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Security Council Videoconference on the G5 Sahel Joint Force

Tomorrow (5 June), Security Council members will hold an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTC, on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S). The expected briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania on behalf of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—that established the FC-G5S in 2017 to combat terrorist groups and organised crime.

The session is expected to review progress in the operationalisation of the FC-G5S, particularly since the launch of the Coalition for the Sahel at the Pau summit of 13 January. The Sahel continues to be destabilised by terrorist groups and intercommunal violence often exacerbated by these groups, which have inflicted heavy casualties on security forces in the last six months. Despite the dire security situation, the Secretary-General’s 8 May report on the FC-G5S said that “the Joint Force’s operational tempo increased throughout the reporting period”. The report continued: “For the first time since its establishment, it was able to simultaneously carry out and plan operations. In addition, operations increased in scale and duration”, taking place as several regional and international security initiatives were recently launched to support and intensify counter-terrorism efforts.

The Coalition for the Sahel announced by France and G5 Sahel states encompasses a combination of state-building, development and security initiatives, including a new Joint Command of France’s regional counter-terrorism force, Operation Barkhane, and the FC-G5S. Other security initiatives that have followed the Pau Summit include the launch of Task Force Takuba under the command of Operation Barkhane, made up of special forces from several European countries that, once operational, will support Malian armed forces in coordination with the FC-G5S in the Liptako-Gourma border region of Burkina-Faso, Mali and Niger. The AU and the Economic Community of West African States are also continuing discussions on the possible deployment of 3,000 troops to the region.

Another key focus will be discussing the support provided by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to the FC-G5S, the subject of a recent assessment by the Secretariat ahead of MINUSMA’s mandate renewal due to take place later this month. MINUSMA is mandated to support the FC-G5S with life consumables, such as rations and fuel, and also to provide medical evacuation capacities and engineering support for FC-G5S units operating in Mali, for which the UN mission is reimbursed through an agreement with the EU.

Lacroix may present the findings and options for enhancing FC-G5S support which are outlined in the Secretary-General’s latest report on Mali issued to Council members earlier this week. The report says that MINUSMA support has been “deemed essential” and a “critical contributing factor” to increased FC-G5S activities. However, it notes that “multiple challenges have prevented the Joint Force from fully benefitting from the support provided by MINUSMA”. These difficulties include the limited capabilities of the FC-G5S to collect and then transfer life support consumables intended for units operating outside of Mali, and the challenge for MINUSMA of monitoring whether FC-G5S units benefitting from its support are complying with the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy on UN Support to Non-UN security forces, especially those outside of Mali. Moreover, according to the report, most partners consider that the current approach is not sustainable, especially with the likely increase in FC-G5S operations following the establishment of the Coalition for the Sahel.

One option to address these shortfalls is to establish a dedicated, separate UN support office to provide full logistical and operational support including transport, as well as tactical and strategic support. This is an option that the Secretary-General has long advocated, but due to US objections to using assessed contributions to benefit the FC-G5S, a non-UN operation, the proposal has not previously gained traction.

To get around this sticking-point, a second option is the authorisation of a similar UN support office financed through a dedicated trust fund.

Thirdly the report identifies a number of alternative ideas that could be taken absent a decision on a more comprehensive solution, such as strengthening the capacity of the FC-G5S to procure and provide for itself life support consumables, which is described as the most sustainable alternative. Tomorrow’s meeting thus marks the start of deeper Council consideration of these options that it will potentially address in the mandate renewal of MINUSMA.

Another issue that may be raised tomorrow is the importance of FC-G5S compliance with international humanitarian law, which is necessary for MINUSMA support in accordance with the UN’s human rights due diligence policy and is considered critical for successful counter-terrorism operations. Recent months have seen growing numbers of reported violations by security forces and self-defence militias. A report issued on 30 April by the MINUSMA human rights division says, among other abuses, that 101 extrajudicial executions were committed by Malian forces during the first quarter of 2020. The same report also notes 34 extrajudicial executions by Nigerien armed forces in Mali’s border region with Niger. Reports by Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group have also highlighted similar abuses by forces in Burkina Faso and Niger, including the presumed killing of 102 male civilians, most of them ethnic Tuaregs and Daosahaks in western Niger during late March and early April. The Secretary-General’s report on Mali welcomes the declarations of the governments of Mali and Niger that they will undertake inquiries into such allegations. Concerns about the rise in reported abuses has created some controversy within the Council, leading Niger, apparently on behalf of G5 Sahel members, to initially object to holding the Council meeting on the FC-G5S, which is usually held in May.

In addition to discussing security trends and measures, briefers and Council members are likely to underscore the importance of complementing military efforts by addressing structural problems that contribute to instability in the Sahel, such as governance and underdevelopment, through the UN’s Sahel Strategy and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme.

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