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Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force Briefing

Tomorrow (15 November), the Security Council will hold a briefing on the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5-Sahel) joint force or FC-G5S, which Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger established last year to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the region. The Council expects to hear briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, G5 Sahel Permanent Secretary Maman Sidikou, and AU High Representative for Mali and the Sahel Pierre Buyoya. Pedro Serrano, the EU Deputy Secretary General for Common Security and Defence Policy and Crisis Response, will brief via video-teleconference from Brussels. France, penholder on the G5-Sahel joint force, is preparing a Council press statement that will cover regional security trends, progress in the operationalisation of the G5-Sahel joint force and current international support to the force, human rights-related aspects and broader political and development issues.

The Secretary-General’s report on the G5-Sahel joint force (S/2018/1006), provided every six months in accordance with resolution 2391, highlights that the full operationalisation of the FC-G5S has been slowed by major training and capability shortfalls, the absence of fortified and secure operational bases and inadequate funding. The 29 June attack on the force headquarters in Sévaré, Mali, claimed by the Al-Qaida linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, represented a “significant blow” for the joint force, according to the report. The attack, which killed two Malian soldiers, inflicted serious damage to the headquarters, and led to the replacement of the force leadership and the suspension of its operations, which are projected to resume in December. On 25 October, it was decided to relocate the headquarters permanently to Bamako.

Regarding funding challenges, the Secretary-General continues to recommend establishing under a Chapter VII mandate a UN support office, funded through assessed contributions and independent of MINUSMA, that can deliver a support package to the FC-G5S, similar to the UN Support Office in Somalia set up for the AU Mission in Somalia. He says that this would allow for predictable and sustainable financing for the joint force, noting that current arrangements limit its capacity to plan and implement operations beyond a timespan of a few months. Efforts to develop the FC-G5S are occurring in the context of a security situation that has continued to deteriorate, with the report flagging as “particularly worrying” the spread of violence into eastern Burkina Faso. During his briefing, Lacroix is expected to reiterate the call for establishing a UN support package under a Chapter VII mandate, noting that the region is in crisis and that more needs to be done urgently. He may emphasise that both G5 States and donors must step up their efforts as not enough progress has been made in deploying the joint force, as a consequence of the headquarters attack and capacity gaps.

Among other key points from the Secretary-General’s report is that the success of the FC-G5S is contingent on addressing the root causes of insecurity and instability in the Sahel, such as poor governance and underdevelopment, which it says should be done under the umbrella of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS). It also emphasises the need to clarify and further develop the strategic concept of operations of the FC-G5S and enhance the institutional framework in which it is embedded, including by linking the joint force more effectively with political decisions and broader regional initiatives, and by G5 countries resolving divergent views on the role of the joint force. The report further stresses that a successful outcome of the Malian peace process remains the cornerstone of stabilisation efforts in the region, and that otherwise peace and security will remain elusive.

Sidikou may refer to G5 states’ frustration with what they perceive as a lack of international support. Both Sidikou and Buyoya are expected to repeat the calls of the G5-Sahel states and the AU for the Council to adopt a Chapter VII resolution establishing UN funding for the FC-G5S. Sidikou could also indicate frustration over what is perceived as a slow and cumbersome procurement process to receive international assistance that is handled by an EU contractor, flagging that the lack of equipment and poor condition of bases are slowing down deployment. For his part, Serrano may highlight the funding that the EU has committed to the FC-G5S, as well as to reimburse MINUSMA support to the force, and the EU’s role in overseeing a coordination mechanism to guide donor support.

Council members are expected to express support to the FC-G5S and the potential role it can play towards stabilising the region, while welcoming the commitment of G5 countries to address the threats of terrorism and transnational organised crime. Members are likely to raise concerns over human rights abuses documented in the Secretary-General’s report, in particular the killing of 12 civilians by Malian soldiers assigned to the FC-G5S on 19 May in Boulikessi, Mali, allegedly in retaliation for the killing of one soldier. As noted in the Secretary-General’s report, the unit was suspended and the Malian authorities are conducting a criminal investigation, the findings of which are expected to be shared with MINUSMA. Members may highlight the need to implement a human rights compliance framework that has been developed for the FC-G5S, and is necessary for UN support and critical for effective counter-terrorism.

Members may urge G5 countries to fulfil commitments such as fully deploying required forces, while calling on donors to disburse pledged funds. Some members may further echo support for a Chapter VII resolution establishing a UN support office in line with the Secretary-General’s recommendation. Council members are further likely to highlight the need to accompany military efforts with political and development initiatives, and governance reforms. In this regard, members may refer to the annual session of the Peacebuilding Commission held earlier this week (12 November) on peacebuilding and sustaining peace in the Sahel, and a PBC and ECOSOC joint session held 13 November on climate security in the Sahel that provided opportunities to discuss the UNISS, the recently-developed UN Support Plan for the Sahel and other development-related initiatives in the region.

Since last year’s divisive negotiations on resolutions 2359 and 2391, France has sought to take a more incremental approach and allow time for the force to become more operational before reviving debate on a Chapter VII resolution that would establish using UN assessed contributions for the FC-G5S, which the US has opposed, preferring bilateral support modalities for the G5. Thus, the Council is not expected at present to renew negotiations regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a UN support office.

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