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Adoption of a Presidential Statement on the Sahel

Tomorrow morning (8 December), the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on the Sahel. Members had hoped to adopt the statement at the Council’s 25 November briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on the implementation of the UN Integrated Sahel Strategy (S/PV.7566), but had been unable to reach a consensus before the meeting. Overall, the draft presidential statement covers the broad array of challenges facing the region, including terrorism and underlying socio-economic problems. It highlights the different regional and international security and development initiatives for the Sahel.

Chad first circulated a draft text on 12 November. Two expert level meetings to negotiate the text took place on 16 and 18 November. On 21 November, despite a number of unresolved issues, Chad put the statement under silence procedure. This was broken on 23 November by Spain. Two more silence procedures were broken the following day by the UK, Russia and France. Since then, there have apparently been further consultations with several Western members to resolve outstanding issues. Chad put a revised draft statement under silence over the weekend, which was not broken. The two main issues that delayed agreement on the draft statement were the UN’s reporting cycle and the possible relocation of the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sahel (OSES). Both were contentious issues during negotiations on the Council’s last presidential statement on the Sahel, which it adopted in August 2014, two months after the Council’s June 2014 briefing on the Sahel (S/PRST/2014/17).

On the reporting cycle, Chad originally wanted oral briefings next year by 15 February and 15 May, and a report and briefing by 30 October. Last year’s presidential statement reduced the Special Envoy’s reporting cycle from every six months to once a year, and a number of members opposed more frequent briefings, arguing that since the strategy’s implementation is a long-term exercise such regular briefings would have little added value. They further noted that the Council regularly receives information on political and security developments in the region from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, and on the UN missions in Mali and Libya, while the Special Envoy can always request to brief the Council. But the African Council members – Chad, Angola and Nigeria – argued that the Council should provide more attention to this region, which is a source of instability behind many of Africa’s conflicts. They felt strongly that the Council should not ignore this request from African countries.

The compromise was to have the Secretary-General provide “briefings as needed” on the strategy’s implementation, with a report and briefing by 31 October 2016. A new paragraph was added encouraging the Special Envoy’s close coordination with the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives for West and Central Africa and welcoming updates on the Sahel in his regular reports on the two regions.

Chad also wanted the Council to request the Secretary-General to include recommendations for relocating the Special Envoy’s office from Dakar to one of the G5 Sahel countries in a UN strategic review of OSES that is being conducted in December. The G5 Sahel is a regional organisation established in 2014 by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which were the core Sahel countries identified in the UN strategy (S/2013/354). While Chad had made a similar proposal last year, more recently, at a summit of G5 heads of state in N’Djamena on 20 November, leaders of the five countries requested that the UN transfer the Special Envoy’s office to the headquarters of the G5 Sahel, based in Nouakchott, as a way to enhance coordination and cooperation in the implementation of the UN strategy. It seems that the P5 were against this idea, and in breaking silence last month, the UK noted that making such a request would prejudge the review. An agreement appears to have been reached by having the Council ask for the review to produce recommendations for it to consider on the “location” – as opposed to relocation – of the Special Envoy’s office.

Another issue that had remained unresolved ahead of last month’s briefing was language regarding a trust fund for the Sahel that the UN is currently establishing. A number of members who were not convinced about the fund’s added value preferred to use less positive language than Chad proposed. It seems that Chad’s preference to have the Council “welcome” the UN’s plans to establish this fund was finally accepted.

Among other issues that required compromise was how to refer to the support provided by France’s Operation Barkhane to the cross-border operations of G5 countries. It seems that Russia initially said that it did not want a reference to Operation Barkhane until it received more details about the operation. Chad proposed removing the reference, but a number of members felt it important for the Council to acknowledge the operation, which has represented a concrete initiative towards addressing the terrorism threat. The agreement that was reached notes the supporting role of “French forces” to Sahel countries, without mentioning Operation Barkhane by name. On migration – the Sahel serves as a transit point and source for migrants traveling from Libya to Europe – Russia insisted on the Council not going beyond agreed language from the Council’s recent Libya high seas resolution (S/RES/2240).

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