livelihoods, scale up social protection, and provide access to basic services.

Returning to the blueprint for the United Nations integrated response, he said engagements would be anchored on national ownership and driven by regional needs, in a fluid exchange with implementing partners and Sahel countries. The United Nations could also, among others, establish a forum for discussing and coordinating the strategies of regional and international partners. It could also provide expertise and support the sharing of national-level experiences in disaster risk reduction, agricultural production and grazing patterns, social safety nets and environmental sustainability and water management.

Further, he said, the United Nations would promote conciliation, mediation and arbitration and strengthen local and regional capacity to prevent cross-border tension and local conflicts. Incorporating a human rights-based approach, the strategy could assist in the development of regional schemes to counter terrorism and organized crime. The United Nations could provide expertise on developing legal and institutional frameworks and anti-money laundering measures, as well as regional approaches to address arms proliferation and improve border management.

He concluded by calling on Council members and the wider international community to support United Nations efforts in developing the strategy, as well as supporting the humanitarian appeal. He offered assurance that the Organization would remain committed to building the capacity of the States in the Sahel to secure peace and stability for the region.

Speaking next, Ambassador Bamba said that since the Council had last been briefed on the situation, Interim President Dioncounda Traore, who retuned to Mali on 27 July, had addressed the nation, pledging to facilitate the formation of a national unity Government. The interim leader had also urged the people of Mali to welcome the support being provided by ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations in resolving the “double crisis”. Subsequently, on 20 August, the Prime Minister had announced the formation of a 32-member unity Government, the composition of which had met with “mixed reactions” inside Mali and throughout the international community, as questions were raised as to whether it truly reflected Mali’s diversity.

He said little progress had been made on the implementation of the road map towards the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible elections in the course of the transition, largely due to the precarious security situation in the north, and the continued resistance in Bamako by “marginal forces” to smooth implementation of the transition arrangements.

On the security situation, he said that rebel and terrorist groups in Mali’s northern region had taken advantage of the near political paralysis in Bamako to consolidate their positions. On 1 September, Islamist extremists from the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) had captured the strategic town of Douentza, about 170 kilometres from Mopti, the last major Government-controlled garrison town immediately outside rebel-held territory. In another development, on 8 September, “jittery” Government troops had allegedly shot and killed 16 unarmed Islamic clerics of the Dawa Sect, some of whom were from Mauritania, mistaking them for MUJAO militants.

Turning to the plan to recover Mali’s territorial integrity, he said that following protracted deliberations between the ECOWAS Technical Assessment Mission, the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff and Malian military and civilian authorities had finally formally addressed the request for the provision of assistance from ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations. As welcome as that new development had been, it had nevertheless fallen short of ECOWAS expectations.

Indeed, he said, the request had ruled out the ECOWAS Standby Force Mission in Mali (MICEMA) in the first two phases of the planned deployment. Such deployment would have provided assistance to secure republican institutions during the transition, as well as to train and reorganize Malian forces. Instead, the request had limited the planned assistance to only the provision of equipment, logistics and intelligence. It allowed for deployment of troops only in Phase III of the plan, through which Mali’s territorial integrity would be restored.

Meanwhile, he continued, the ECOWAS Heads of State had decided to delay the release of a consignment of military hardware, pending clarifications on the political situation in Bamako. To that end, the Chairman of the Authority had dispatched a successful ECOWAS military and political delegation to Conakry, Guinea to negotiate the safe transfer of that consignment from the ship to a secure storage facility controlled by Guinean authorities. At the same time, extremist elements within the ex-junta, led by Amadou Konare and Bakari Mariko, as well as marginal forces in Mali, had seized on the two developments — the request for assistance and position on Malian weapons — to unleash a campaign vilifying ECOWAS and Guinea in the pro-putschist media.

He said that it was against that backdrop that the meeting of the Chief of Defence Staff had been held in Abidjan on 14 and 15 September to consider Mali’s request and review the security situation. Among other things, that meeting had stressed the need to maintain a three-phased concept of operations; that Mali should accept Phase I with a minimum deployment of troops and police to secure logistic facilities; that ECOWAS should officially request the Malian Government to sensitize the population and the Defence and Security forces to accept those conditions in the first Phase; that Phase III would be jointly planned between the ECOWAS Standby Force and Malian Security and Defence Forces; that ECOWAS and development partners should provide the needed logistical and financial resources to conduct all phases of the operation; and that it should intensify political efforts with Algeria and Mauritania to secure their support for the operation.

Summing up the overall situation, he said that it should be obvious to the Council that even though some progress had been achieved on the political and security fronts, several “daunting challenges” remained. For example, extreme elements within the ex-National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE) and a “vocal minority of so-called patriotic social forces” continued to strongly resist ECOWAS decisions on Mali. That situation risked diminishing the chances for an enabling environment for the deployment of the ECOWAS force.

Further, he said, Mali’s request for military deployment only in Phase III of the operation could hardly be agreed, as it would be extremely difficult and strategically unwise to deploy troops in the north of the country without a coordinating centre in Bamako. He went on to site sharp divisions in the two factions of ex-CNRDRE, as well as the question of leadership in Mali — and the “confusing signals” it sent — as other concerns, as was the worsening humanitarian situation in the north.

Finally, he told the Council that the ECOWAS Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs, meeting today in Abidjan, had validated the decisions reached by the Chief of Defence staff. Those decisions would be further confirmed at the level of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government and the relevant organs of the African Union, before their transmission to the Security Council. Meanwhile, ECOWAS intended to intensify its contacts with Algeria and Mauritania to build a workable consensus on the ECOWAS-led deployment of a stabilization force in Mali.

To that end, a consultative meeting of the support group on Mali should be organized under the chairmanship of ECOWAS and the African Union.
For information media • not an official record