Peace and Security in Africa: United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you Mr President.
Like others, we welcome Guebre Sellassie to her first Council briefing as Special Envoy.
Today's meeting is important in maintaining the spotlight on the ongoing humanitarian, governance and security challenges in the Sahel region, and on the UN's response. As we have been warned time and again, we cannot forget the Sahel or we will face more crises like the one experienced in Mali.
Recent developments in the Sahel are worrying: clashes between the government and armed groups in northern Mali; a deteriorating security situation in Libya; and the increasing impact of Boko Haram. Civilians across the region face the persistent threat of violence and food insecurity. Terrorism and organised crime are harming legitimate economic opportunities, undermining government capabilities, and creating political instability. This is in turn allowing armed groups to expand their influence. There are new flows of refugees and internally displaced people.
Just as the problems transcend borders, so too must their solutions. The Integrated Sahel Strategy provides a truly cross-regional platform to address the challenges. The focus must now be on implementation of all three pillars of the Strategy – governance, security and resilience – prioritising the highest impact activities.
I will focus on three issues.
First, coordination. The Sahel strategy is a tool for coordination both within the UN and internationally. It should assist in coherence of action by regional and international actors, so time and resources are not wasted.
We're encouraged by the growing leadership from the region, including through the Ministerial Coordination Platform, which met in Bamako in May. We welcome UN and African Union support for the Platform. We also note the establishment of the Sahel "G5" to facilitate coordination between Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Complementarity and synchronisation between these initiatives will obviously be vital.
Second, terrorism. Africa has become a central theatre in the fight against terorrism. The evolving nature of the Al-Qaida network poses particular threats to the Sahel region – where terrorist attacks increased last year by an alarming 60 percent, to their highest level in the past twelve years.
Al-Qaida affiliates in the Sahel exploit local conflicts; their leadership is younger, more prone to brutal violence and less responsive to community leaders; and they are more independently resourced, raising money by taking territory, through organised crime and kidnapping for ransom.
Tackling the terrorist threat requires measured security and law enforcement approaches, coupled with community-based action to counter violent extremism. Regional governments need to diminish the appeal of terrorism to vulnerable populations, especially youth, who are at particular risk of radicalisation and who form the largest demographic constituency in the region.
Countering violent extremism is complex. But it is more relevant than ever in preventing terrorism and conflict. We welcome the Secretary-General's increased focus on the issue, and the priority the Regional Working Group on Security has given it.
This policy leadership now needs to be followed by concrete activities. Strengthening engagement between DPA, the Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force and the Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate will continue to be important and we urge the UN to leverage the full range of development and security entities to build community resilience against terrorism.
The Council has a specific instrument to tackle the Al-Qaida threat – namely the Al-Qaida Sanctions Regime. But its effectiveness depends upon the ability of affected States to use the regime as part of their national and regional counter-terrorism strategies. We need to do more to empower and encourage the countries of the Sahel to do so. As chair of the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, we have worked to improve collaboration with regional authorities to identify individuals and entities who should be targeted by the regime.
Finally, on resilience – the third pillar of the Strategy.
Over 20 million people in the Sahel – nearly the population of Australia – are threatened by food insecurity, including 5 million children facing acute malnutrition. An entire generation is at risk.
As the number of people confronting food insecurity, weather extremes, instability and violence grows, the need for a comprehensive approach to preventing and addressing these threats is self-evident. We welcome the efforts to date of the Sahel Strategy's Resilience Working Group towards promoting systemic change on resilience
We are pleased that the humanitarian community's three-year strategic response plan for the Sahel is well aligned with the Regional Working Group's efforts. We encourage the international community to continue support in line with this strategic approach.
Australia's humanitarian assistance to the Sahel region – over $60 million since 2012 – has aimed to bridge the gap between humanitarian relief and development, building community resilience and addressing the root causes of chronic malnutrition.
In conclusion, we are confident we have the tool – in the Sahel Strategy – to help address the region's interconnected challenges in an integrated way. The focus must self-evidently now be on concrete initiatives. We look forward to the release of the 2014-16 Implementation Plan very soon. We wish the Special Envoy well in her work and stand ready to support her.