Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force
Expected Council Action
In November, the Council is expected to hold its biannual briefing, followed by consultations, on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S), which Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (G5 Sahel) established in 2017 to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the region.
Key Recent Developments
The FC-G5S has increased the tempo of military operations this year—a point highlighted in previous 2020 Secretary-General’s reports on the FC-G5S and Mali. However, the security situation, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, continues to worsen amid a growing humanitarian crisis, political instability and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mali experienced a coup d’état on 18 August when soldiers from the Kati barracks entered Bamako and arrested President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who resigned later that night. The coup came in the wake of major protests that started in June demanding Keïta’s resignation over Mali’s continued insecurity, corruption and disputed legislative election results. In announcing their seizure of power, coup leaders claimed that they were committed to the Mali 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and to cooperating with international presences, including the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), France’s regional counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane, the European Takuba Task Force and the FC-G5S. Mediation by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) led to the establishment of a transitional government by the beginning of October to preside over an 18-month transition period until elections can be held.
The insurgency by violent extremist groups in Burkina Faso continues to engulf much of the country. According to the UN Refugee Agency, over one million internally displaced people had been registered as at 24 September, up from 921,000 people at the start of June. In one recent incident, militants attacked a convoy of displaced people on 4 October, killing 25 in Sanmatenga province in the Centre-Nord region. Security forces and self-defence volunteers have also been accused of extrajudicial killings and abuses. A Human Rights Watch report in July said more than 180 corpses had been discovered at various times between November 2019 and June near the northern town of Djibo; residents largely blame government forces for the killings.
Burkina Faso has also been flagged for a growing hunger crisis, including famine-like conditions in pockets of its Sahel region. Speaking at a Council briefing on conflict-induced hunger on 17 September, World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley described a “disaster unfolding in Burkina Faso, driven by the upsurge in violence” as the number of people facing crisis levels of hunger had tripled to 3.3 million people. Burkina Faso is scheduled to hold presidential elections on 22 November while Niger has general elections, including presidential, scheduled for 27 December.
On 20 October, Germany, Denmark, the EU and the UN hosted a ministerial-level virtual conference on the central Sahel—Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Seeking $2.4 billion for emergency relief efforts to assist more than 13 million people, the conference resulted in pledges by over 20 donors totalling $1.7 billion. This included $985 million for the rest of 2020 and $704 million for 2021 and beyond. In a pre-recorded video message to the conference participants, Secretary-General António Guterres said that the central Sahel was at a “breaking point” as the security situation had deteriorated sharply and humanitarian needs in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger had reached record levels. Guterres repeated that his appeal for an immediate global ceasefire was crucial for the region.
When renewing the mandate of MINUSMA on 30 June in resolution 2531, the Security Council clarified that “private companies” may deliver life support consumables from MINUSMA to the FC-G5S. The previous year’s mandate renewal had expanded its provision of such support to benefit all FC-G5S units, and not only to those operating in Mali, provided that the joint force or a third party would transfer the cross-border assistance. However, the UN said that the resolution’s language was not sufficient to allow MINUSMA to use contractors, and this was one reason the FC-G5S had been prevented from taking fuller advantage of the peacekeeping operation’s support.
Key Issues and Options
Taking stock of progress and challenges in making the FC-G5S fully operational remains a key issue for the Council’s briefings on the joint force. This includes progress in establishing its police component and whether recent changes to MINUSMA’s mandate to allow contractors to deliver cross-border assistance has improved the mission’s capacity to support the FC-G5S.
Promoting and ensuring that the FC-G5S complies with international humanitarian law, which is critical for effective counter-terrorism operations, and the UN’s human rights due-diligence policy, necessary for MINUSMA support, are related issues. Complementing security measures by addressing structural causes of instability in the Sahel—such as poor governance, underdevelopment and climate change—through the UN’s Sahel Strategy and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme is another important issue. The humanitarian crisis is of increasing concern.
Council members usually issue a press statement following the briefing on the FC-G5S, though after their last meeting in June they issued press elements only. Past press statements have reflected on developments related to the FC-G5S and the security situation in G5 Sahel countries. In addition, the statements have emphasised the importance of upholding international humanitarian law and the need for a holistic approach to stabilise the region. The statements also often request the Secretary-General to provide regular updates on Burkina Faso to the Peacebuilding Commission, which most recently discussed the situation on 8 October.
Another option (but unlikely at this time) is to act on the Secretary-General’s recommendation, put forward repeatedly since 2017, that the Council provide the FC-G5S with a Chapter VII mandate and authorise a logistical support package for the FC-G5S with UN assessed contributions.
Council members all express support for the FC-G5S. However, they often raise concerns about the force’s struggles to become fully operational, its reported human rights abuses and its long-term sustainability. France is a strong advocate of the force, which it views as part of a long-term exit strategy for its Operation Barkhane. Niger, a member of the G5 Sahel, has continued to call for the Council to authorise a Chapter VII mandate for the FC-G5S. In its view, that could ensure sustainable financial support for the FC-G5S. Niger has at times been sensitive about the Council discussing human rights abuses by forces from G5 Sahel countries.
Several Council members contribute to other security initiatives in the region, including MINUSMA and EU training and capacity-building missions, as well as to regional development initiatives that, members frequently stress, require equal attention in order to stabilise the Sahel.
The Council has been divided over whether the UN should provide financial support to the FC-G5S. Over the last two years, it has put on hold discussion of the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a UN support package for the force to allow more time for the FC-G5S to demonstrate its effectiveness and how it uses funding that has already been committed. The US, in particular, prefers to assist the FC-G5S bilaterally, and has previously been wary of authorising MINUSMA to support the FC-G5S.
France is the penholder on the G5 Sahel joint force.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE G5 SAHEL
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 June 2020S/RES/2531||This renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2021.|
|Security Council Letter|
|9 June 2020S/2020/515||This was the written record of the 5 June meeting Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force with the agenda item, “Peace and Security in Africa”.|