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National statements

Statement to the UN Security Council regarding peace and security in Africa: the impact of transnational organised crime in West Africa and the Sahel region

Thematic issues

  • Central Africa
  • Climate
  • Conflict Prevention
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Extremism
  • Guinea
  • Humanitarian
  • Justice
  • Libya
  • Peace and Security
  • Piracy
  • Rule of Law
  • Sahel
  • Small arms
  • Terrorism
  • West Africa


Peace and Security in Africa: the impact of transnational organised crime in West Africa and the Sahel region

Statement by H.E. Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Mr President

I would like to thank Togo for your leadership in convening this important debate. And in particular President Gnassingbé for his presence today and you – Minister – for being with us this afternoon. The challenges facing West Africa and the Sahel region clearly demand greater international focus. The Secretary-General's warning this morning of the fear of a crisis in the region of the magnitude of that the one in the Horn of Africa should be a wake-up call for us all.

Today's debate presents an important opportunity to examine root causes, to discuss concrete, coordinated action, and to mobilise international support for West Africa and the Sahel to assist them in responding to these challenges.

Mr President

Transnational crime takes various forms, which are all too often viewed as separate phenomena. In truth, transnational crimes tend to feed-off, and reinforce, each other.

As we know, such crime thrives in environments where there are challenges to governance; where governments, law enforcement agencies and judiciaries lack the capacity to pursue and prosecute criminals; and where unemployment is a serious problem.

The challenges confronting the Sahel are particularly acute. Existing challenges facing the region have been exacerbated by the Libya crisis, with resultant flows of weapons and the influx of returnees. More broadly, as the Representative of Mauritania has just starkly reminded us, West Africa and the Sahel face the existing threats of regional drug trafficking, piracy and terrorism. We have heard worrying warnings today about the links between organised crime and terrorist groups. The exacerbating impact of the effects of climate change – as recognised by the assessment mission to the Sahel – compounds these challenges.

Mr President

The Sahel assessment mission report clearly spells out necessary actions. These include multi-sectoral reintegration initiatives for returnees, with a strong focus on conflict prevention, social cohesion and protection. Programs that focus on youth unemployment are vital. Over the long-term, conflict prevention programs should address access to justice, particularly given the weak rule of law structures in the areas of return. More broadly, across West Africa and the Sahel, national governments need support to secure their national borders, including against the transfer of weapons, and to implement national programs to destroy illegal arms. We need to build the capacity of local governments to tackle transnational organised crime and terrorism, through strengthening their national institutions and supporting the development of comprehensive national strategies with the view to facilitating the exchange of information, coordination and joint operations.

We must also support regional security strategies and mechanisms, particularly enhancing the exchange of security information. The role of ECOWAS is critical. Given there is no one sub-regional organisation that covers all the Sahel, the roles of the African Union and the United Nations are also particularly important.

We welcome the participation of the African Union in the Sahel assessment mission, and support enhanced cooperation and information sharing between the AU Commission and UN Secretariat on these issues. The AU Commission has an important role to play in following up and assisting member states in the implementation of AU decisions and relevant UN resolutions.

We support the urgent strengthening of the UN system's security capacity and presence on the ground, and are interested in the Secretary-General's proposal this morning for specialised police units within peace operations to work alongside national units to build capacity and tackle crime. We also support the recommendation of an overarching framework to bring together all the affected countries in the Sahel to address these challenges.

Mr President

Australia seeks to be part of the solution.

To assist countries to manage flows of people and weapons, we are working actively with the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate to enhance border control capabilities in the Sahel and Maghreb.

Effective disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in the aftermath of Libya is an important task. Preventing the spread of weapons across the region is the immediate challenge. In the longer term, the key to addressing the scourge of proliferation of small arms – the oft-quoted weapons of mass destruction of the African continent – is effective implementation of the UN Programme of Action (PoA) on Small Arms and Light Weapons and negotiation of a robust, legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Australia is playing an active role in the negotiation of the ATT – a vital instrument for Africa – and is working to build the capacity of states to implement the PoA.

Australia is contributing to strengthening crime cooperation through the Global Counterterrorism Forum's Sahel working group. We are working with the African Union on a series of AU transnational crime guides: on people smuggling; human trafficking; anti-money laundering; proceeds of crime; counter-terrorism (CT); and CT financing. And we have supported efforts to improve mutual legal assistance between Francophone and Anglophone countries in West Africa.

Mr President

The Report of the assessment mission on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea estimates the financial effects of piracy alone at $2 billion per annum for the region. Australia is consulting UNODC and regional governments to determine how we can best support efforts to tackle West African piracy. We welcome the initiative of the ECOWAS and the Economic Community of Central African States in developing a maritime security strategy.

Togo's concept note for this debate explains the need to establish how, and the extent to which, pirates of various regions interact and learn from each other. As part of the effort to better understand root causes and to draw from experience across different regions of the world on the most effective tools for preventing and tackling piracy, Australia will host a piracy conference in mid 2012. The conference will compare the experiences of counter-piracy cooperation in the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia and West Africa.

Mr President,

This Council has regularly reaffirmed the strong nexus between security and development. We join in other speakers in highlighting the importance of addressing the socio-economic factors that enable transnational crime and terrorism to thrive. We need to quickly mobilise prevention programs in the region to ensure that unemployment, lack of education and poverty do not feed violence and extremism. These vulnerabilities, combined with the increased free flow of weapons in the region, are a toxic combination that must be tackled head on.

We must address the urgent humanitarian needs facing the Sahel region. But longer-term resilience to meet food security challenges in particular is vital.

That is why, on 9 February, Australia announced a $10 million contribution to address the escalating food crisis in the Sahel. This builds on our $100 million program to enhance agricultural productivity and community resilience in Africa, particularly West Africa. Australia is backing this up by seeking to build long-term capacity through scholarships for West African officials to undertake study in agriculture, resource management and food security.

Mr President

In conclusion, the international community must work together to strengthen governance and the capacity of law enforcement agencies and judiciaries in the region. We must address the social and economic factors that make transnational crime attractive. We must address both the immediate food crisis, and long-term issues of food security. We must become better at coordinating our assistance. And we must respond to the challenges of piracy and terrorism with practical, well-targeted capacity building.

Australia strongly endorses the call for better coordinated action between the UN, AU and ECOWAS in addressing the challenges of the region. We are committed to continuing to work with all partners to make a secure and sustainable future for the people of this region a reality.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 10 June 2015
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