posted on Mon 25 Aug 2014 5:01 PM
Security Council Ready to Adopt Sahel Presidential Statement

More than two months after the Security Council held its 19 June briefing on the implementation of the UN’s Sahel strategy, it is set to adopt a presidential statement on the Sahel. Chad first circulated a draft presidential statement on 25 July, which was open for comments until 30 July, with the objective of adopting it by the following day. However, as a number of members had substantive comments, two rounds of negotiations took place on 5 and 15 August. The draft presidential statement was then put under silence procedure Friday evening (22 August) until 11 am today.

The draft statement encourages greater cooperation among stakeholders in implementing the UN’s Sahel strategy and for the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sahel (OSES) to work closely with the countries of the region and other actors. It welcomes the establishment of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5) -a new regional organisation established on 16 February by the five core Sahel states identified in the strategy (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger)- as well as a plan to create a “follow up group” in New York composed of the permanent representatives of the G5 and other countries in the region. Additionally, the statement expresses continued grave concern over terrorist groups operating in the Sahel, including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, highlighting various regional and international initiatives to combat these groups.

Discussion on a presidential statement has been in the works since at least early June before the Council’s briefing by the new Special Envoy to the Sahel, Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of the UN’s strategy for the region (S/2014/397). It was decided that Chad should take the lead on any statement. (Morocco drafted the last two presidential statements on the Sahel adopted on 16 July 2013 (S/PRST/2013/10) and 12 December 2013 (S/PRST/2013/20) while it was still a Council member.) Chad opted not to circulate a text before the briefing and for a while it was unclear whether it was planning to. A new presidential statement, however, was considered necessary to establish the reporting cycle for the Secretary-General. Chad expressed its intention to draft a presidential statement, and in the programme of work for July, the agenda item under which the Sahel is considered, “Peace and Security in Africa”, was listed in the footnotes with the expectation of the adoption of a Sahel presidential statement that month.

The initial draft that Chad circulated contained a lot of agreed language from previous Council products on the region. However, there were a number of new elements that caught members by surprise, since they had not been previously consulted on the new and somewhat controversial ideas. These included language encouraging the Sahel states to establish a “special force” to combat terrorist groups; creating the new working group of the G5 in New York; a proposal to relocate the Office of the Special Envoy (OSES) from Dakar to one of the G5 states; and elevating the rank of the Special Envoy from an Assistant Secretary-General to Under-Secretary General.

A number of Council members, including the P3, objected to the relocation of the OSES for budgetary reasons, while also contending that the UN’s established infrastructure in Dakar and the need to work closely with UN Office of West Africa (UNOWA) benefitted the work of the Special Envoy. Also removed from the original draft was language that encouraged the OSES to establish a presence in each of the five core Sahel countries. Additionally, the proposal to elevate the Special Envoy’s rank was rejected. Chad had suggested giving the Special Envoy the rank of Under-Secretary-General in order to match the level of the ministers the Special Envoy is expected to interact with. In objecting to the language, members pointed out that the issue of the Special Envoy’s rank was decided last year by the Secretary-General, and that it was not the Council’s role to make such decisions.

During negotiations members also sought clarity about Chad’s proposal for the Sahel states to establish a special force to combat terrorist groups, which now has been rephrased in the statement being adopted tomorrow as “special units”. Chad told members that it envisioned the force as conducting joint border patrols, noting current joint patrols conducted by Chad and Sudan, as well as being formed in the context of the regional brigades of the AU standby forces. Members then agreed to have language on conducting border patrols added. Additionally, language was included on the Nouakchott Process established in 2013 as part of the African Peace and Security Architecture to strengthen the ability of countries of the Sahel region to more fully play their role in combatting terrorism and transnational organised crime. Language welcoming the progress and commitments taken at the 27 June AU summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to establish the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis (ACIRC) was also added during the negotiations. (The ACIRC is a new joint rapid reaction force being created by African countries, which has been pushed by South Africa in light of the delays in the establishment of the AU standby forces.)

The proposal on the new working group was also initially met with skepticism by many members concerned in part over budgetary implications as well as whether the group would duplicate the work of the Coordination Platform. (The Coordination Platform is a key mechanism created by the UN’s Sahel strategy to coordinate the various international initiatives in the region, currently chaired by Mali and is supported by a technical secretariat). When it was agreed that the working group’s primary role would be for information exchange, members agreed to its inclusion as a “follow up group”.

In the final stages of negotiation, the main issue that needed to be settled was the reporting cycle, which has been twice yearly. Several members wanted to reduce the Secretary-General’s reporting requirements on the UN’s Sahel strategy and merge it with the Council’s consideration of UNOWA. They noted that both the December briefing and the 12-month report occur very close to the briefings and reports on UNOWA, and therefore result in a lot of repetition of information. The Special Envoy apparently did not want the Sahel briefing to be combined with UNOWA, which already has a broad agenda and could reduce the attention on the Sahel. Keeping this year’s upcoming December briefing was also particularly important for Chad since it will hold the presidency in December. In the final version being adopted, the compromise agreed to requests a briefing by 15 December 2014 and the next report by 30 November 2015 (instead of in June), establishing a one year reporting cycle on the Sahel.