What's In Blue

Briefing and Consultations on the Sahel

This afternoon (17 September), Jeffrey Feltman—the head of the Department for Political Affairs—will brief the Council on progress made on the development of an integrated strategy for the Sahel region which is meant to encompass security, governance, development, human rights and humanitarian issues. The situation in Mali is also likely to come up for discussion, including the two-day emergency meeting on Mali of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff which ended on Saturday (15 September).

Monday’s briefing, which will be followed by consultations, takes place ahead of the 26 September high-level meeting on developments in the Sahel, to be hosted by the Secretary-General in the margins of the General Assembly. (About 60 heads of state are expected to attend the high-level meeting.) Although a decision following today’s briefing and consultations seems unlikely, there may be an outcome document following the high-level meeting.

When the situation in Mali became a key issue for the Council following a coup in March, it also focused the Council’s attention on the serious issues across the Sahel region that cannot be ignored, including a potential humanitarian crisis, cross-border threats and terrorism. The Council adopted resolution 2056 on 5 July 2012, which—while focusing on Mali—also requested the Secretary-General to “develop and implement, in consultation with regional organisations, a United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel region encompassing security, governance, development, human rights and humanitarian issues, including through the involvement of the United Nations Office for West Africa.” The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to inform the Council of progress on the integrated strategy by mid-September 2012.

The Council first began to pay attention to the problems developing in the wider Sahel region late last year. An AU-UN inter-agency assessment team was deployed to the Sahel from 7 to 23 December 2011 and a report (S/2012/42) following this mission assessed the impact of the Libya crisis on Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania. It identified the areas of co-operation and expertise that could be developed across all the countries of the region. It also recommended that the UN increase its security presence in bodies such as the Global Counter-terrorism Forum, Sahel Working Group and the Continental Counter-Terrorism Early Warning System, to which all the countries in the region belong.

This year Council members have been kept informed about the situation in the Sahel through DPA’s “horizon-scanning” and briefings by the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) and the Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, as well as debates on transnational organised crime in West Africa and the Sahel.

Within the Council, there is a general agreement about the need for urgent action on the Sahel, but there is less agreement about the approach and members have been hoping that the integrated strategy from the Secretariat might allow for greater clarity on the way forward. However, it appears that the Secretariat is unlikely to present more than the elements it sees going into such a strategy and is likely to ask for more time to consult with parties in the region before presenting a full report to the Council.

Among Council members, Morocco has been active in trying to focus the Council on the problems in the Sahel and is keen on having a UN special envoy for the Sahel, with an office infrastructure to be based in the region. Other members have suggested expanding the remit of UNOWA to cover the Sahel, while others are concerned that this would overstretch UNOWA’s capacity.

It seems unlikely that a decision on an envoy will be announced following either the briefing or the high-level meeting.

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