“Non-State armed groups continue to carry out large-scale attacks against civilian and military targets and engage in clashes over access to resources, territorial control and influence,” said Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, part of the political and peacebuilding affairs department, and UN Peace Operations.
The Council was meeting to assess the state of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which brings together Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Founded in 2017, it’s main role as an international military operation is countering the rising threat of terrorism, improving criminal justice, border security management and the spread of militant religious extremism.
“Terrorism and violent extremist groups frequently target border areas, particularly the tri-border area of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, Liptako-Gourma. In this regard, earlier this year there was an upsurge in clashes between the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Jama’at Nu rat al-Islam wal-Muslirnin (JNIM),” she added.
In this context, “the recent instability in the eastern Sahel, Sudan, is an additional source of concern,” Ms. Pobee said, adding that “the devastating effects of the continued destabilization of the Sahel will be felt far beyond the region and the African continent.”
Dire humanitarian situation
She recalled that the security crisis is exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. In Burkina Faso, an estimated 4.7 million people will need humanitarian assistance this year, up from 3.5 million in 2022. And in Mali, 8.8 million people will need help, up from 7.5 million.
Regarding the G5 Force, the senior UN official noted that personnel had made steady progress in its operationalization, in a context of reconfiguration of European and French forces, and Mali’s withdrawal from the Force, and intensifying threats in the tri-border area.
She stressed that the G5 Sahel nations were determined to strengthen intra-regional cooperation, including by establishing bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms with the Malian Armed Forces in the fight against terrorism.
However, she noted that, despite these efforts, insecurity in the tri-border area continues to grow.
Ms. Pobee stressed that the tripartite agreement between the European Union, the G5 Sahel and the UN is expected to end in June. With the expiry of this agreement, logistical and operational support from the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, to the G5 Sahel Joint Force, will end.
She said that “provides an opportunity to reflect on how the international community should renew its approaches to supporting regional security mechanisms”.
Ms. Pobee added that via the UN human rights office, OHCHR, the UN has continued to support the Joint Force in implementing its international human rights and humanitarian law compliance framework, noting that “significant institutional, legal and behavioural progress and changes have been made.”
The Joint Force now has an internal mechanism to assign responsibility for incidents, analyse patterns, take necessary corrective action and adapt its operational conduct.
“Going forward, continued human rights work with regional and national security actors in the Sahel will remain essential in the context of the deteriorating security situation,” she insisted.
In this context, Ms. Pobee stressed that political and operational support of partners remains essential for the stabilization of Mali and the whole Sahel region.
Renewed international support will prevent the Sahelian crisis from upsetting the fragile political balance of the region and will help prevent “a new spillover of insecurity in coastal countries”.
“For its part, the United Nations stands ready to further support the efforts of the G5 Sahel, including through support for capacity building in areas such as the prevention of violent extremism and radicalization, the rule of law and border security management,” she said.
She recalled that the UN is committed to working with all partners to ensure that governance structures are more democratic and open, and that the people of the Sahel have greater confidence in their institutions.
“Decisive progress in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organised crime in the Sahel must be made desperately. Without significant gains, it will become increasingly difficult to reverse the security trajectory in the Sahel and the continued expansion of insecurity to coastal countries in West Africa,” she concluded.