What's In Blue

Posted Mon 15 May 2023

G5 Sahel Joint Force: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (16 May), the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S). Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Executive Secretary of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) Eric Tiare, and a civil society representative are expected to brief.

Pobee will present the Secretary-General’s bi-annual report, dated 9 May, on the FC-G5S, which comprises Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger and was established in 2017 to fight terrorism and organised crime in the Sahel. G5 Sahel members continue to advocate for Mali’s return to the force since its withdrawal from the FC-G5S in June 2022, while Burkina Faso and Niger have bilaterally strengthened military cooperation with Mali, according to the report. G5 Sahel countries have also focused on restructuring the FC-G5S. An updated concept of operations plans to increase the number of its battalions from six to fourteen; Chad and Mauritania will contribute two battalions each, while Burkina Faso and Niger will each contribute five. A coordinating body named État-major de Coordination de la Force Conjointe du G5 Sahel (EMC) in Niamey is replacing the force headquarters in N’Djamena. As the report states, violent extremism is still spreading at an “alarming rate”, particularly in the Liptako-Gourma tri-border areas of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, and is expanding in West Africa.

Tiare is expected to speak about efforts to revitalise the FC-G5S. He is likely to mention the holding on 20 February in N’Djamena of the 6th Extraordinary Summit of G5 Sahel Heads of State—the first summit of the G5 Sahel since 2021—which was attended by Chad’s transitional President Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, and Burkina Faso’s transitional Defence Minister Kassoum Coulibaly. G5 Sahel members “reaffirmed their desire to preserve and consolidate this important framework for cooperation and coordination between the four countries”, according to the summit communiqué. At the conclusion, Déby handed over the G5 Sahel rotating presidency to Ghazouani for a one-year term. (Mali withdrew last year from the G5 Sahel after some of the group’s members opposed Mali’s transitional authorities succeeding Chad in the presidency.)

Much of tomorrow’s meeting is likely to focus on the worsening security situation. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), continuing its military offensive in the Ménaka and Gao regions near the borders of Niger and Burkina Faso, took over the town of Tidermène in the Ménaka region, which news reports say has left Ménaka city isolated and surrounded. In Burkina Faso, offensives by Islamist militant groups led reported civilian deaths in February to be nearly double the average monthly death toll for the last year, according to the Secretary-General’s report. According to a 19 April OCHA humanitarian snapshot,  2.6 million people are internally displaced in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger—76 percent of whom are in Burkina Faso.

The human rights situation, including abuses by Sahelian countries’ militaries during counter-terrorism operations, is also likely to be discussed. On 20 April, at least 150 civilians may have been killed, and many others injured, allegedly by Burkina’s defence and security forces, accompanied by paramilitary auxiliaries known as Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (VDP), according to a statement by the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The killings, in Karma village in northern Yatenga Province, occurred following an attack on a VDP base on 15 April that killed eight soldiers and 32 VDPs, according to the provincial governor.

Burkina’s authorities have claimed that attackers were Islamist militants wearing military uniforms. OHCHR called for a full and independent investigation, and for authorities to publish the findings of investigations into several other reported attacks on civilians by the armed forces and VDPs during November and December 2022. Council members may echo this call for an investigation, and stress that all parties to the conflict in Burkina Faso respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Some members may also reference OHCHR’s fact-finding report released on 12 May into the reported killing of hundreds of people during a military operation in the central Malian village of Moura from 27 to 31 March 2022. While Malian authorities denied UN staff access to Moura, OHCHR concluded from interviews and other information, such as satellite imagery, that there were “strong indications” that more than 500 people were killed—the vast majority summarily executed—by Malian troops and foreign military personnel. The latter appears to reference the Wagner Group, a Russian private security company deployed in Mali since late 2021.

Tiare may speak about G5 Sahel efforts to uphold international humanitarian law, including through the compliance framework that the FC-G5S has developed with the support of OHCHR, as requested by Council resolution 2391 from December 2017. The Secretary-General’s report observes that the close collaboration between the FC-G5S and OHCHR has “set an important precedent for UN engagement with regional forces”. It adds that the FC-G5S has taken ownership of the concepts of international humanitarian law and human rights standards and that the restructuring of the Joint Force “presents an opportunity to further mainstream them”.

The link between climate change and security in the Sahel is another expected prominent subject during tomorrow’s briefing. The civil society speaker is expected to discuss the impact of climate change, which the UN has long observed drives food insecurity, disrupts livelihoods and is a source of inter-communal violence, such as herder-farmer conflicts, in the Sahel.

The Council recognised this link in its August 2021 presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel, observing “the adverse effects of climate change…on the security and stability of West Africa and the Sahel”. However, due to disagreements over climate change language, since January 2022 members have been unable to agree to this presidential statement, which was customarily adopted after the Council’s bi-annual briefing on the activities of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). Last year, elected member India blocked agreement on the text because it opposed mentioning the link between climate change and “security”, while so far this year it seems that China and Russia have raised similar objections about the text that Switzerland and Ghana proposed in January as the UNOWAS co-penholders.

During tomorrow’s meeting, some members may underscore that political transitions to restore elected governments in Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali should be completed within their current timetables. After delays in the transitions in Chad and Mali, all three countries are expected to hold national elections next year.

Because of setbacks to the FC-G5S and the expansion of the terrorism threat, members may highlight tomorrow other security mechanisms in West Africa and the Sahel. These include the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram-affiliated groups in the Lake Chad basin, the Accra Initiative involving Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, and Togo for enhancing security cooperation, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Standby Force. Members are also likely to reiterate the need to complement security responses by addressing structural conflict drivers, such as weak governance, under-development, and climate change through, for example, the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme.

Pobee could recall, as stated in the Secretary-General’s report, that the FC-G5S remains an important regionally-led initiative, which complements the multifaceted engagements by the UN and other international partners in the region. The Secretary-General’s report reiterates his view on “the need for a new generation of peace enforcement missions and counter-terrorist operations, led by regional forces, with guaranteed, predictable funding”. In this regard, he mentions his report dated 1 May on the financing of AU peace support operations mandated by the Security Council. Council members are likely to recall their interest in the pending report and recommendations of the Independent High-level Panel on Security and Development in the Sahel, chaired by the former President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.

EU funding for logistic and operational support that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) provides to the FC-G5S is due to end on 23 June. This would bring an end to this support by MINUSMA next month, an issue which may be raised tomorrow.

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