Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS)

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations

New York City
January 10, 2019


Thank you, Special Representative Chambas for your briefing here today, which outlined areas of progress as well as immense challenges that remain present in West Africa. Mr. President, we appreciate the work UNOWAS does in support of international peace and security and fostering freedom and good governance across West Africa and the Sahel. We also recognize and pay tribute to the sacrifices thousands of security forces and peacekeepers make every day to create a more prosperous and stable region. To those ends, I will highlight a few core priorities that we believe merit the attention of UNOWAS and this Council in the coming months.

In the Sahel, we share your concerns on the increasing intercommunal violence; the rise in insecurity along the Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger borders; the continued prevalence of terrorist and criminal activity throughout the region; and allegations of human rights abuses violations by non-state armed groups and security forces.

Mr. President, we share the concern expressed by the Secretary-General regarding the growing sophistication and reach of violent extremist organizations in parts of the Sahel. Only by promoting good governance, addressing the root causes of instability, creating economic opportunity, respecting human rights, and enhancing security can the region make sustained progress towards addressing these challenges.

We are particularly concerned by the increasing unrest in the central Sahel, at least partly driven by the scarcity of resources. We are concerned that over time local communities may begin seeing these disputes through an ethnic lens. Connected with this, we are pleased that UNOWAS recently completed its study on pastoralism and security in Western Africa and the Sahel. I look forward to coordinating with you as you seek to incorporate the findings into the UN’s work in the region.

Mr. President, Mali is at the center of the region with its own unique political and security challenges and its peace agreement. We call again on the parties to the agreement to make significant progress over the next few months. In particular, we hope they implement the measures laid out in UNSC resolution 2423. Going forward, we cannot and should not accept the unwillingness that we have seen in the past by the parties to fully and rapidly implement the Algiers Accord. The stakes are too high, both for the people of Mali and the region, and the Security Council should consider using all available tools, including sanctions, against those who obstruct implementation.

In the Lake Chad Basin, the security and humanitarian situations remain a concern. The lack of humanitarian access to large parts of the region continues to take a heavy toll on populations in need of assistance, in particular women and children. While the region has made progress in coordinating efforts against Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, it is clear that these violent extremist organizations remain dangerous threats.

Finally, Mr. President, we remain focused on Nigeria’s February national elections as a critical test of democracy in both Nigeria and the wider region. The United States continues to support the Nigerian goal of free and fair elections held in a peaceful and appropriately transparent manner that reflect the will of the Nigerian people. Through diplomacy, robust public engagement – including with youth and civil society – and democracy and governance programs, we are helping the country to strengthen its democratic institutions and processes.

In advance of February’s elections, we share many of the concerns expressed by Nigerian observers and our international partners regarding the political climate and key areas of risk. Specifically, we are concerned about reports of intimidation and partisanship by security forces; heightened insecurity; an inability of internally displaced persons or persons with disabilities to vote and the risk that wide-spread vote buying could challenge the integrity of the electoral process.

We urge Nigerian authorities, political parties, civil society, and community leaders to address these risks in the run-up to February’s election and ensure that the election is genuinely free and fair and held in a peaceful and appropriately transparent manner. Twenty years since the country’s return to democratic rule, the upcoming elections provide Nigerians with an opportunity to shape the future of their country and further solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa.

Thank you.