Briefing on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force
On 20 November, the Security Council will hold a briefing 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. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Bintou Keita is expected to present the Secretary-General’s 11 November report on the activities of the FC-G5S. Other expected briefers are: Alpha Barry, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Burkina Faso, on behalf of the G5 Sahel presidency; Koen Vervaeke, Managing Director for Africa in the European External Action Service; Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed of the AU Permanent Observer mission to the UN; and civil society representative, Ms. Assitan Diallo, President of the Association des Femmes Africaines pour la Recherche et le Développement (AFARD). Security Council members are likely to issue a press statement following the session, which penholder France has prepared.
Keita is likely to emphasise the continued deterioration of the security situation in the Sahel. According to the Secretary-General’s biannual report, “spiralling violence…has spread to coastal West Africa” and “terrorist groups have strengthened their foothold across the Sahel region, making large swathes of territory unstable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Burkina Faso and Mali”.
Militaries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger endured some of their deadliest attacks over the last half-year, and there have been several major incidents this month that are not covered in the Secretary-General’s report. A 1 November attack claimed by the Islamic State in north-eastern Mali killed 53 Malian soldiers and one civilian. On 6 November, gunmen in Burkina Faso killed at least 37 people in an attack on a convoy carrying employees of a Canadian mining company. Yesterday (18 November), twenty-four Malian soldiers were killed and 29 wounded in another attack in north-eastern Mali near the Nigerien border, in which 17 militants were also killed, according to a Malian military spokesperson. More than one million people are displaced across the Sahel, more than twice the total in 2018. The violence in Burkina Faso has contributed greatly to this rise, with 486,000 people now displaced compared with 80,000 last year.
Against this backdrop, Keita is expected to discuss the activities of the FC-G5S, including recent operations. She may recall that training, capability and equipment shortfalls, such as air assets, hamper the force’s full operationalisation. Reiterating the need for international support, Keita may welcome the Council’s decision in June to expand MINUSMA’s provision of life-support consumables to all joint force contingents, and not just those units operating in Mali, provided that such support is delivered by the FC-G5S or a third party and that units receiving assistance strictly comply with the UN human rights due diligence policy. Keita may inform the Council that MINUSMA has already approved and begun providing fuel and rations since receiving its first request last month to support all seven battalions of the force.
At the same time, Keita may note, as the Secretary-General does in his report, that the current support to the FC-G5S is not enough. She is likely to repeat his call for predictable and sustained funding to the force. In a departure from his previous reports, however, the current Secretary-General’s report does not explicitly call for a Chapter VII mandate for the force or its support via UN assessed contributions.
Council members may welcome progress in operationalising the FC-G5S, including steps to set up its police and civilian components and to advance its human rights and international humanitarian law compliance framework. While members are likely to encourage further disbursement by donors of pledges, they may also set out their expectations of the force and the G5 Sahel countries, including that they carry out more operations and make further progress investigating incidents of human rights abuses. The Secretary-General’s report flags what appear to have been serious human rights violations committed by Malian troops that are part of the joint force in Boulikessi in late July, which included extrajudicial killings of two men. This is the third incident of reported abuse recorded in the Boulikessi area involving members of the FC-G5S since 2018. Members may also highlight the need for the G5 Sahel to share more information on the joint force’s activities, in light of the amount of support it receives. Council members may flag bilateral support or assistance provided through the EU, which is a large financial contributor and plays a key coordinating role of international assistance.
In reflecting on the way forward, members may underscore the need to consider the threat of terrorism and transnational organised crime through a broader regional perspective. They are therefore likely to welcome the growing engagement by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report. During a 14 September extraordinary summit in Ouagadougou on terrorism, ECOWAS governments pledged to mobilise $1 billion from 2020 to 2024 for counter-terrorism efforts. Some members could refer to the new partnership for security and stability in the Sahel launched by France and Germany on the margins of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in August, which apparently also encompasses a broader focus on the ECOWAS region.
There may be fewer calls by Council members for a Chapter VII mandate and assessed contributions compared to past sessions on the FC-G5S. The US, in particular, has continued to oppose the idea and it has made little headway, while there also appears to be growing scepticism among members about the viability of the force to stem the current deterioration. Still, some Council members may underline the need for the Security Council to consider ways to enable sustainable funding for AU-led peace operations on a case-by-case basis in line with resolution 2378.
Later this week, a joint meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Peacebuilding Commission will be held on the Sahel. ECOSOC is currently negotiating a resolution on the Sahel that, it seems, would address the development challenges and root causes of regional instability, issues that briefers and Council members are likely to refer to tomorrow in calling for a holistic response to the Sahel’s insecurity. Such initiatives include the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the G5 Sahel’s Priority Investment Programme.
The press statement that Security Council members are expected to issue is likely to cover the range of issues connected to the FC-G5S, possibly to include welcoming the steps taken by the G5 Sahel to further operationalise the force and encouraging additional measures by the five countries and international partners.