Remarks by Ambassador Robert Wood, Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs, at a UN Security Council Briefing on the G5 Sahel

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November 16, 2022

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Assistant-Secretary-General Pobee and Executive Secretary Tiare, for your informative briefings.

The United States is growing increasingly concerned by the security, humanitarian, and political crises unfolding in the Sahel. The region has witnessed a dramatic increase in the strength and influence of violent extremist groups. Threats to civilians, reports of human rights abuses and violations, and levels of displacement and humanitarian need are all on the rise. Yet another military takeover in Burkina Faso marks the latest indication of democratic backsliding in the region. The situation in the Sahel remains an urgent priority for this Council.

For the United States, instability in the Sahel is firmly a security problem with a democratic governance solution. Violent extremism thrives when state authorities are absent; when the delivery of services is weak; when democracy is fragile or fleeting; when justice is inaccessible; and when economic and political exclusion prevail. Population growth, displacement, and a changing climate exacerbate these governance failures by undermining traditional livelihoods and creating new competition over vital resources. Women and youth are disproportionately affected by these challenges, fueling greater inequality and injustice.

As a leading provider of bilateral, humanitarian, and other forms of assistance, the United States urges Sahelian governments to focus on structural drivers of instability to build a new social compact with its people and lay the groundwork for lasting peace and security. Three of the five Sahel governments, namely Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali, are currently neither democratically elected nor civilian-led. This increases tension and dramatically inhibits foreign partners’ ability to provide security and other assistance. To allow foreign partners to resume currently restricted international support, we urge Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad to continue on the path to timely, durable, and inclusive democratic transitions.

While we welcomed in July the agreement between Mali and the Economic Community of West African States for its return to democratic rule, we encourage Mali to strictly adhere to agreed-upon timetables for elections. The United States remains committed and ready to support Malians in this effort.

In September, Burkina Faso experienced its second military takeover in just nine months. We welcomed assurances in October from Burkina Faso’s transition president that he will adhere to the previous transition authorities’ commitment to ECOWAS to hold democratic elections in July 2024.

We are concerned by Chad’s decisions to extend its transition, deviating from the African Union guidelines for democratic transitions as well as its violent crackdown on demonstrators. We urge Chad to ensure accountability for those responsible for this violence and ensure an inclusive process for drafting a new constitution and organizing elections with independent oversight.

Authorities in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad must facilitate reforms ultimately resulting in free and fair elections which yields a return to democratically-elected civilian rule.

We remain disappointed in the Malian authorities’ unfortunate decision to withdraw from the G5 Sahel. This decision significantly weakens an organization specifically designed to address the scourge of terrorism within Mali’s borders and throughout its neighborhood. In Mali and elsewhere in Africa, Council members and Member States can contribute to the peace and security by supporting UN listings of ISIS and al-Qa’ida affiliates and supporters that remain undesignated, and which pose serious threats to peace and stability in the region, and indeed globally.

The United States is further concerned by short-sighted security partnerships with the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, whose forces are exploiting natural resources and actively undermining stability in Mali and elsewhere in Africa. In Mali, allegations of human rights abuses have skyrocketed as a result of Wagner operations in the name of “counterterrorism.” These operations often target marginalized groups.

Kremlin-linked disinformation and propaganda campaigns are inciting violence against UN forces personnel and are undermining the local support the UN needs to do its work. Meanwhile, Wagner forces are obstructing UN peacekeepers in Mali, who are mandated by this Council to support stabilization efforts, protect civilians, investigate, and monitor human rights abuses and violations, assist in humanitarian delivery, and put the country on a path to peace and democratic rule. The Malian transition government’s efforts to impair MINUSMA’s freedom of movement to create space for Wagner is putting this mission and its personnel in jeopardy.

The United States stands alongside institutions working to build greater governance and security force capacities, promote sustainable development, and prevent democratic backsliding. We look forward to the Joint Strategic Assessment on the Sahel being undertaken by the UN, AU, ECOWAS, and G5 Sahel. We hope this effort results in an honest assessment of the overlapping governance, security, and economic challenges undermining peace and security in the region. The United States will use these findings to consider how we can deepen and expand our support for effective, well-coordinated solutions.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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