What's In Blue

Posted Mon 27 Jul 2020

Presidential Statement on West Africa and the Sahel

On Tuesday (28 July), the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel. Co-penholders Belgium and Niger circulated the draft statement about two weeks ago following Council members’ 9 July videoconference with Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Mohamed Ibn Chambas. After an initial comments period, the penholders placed the revised draft statement under silence on 17 July. Russia and China broke silence on 20 July, and France broke a second silence procedure two days later, before agreement on the draft statement was reached on Friday (24 July).

The draft presidential statement expresses concern about the potential of the COVID-19 pandemic to exacerbate existing fragilities in the region, undermine development, worsen the humanitarian situation and disproportionately affect women and girls, children, refugees, internally displaced persons, older persons and persons with disabilities. It reiterates support for the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire appeal to fight the pandemic, recalling resolution 2532 demanding a cessation of hostilities in all Council agenda situations. The draft statement underlines the importance of international cooperation and solidarity; welcomes efforts and contributions of UNOWAS, the AU, ECOWAS and other member states in the fight against the pandemic; and acknowledges the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19.

The draft Council statement addresses the ongoing sociopolitical crisis in Mali, where large-scale protests that began last month have called for the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. It urges stakeholders to prioritise dialogue—taking into account ECOWAS’ recommendations from its 19 July communiqué—and to work inclusively and constructively to preserve the rule of law.

Sticking points during negotiations occurred over specific wording and cross-cutting principles, as opposed to more substantive differences. When Russia broke silence last week, it asserted that most of its comments on the text had not been addressed. For example, in the paragraph on COVID-19, neither Russia nor China had been comfortable with identifying the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on “marginalized groups” and then listing those groups, apparently questioning what and who constituted marginalised groups. The draft placed under silence on 17 July removed the identities of such groups but retained “marginalized groups”; in the agreed version, the term “marginalized groups” was removed, but the identities of groups described as disproportionately affected by the pandemic—such as women, children and older persons—were reinserted.

In its objections to the first draft placed under silence, China sought additional development language, which it has increasingly been advocating in Council and other UN products. The penholders had already included a paragraph proposed by China during the initial comments period, which reiterates that the stabilisation and protection of civilians in the region requires a fully integrated response, encompassing, for example, progress on security, governance, development, and human rights. When joining Russia in breaking silence, China also proposed that a reference to the promotion of sustainable development be expanded, apparently so as to refer to promoting “sustainable and inclusive development, through development projects in infrastructure, education and public health”. The final text does not include this proposed language, viewed by some members as tied to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

France broke silence last Wednesday (22 July), supported by the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, the UK, and the US. It objected to language, inserted to accommodate Russia, conditioning the full and meaningful participation of women and youth in upcoming elections on its “accordance with national legislation”. The final text no longer includes this reference to national legislation, and nor does it mention youth, thus maintaining agreed language from the Council’s 11 February presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel.

Much of the text is based on previous Council statements on West Africa and the Sahel. The draft statement expresses the Council’s deep concern about the continued deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, as well as the security challenges in West Africa. Based on a proposal by South Africa, the draft presidential statement welcomes the initiative to deploy an AU-led force in the Sahel. Based on a suggestion by France, the draft statement welcomes the January Pau Summit, the creation of the “Coalition for the Sahel”, and the Group of Five for the Sahel summit in Nouakchott on 30 June. In reaffirming the need for states to combat threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, the draft statement says that this should be done in accordance with the UN Charter and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law.

On the presidential elections later this year in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Niger, the draft statement emphasises the need for national stakeholders to work together for their timely preparation, and in order to be free and fair, credible, timely and peaceful. This paragraph and another paragraph on the situation on Guinea—where there have been tensions and violence tied to recent legislative elections and President Alpha Condé possibly contesting a third term—are drawn nearly verbatim from the Council’s February presidential statement. A new paragraph in the draft statement encourages UNOWAS to continue preparations to assume some of the functions of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau, which is slated to conclude at the end of this year.

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