posted on Wed 15 May 2019 5:12 PM
Briefing on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force

Tomorrow (16 May), the Council will hold a briefing on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel, which the group—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (G5 Sahel)—decided to establish in February 2017 to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the region. The anticipated briefers are: Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Bintou Keita, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Alpha Barry of Burkina Faso (as the rotating presidency of the G5 Sahel), AU High Representative for Mali and the Sahel Pierre Buyoya, EU Special Representative for the Sahel Angel Losada, and Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Yury Fedotov. Council members are expected to issue a press statement covering progress in the operationalisation of the G5-Sahel joint force, human rights-related aspects, and international support, as well as the security situation, including with regard to Burkina Faso.

Keita will be briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the G5-Sahel joint force or FC-G5S. Since January, the joint force has conducted four operations, after suspending operations following the June 2018 attack against its headquarters in Sévaré. According to the report, the joint force has attained 75 percent operational capacity. Persistent challenges include training and equipment shortages, unclear sustainability of financing, the absence of fortified and secure operational bases, and non-existent logistical supply chains to transport fuel and rations from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Information sharing and coordination between the force and its member states remain challenging. The report also recalls the need to clarify and develop the force’s strategic concept of operations.

Efforts to stand up the force fully are being made as security, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso, has further deteriorated with “spillover effects” on neighboring non-G5 countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Benin. In Burkina Faso last December, the government declared a state of emergency in 6 of 13 regions, reflecting growing intercommunal violence and the increased presence of terrorist groups, militias and armed gangs. The violence has created an “unprecedented humanitarian emergency” in the country, according to the Secretary-General, who earlier this week issued a statement condemning an attack on a church in northern Burkina Faso that killed six people. OCHA’s latest figures depict the worsening crisis with 160,000 people displaced as of 13 May. At tomorrow’s briefing, Keita could refer to UN plans to reinforce the office of the UN Resident Coordinator and increase the reach of UN agencies, funds and programmes throughout the country. In describing insecurity affecting Niger, the report indicates that Boko Haram and armed groups in the area of operations of the G5 Sahel joint force may be increasing links.

In his latest report, the Secretary-General repeats his call for the Council to establish a dedicated UN support office, funded through assessed contributions and independent of MINUSMA, to deliver a support package for the FC-G5S, and to place the force under a Chapter VII mandate. A new recommendation is for the Council to consider authorising MINUSMA to provide life-support consumables, such as rations and fuel, not only to FC-G5S units operating in Malian territory (as currently authorised under resolution 2391), but to all battalions operating in the framework of the joint force, on the condition that the joint force or other partners deliver this support and that units receiving such assistance are in strict compliance with the human rights due diligence policy on UN support to non-UN security forces (HRDDP). Keita may repeat these recommendations tomorrow.

G5 Sahel heads of state and the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) have recently called for the Council to extend MINUSMA’s support beyond the limits of Malian territory to all other components of the FC-G5S. Both Fall and Buyoya are likely to repeat these appeals. Buyoya may refer to the Nouakchott Process, reactivated by the PSC last year to enhance security cooperation in the Sahelo-Saharan region. Losada is likely to highlight EU support, which is, among other things, funding construction of the new joint force headquarters in Bamako, and maintains a coordination hub to facilitate the identification of needs and to coordinate donors’ financial support to the force. Fedotov may brief about UNODC’s support to the Permanent Secretariat of the G5 Sahel in establishing the police component of the FC-G5S. During the reporting period, G5 Sahel countries put in place specialised investigation units as part of this component, in charge of cases of terrorism and transnational organised crime.

Council members recently considered the operational status of the joint force and the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel during their 21 to 25 March visiting mission to Mali and Burkina Faso. They are likely to welcome recent steps to make the force fully operational, including its resumption of operations and progress in deploying the police component. Members may call for the further disbursement of pledged funds by donors, while encouraging G5 Sahel members to achieve tangible results.

Members may stress the importance of operationalising the human rights and international humanitarian law compliance framework for the force, welcoming some progress in this regard, and may also recall the need to avoid abuses and uphold human rights to avoid driving populations to support extremist groups. They may stress that joint force units must comply with the UN human rights due diligence policy in order to receive MINUSMA support, both for Malian units, and also for other G5 states’ contingents, in case the Council expands the availability of such assistance.

Only $472,000 of the first $6.2 million tranche provided by the EU has been used by the FC-G5S, according to the Secretary-General’s report, out of an estimated two-year budget of 44 million euros for support from MINUSMA. The report says that transport and storage of life-support consumables have been the single largest obstacle for making use of this assistance, while it indicates that the force has been unclear about the engineering support it seeks. Council members plan to consider whether to expand MINUSMA life-support consumables for use by all joint force contingents during next month’s mandate renewal of MINUSMA.

Members are further expected to raise concerns about Burkina Faso. They may encourage the UN to adapt its support based on the evolving situation. At this stage, the Council’s role appears limited to supporting initiatives related to the joint force, while being kept updated on developments in Burkina Faso by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel. Some members could highlight the potential for the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) to become more involved. Tomorrow afternoon, the PBC is holding a meeting on Burkina Faso with the participation of Fall, and the PBC is already involved in supporting the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS).

At tomorrow’s meeting, briefers and members are likely to emphasise the importance of complementing security initiatives with efforts to address structural problems that contribute to regional instability through the UNISS, the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme or the French/German/EU Alliance for the Sahel.