Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 18, 2022
I will now make a statement in my capacity as the Representative of the United States.
Like other Security Council members, the United States is alarmed by rising violent extremism, terrorist attacks, inter-communal violence, growing food insecurity, and democratic backsliding in the Sahel.
Let’s not sugar coat it: The challenges are acute. Civilian deaths continue to mount, as do the numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees. As Dr. Bandiaki-Badji noted, there is no one singular issue, but rather a mosaic of interrelated challenges, including political and economic exclusion, resource competition, and long-standing grievances. The impacts of climate change, population growth, displacement, and food insecurity complicate the region’s response. Further, three of the five Sahelian governments – Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali – currently are neither democratically elected nor civilian-led. And timelines to return to constitutional order via free and fair elections remain, at best, unclear.
The United States supports the Secretary-General’s call for the authorities in these countries to hand power back to civilian rule as soon as possible. But as much as we need to be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, we must not sink into cynicism. We must, as others have said, stay engaged and work together to bring stability and security to the people of the Sahel. That is why the United States has continued its strong bilateral partnership with the G5 Sahel to address security threats. We have provided more than $600 million since 2017 in equipment, training, and advisory support for crucial capacity gaps. And we have sent nearly $2 billion for development projects and nearly $2.2 billion in humanitarian aid.
But, of course, the real work needs to come from the Sahelian governments. They hold the keys. They must enact good governance and sustainable development solutions to help turn the tide. That means improving equitable service delivery, expanding widespread access to justice, and holding free and fair elections. This is how you rebuild people’s trust in government.
In Mali, we welcomed ECOWAS’s strong action in defense of democracy in January. We call for the Malian transition authorities to make good on their pledge to its people and organize elections according to a reasonable timeline, as it committed to do following the August 2020 coup d’état. We join others in expressing our regret that Mali has withdrawn from the G5 Sahel. This is a decision that further isolates Mali from the mission’s important work and from the region.
In Burkina Faso, we also urge the transition government to come to an agreement with ECOWAS on a timeline to return to democratically elected civilian-led government. The transition government must abide by its international commitments and its obligations and protect civil liberties. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and access to the internet must be upheld.
In Chad, we support the people, the African Union, and our international partners in advocating for this timely transition to a democratically elected, civilian-led government. And we encourage the Transitional Military Council to hold an inclusive national dialogue as soon as possible, followed by a constitutional referendum and then free and fair elections.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, as others have, the newest variable in regional instability: the Russia-backed Wagner Group. Across Africa, its forces are actively undermining stability, rule of law, good governance, and respect for human rights. According to numerous reports, Wagner has committed egregious human rights abuses – often targeting marginalized groups, exploiting longstanding grievances that fuel violent extremist recruitment. Let’s make no mistake: the Wagner Group threatens the safety and the security of UN peacekeepers in Mali and the Central African Republic, and it prevents these missions from protecting civilians. Russia’s disinformation and propaganda efforts continue to deploy false narratives to help protect the Wagner Group from responsibility for its actions – even, as we all know and agree, that any attack on UN personnel may constitute war crimes.
Finally, I want to make clear that the region cannot move forward until justice and accountability are prioritized. The G5 Sahel countries must pursue legitimate efforts to prevent, investigate, and pursue accountability for allegations of human rights violations and abuses. None of this work is easy. But all of it is vital to the peace and security of the people of the Sahel region. So, we must keep at it and we must work together.