Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Peace and Security in Africa

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
September 13, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Under-Secretary-General Feltman, for your briefing. Thank you also to Ms. Fatima Shehu Imam for joining us, and it is good to hear from you. It was very good to have met you on the Counci’s trip earlier this year to Maiduguri. Thank you for the important work you do, Fatima, in northeast Nigeria. The contributions of civil society are so very critical.

The Lake Chad Basin is one of Africa’s most pressing challenges. For years, the United States has strongly supported efforts to eradicate the terror perpetrated by Boko Haram and ISIS, and this fight is far from over. But all of us in the Security Council must recognize that a military solution alone will not bring sustainable peace to the Lake Chad Basin. While the counterterrorism mission is vital, we also need to support the stabilization and development of liberated areas and demand respect for human rights and accountability for human rights abuses and violations for all perpetrators. That’s why, following the Council’s trip to the region, we voted to adopt Resolution 2359 and its mandate for the Secretary-General to regularly report on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin, so that the Council can respond to the grave circumstances faced by so many in the region.

This first report is an important step in this regard, and we are committed to ensuring the region remains on this Council’s agenda. Discussing the situation in the Lake Chad Basin in the Security Council shouldn’t be controversial at all. Boko Haram and ISIS are clear and present threats to international peace and security. We’ve seen unspeakable human rights abuses committed in the Lake Chad Basin.

The region is on the brink of famine. And we still do not have unfettered humanitarian access to those in need. So it’s long past time for this Council to step up its involvement.

Boko Haram persists in its brutal tactics and human rights abuses. The United States is deeply troubled by the increase in attacks and deaths we’ve observed at the hands of Boko Haram and ISIS since the adoption of Resolution 2359 earlier this year. In June and July alone, according to the UN, 60 female suicide bombers launched attacks across Borno State. Hundreds of civilians have been killed this year. There’s a long way to go to defeat Boko Haram and ISIS in the Lake Chad Basin. And that’s why the United States is deeply committed to our partnerships across the region to eradicate these groups and to stop the senseless violence.

As we discovered during the Council’s trip in March – in the course of our meetings with women and girls in Maroua, Cameroon and Maiduguri, Nigeria – this conflict, like so many others, has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, a point Ms. Fatima Shehu Imam just underscored to us. The fact that Boko Haram increasingly relies on young girls to commit suicide attacks is the clearest example. We were so struck with this terrible reality during our trip. Just as these girls’ lives were beginning, they were abused and brainwashed to commit the most unspeakable acts – cutting short their all too brief lives and those of innocents around them.

There is no question that Boko Haram and ISIS must be destroyed. But success against these groups requires more than simply a show of force. The most successful counterterrorism campaigns are those that adhere to international humanitarian law, respect the human rights of all citizens, and hold violators of human rights accountable. We therefore remain troubled by reports of regional security forces using inhumane and brutal tactics, or failing to distinguish terrorist combatants from civilians. Failing to uphold and protect human rights or hold security forces accountable only serves to boost the recruitment efforts of the very terrorists that we seek to eradicate. Regional governments must ensure that their security forces protect civilians and uphold their fundamental human rights. There must be a better way to both investigate and prevent these and other abuses from happening.

We were concerned to read in the Secretary-General’s report about the delayed opening of the OHCHR office in Chad to enhance regional monitoring and reporting. We believe the Council should consider mandating a formal OHCHR mission to visit the region to report firsthand on abuses by all parties.

But the challenges in this conflict do not end when areas are liberated from Boko Haram and ISIS. In these places, local authorities need to quickly restore the basics: rule of law, respect for human rights, and basic services. That is how we can all ensure that groups like Boko Haram and ISIS do not return. These efforts to restore local governance deserve strong international support. Governments in the Lake Chad Basin also need to create the conditions for millions of internally displaced persons and Nigerian refugees to voluntarily return to their homes in safety and in dignity.

We echo the Secretary-General’s call on Nigeria and Cameroon to work with UNHCR to achieve the full implementation of the Tripartite Agreement to guarantee no forced returns of refugees and call upon all other governments to avoid any involuntary or unsafe returns of those displaced.

The United States remains committed to supporting the governments of the Lake Chad Basin in meeting these very difficult challenges. We have contributed over $640 million to the international humanitarian response in the Lake Chad Basin since October 2015, of which more than two-thirds was provided in the last year alone. Many other countries have stepped up to provide assistance to the region, including Niger’s $4.4 million contribution to its own national appeal, and we commend these pledges, but more must be done. And, thus, we would again urge all Member States to examine ways in which they can support counterterrorism, the humanitarian response in all the affected countries, economic development, human rights, and stabilization in the region.

Mr. President, the United States will continue supporting regional leadership and the people of the Lake Chad Basin in their arduous efforts to rid the region of Boko Haram and ISIS and establish stability, good governance, and prosperity. We urge our fellow Council members and the entire UN system to continue focusing our attention and our efforts on the region and its challenges.

Thank you, Mr. President.