posted on Fri 7 Dec 2012 5:13 PM
High-Level Sahel Meeting

On Monday morning (10 December), Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine Al Othmani (Morocco) will preside over a high-level public meeting of the Security Council on the Sahel region. During the meeting, the Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and the Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, as well as representatives from several regional organisations— including the AU, the EU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Arab Maghreb Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation—are expected to make statements. The discussion is expected to cover a wide range of areas related to the Sahel region, including security, governance, development, human rights and humanitarian issues. Council members are currently negotiating a presidential statement, which they hope to put under silence procedure today, with the aim of adopting it on Monday.

While there is general agreement that the Sahel region is an important issue for the Council at present, it seems that some Council members would have preferred to have had a meeting on the Sahel following the publication of the Secretary-General’s report on a UN integrated strategy on the Sahel. (This report was requested in resolution 2056 of 5 July and there had been hopes it would be ready for consideration by this point; however, it now looks likely to be submitted early next year.)

Furthermore, some members were not entirely convinced that an outcome document was needed from the briefing. Earlier this week, the Council considered the Secretary-General’s 29 November report on Mali (S/2012/894), which deals with the wider Sahel—albeit tangentially—and the Council is likely to adopt a resolution on Mali that is expected to include references to developments in the Sahel. (On Wednesday, 5 December, the head of the Department of Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, briefed the Council on the deteriorating security situation in northern Mali. While Feltman said that a military operation may be required as a “last resort,” he stressed that the priority must be supporting the national authorities to restore constitutional order and reach a political settlement to the ongoing crisis.)

The draft presidential statement currently under consideration apparently largely focuses on the wider issues in the Sahel, including the underlying structural problems and the humanitarian crisis, it also emphasises the need for a comprehensive and strategic approach to the Mali situation to ensure that instability there does not spread throughout the region.

There also appears to have been interest from some members in more explicit references to the destructive activities of terrorist elements, including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in northern Mali. It is therefore likely that—besides expressing concern about the increasing entrenchment of these terrorist elements—the final text will condemn the destruction of historic sites by the terrorists in Timbuktu and other places in northern Mali.

Notwithstanding the reference made by the Secretary-General in his recent report on Mali that the various armed groups that control northern Mali “are well armed, with relatively sophisticated equipment from Libya”, one area of difficulty during the negotiations on the draft text apparently has been whether or not to make a specific reference to Libya in relation to the concern about the proliferation of weapons in the region. It seems that Russia is keen to include the specific reference while the European members and the US prefer a more general statement.

The statement may also be expected to urge the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy to finalise the UN integrated strategy for the Sahel region sooner rather than later.

The Council last received a briefing on the Sahel on 17 September, when Feltman provided an outline of the developing strategy (S/PV.6836) as requested in resolution 2056. On 21 September, Council members issued a press statement (SC/10772) taking note of “the progress made in developing a United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel, pursuant to resolution 2056 (2012).”

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