What's In Blue

Posted Mon 7 Jul 2014

Briefing and Consultations on the UN Office in West Africa

The Council will have a briefing and consultations tomorrow (8 July) on the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA). The head of UNOWA and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to West Africa, Said Djinnit, will brief. The Council may adopt a press statement following the meeting.

While the Secretary-General’s latest 26 June report on UNOWA (S/2014/442) covers the full range of the office’s activities and the challenges facing the region, members will likely be particularly interested in discussing with Djinnit the Boko Haram crisis. The report describes a “severely deteriorated” security situation in northeastern Nigeria in the past six months and highlights the “regional dimension” of the conflict. It also notes a worsening humanitarian situation. A joint UN-Nigeria humanitarian assessment mission in May concluded that there were at least 650,000 internally displaced persons and 60,000 refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger due to Boko Haram-related violence. It also details Djinnit’s efforts since being appointed as the Secretary-General’s High Representative to Nigeria on 8 May in response to the worsening violence and international outcry over the group’s 14 April kidnapping of nearly 300 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria.

Council members will likely want to learn more about Djinnit’s efforts, as well as recent multilateral agreements for greater military cooperation to combat Boko Haram reached on 17 May and 12 June in Paris and London among Nigeria, countries of the region and France, the UK and US. Members could also be keen to discuss how the UN role can be enhanced and elicit Djinnit’s views on how the Council can become more involved in dealing with Boko Haram or in supporting his work. So far, the UN has announced that it will provide an integrated support package to Nigeria that will help address socio-economic problems in the north and include assistance for the abducted girls and their families when they are released.

Human rights issues might also be addressed at the meeting tomorrow. Since February, as reflected in the recent UNOWA report, Djinnit and other UN officials have held discussions with Nigeria regarding the potential deployment of human rights monitors to the northeast region, and members may want more information about the human rights situation in the country. In addition to Boko Haram attacks against civilian populations and targets—including villages, markets and schools—Amnesty International reported on 31 March that Nigeria’s security forces and civilian task forces had been responsible for abuses such as extrajudicial executions, mass arrests, poor detention conditions and torture.

The Secretariat has also had discussions with the Nigerian government about a possible UN role to support national coordination mechanisms of assistance to Nigeria. Council members may be interested in learning more about what this would entail.

The Council has largely refrained from addressing the growing violence and increasing terrorist attacks during the course of the insurgency. It’s first significant pronouncement on the conflict came three weeks after the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls, when it demanded in a 9 May press statement the girls’ release and noted for the first time the regional threat posed by Boko Haram and its intentions to consider appropriate measures against the group (SC/11387). Since then, the 1267 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee has added Boko Haram, its leader Abubakar Shekau, and the splinter group Ansaru to its consolidated list.

In spite of the heightened international attention on Boko Haram, attacks by the group have occurred with increased frequency. Recent attacks have included a bomb blast at a market in Maiduguri on 1 July, which reportedly killed 56 people; a bombing at a mall in Abuja that killed at least 24 people on 25 June; and the reported abduction of around 90 people on 22 June in three villages near Chibok. The Kibaku Area Development Association, a local residents association in the Chibok area, is among those which have claimed that the military is failing to respond to warnings about pending Boko Haram attacks. It issued a statement on 4 July calling for UN protection since the federal government is not providing adequate security.

At tomorrow’s meeting, members are also likely to be interested in Djinnit’s good offices efforts more broadly across the region. UNOWA has been increasing its efforts to monitor political developments in the large number of countries that will be holding presidential and legislative elections in 2015 and 2016. Djinnit visited Burkina Faso as part of an early warning mission with ECOWAS, and the Secretary-General’s report notes warnings by interlocutors in Burkina Faso that a proposed referendum to allow President Blaise Campaor7#233 another term could trigger violence. The report also covers the recent presidential elections on 21 June in Mauritania, which were boycotted by much of the opposition. In addition, it highlights political tensions in Niger and Togo. Members could inquire about the potential for destabilisation or violence in any of these situations.

In this regard, the Council may discuss further the Secretary-General’s proposal from his 11 December 2013 report (S/2013/732), and reiterated in his latest report, to establish an analytical unit within the political affairs section of UNOWA. The Secretary-General has described the unit as necessary to better inform UNOWA’s good offices work and preventive diplomacy, which is being conducted in increasingly complex situations. As most Council members spoke favorably about the proposal in December’s consultations, members may want to know why the unit has not been established yet and possible budget implications.

During tomorrow’s meeting, the ebola epidemic that has affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone may be discussed. According to the World Health Organization’s latest available figures, since the outbreak began about six months ago there have been 779 confirmed or suspected cases of ebola and 441 deaths in the three countries. A Doctors Without Borders senior official described the epidemic on 20 June as “out of control” and claimed that the gravity of the situation had not been sufficiently recognised. The World Health Organization most recently convened a meeting on 2-3 July in Accra, Ghana, with the ministers of health and senior health officials from 11 African countries and partners to discuss ways to combat the epidemic.

Members could seek to discuss ongoing efforts by West African countries and UNOWA to address cross-border security threats in the Manu River Union, the Gulf of Guinea and the Sahel, as well as drug trafficking and other organised crime activities in the region. Also of interest might be that the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission border demarcation process, envisioned for completion in 2014 and long viewed as a positive example of UNOWA’s good offices work, has been slowed. According to the Secretary-General’s recent report this is due to the challenging security situation in northeastern Nigeria.

While the Council usually receives the biannual UNOWA briefings and takes no action, there is a possibility of issuing a statement to endorse the Secretary-General’s proposed political analytical unit. DPA requires some type of signal from the Council in order to establish the unit and apparently Djinnit has requested a statement for this reason. Additionally, some members have also suggested that it would be important to release a statement following the meeting with Djinnit in light of the crisis with Boko Haram. Nigeria is the penholder on West Africa and despite this conflict being a sensitive issue for it, it seems Nigeria would still be open to such a statement as long as it reflects UNOWA’s broader mandate and is not just limited to Boko Haram. At press time, Nigeria’s current plan is to draft a press statement following the briefing if enough Council members want one.

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