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

Ambassador Cherith Norman
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 8, 2020


Thank you Mr. President. At the outset, I’d like to join colleagues in welcoming you and the other incoming Council members to the chamber—the new members. And to extend our congratulations to you as chairing the Security Council this session. We look forward to working closely with all of you. Special Representative Chambas, thank you for your remarks. We commend you and your office in promoting long-term stability and peace in West Africa and the Sahel. UNOWAS is the region’s leader in preventive diplomacy, and as the security situation deteriorates and political challenges mount, its work is more important than ever. We hope the ideas and the focus that emerged from last month’s Intercommunal Violence and Terrorism briefing, which we co-hosted together with Cote D’Ivoire, will support your efforts in 2020. We also note, Mr. Special Representative, the report’s long list of your tireless regional travel and use of good offices to ease tensions, unify, and sustain peace. As the Security Council considers UNOWAS’s mandate renewal in the coming weeks, please know that the United States supports the work of your team, and that we are committed to ensuring you can conduct that work as effectively as possible.

Let me now turn to the Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNOWAS. The United States is deeply concerned that violence, spurred by extremist activity and criminal networks, has spiked in the Lake Chad Basin and border region between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. And Ambassador Abarry, you and your country have experienced this directly and we again extend our condolences the loss of life that your country has experienced and condemn these terrorist attacks. We are troubled by increased displacement and continued limitations on humanitarian access across the Sahel. There are 25 million people across the Sahel in need of humanitarian assistance. And we must all work together to ensure that they receive it. UNOWAS is essential to regional stability, but it cannot maintain stability on its own. We call upon the affected West African nations to increase efforts to ensure that all their citizens have access to education, health care, and greater employment opportunities. Improving the scope and quality of services can turn despair into hope for many, which will go a long way in countering violent extremism and criminality in the region. Serious efforts to address basic needs will also further convey to local populations that their governments are responsible democratic actors.

The situation in Mali continues to be especially concerning for the United States given its impact across the Sahel. We hope that all Council members join us in urging, both bilaterally and multilaterally, the signatory parties of the Algiers Accord to meet the implementation benchmarks in UN Security Council Resolution 2480. This would substantially bolster efforts to stabilize Mali and the Sahel. Governments must also continue to align humanitarian, peacebuilding, and development goals with UNOWAS’s assistance to address more effectively the root causes of violent extremism. Ensuring full and equal participation by women in decision making and peace processes is just one important way to do this. We also encourage the Security Council to further prioritize adequate and predictable humanitarian financing, and other donors to increase contributions to humanitarian response plans.

Fellow Council members, 2020 is a critical year for the future stability of West Africa and the Sahel. Citizens will exercise their right to choose their leaders as Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, and Togo hold presidential and legislative elections. Additionally, the United States is encouraged by the presidential elections that took place in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau in 2019, and the ongoing work of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission in The Gambia. However, we remain concerned about efforts in some West African countries to restrict fundamental freedoms of political expression. To that end, the United States urges governments to create peaceful and open political environments; respect freedom of expression and assembly; and facilitate the full participation of media, civil society, and opposition groups in public life. We encourage all actors to use dialogue rather than violence to address their differences.

In closing, Special Representative Chambas, as you said earlier, the time for action is now. The United States encourages you to redouble UNOWAS’s efforts with stakeholders to take concrete steps towards long-term stability in the region. This stability is within reach, and it is what the people of West Africa both need and deserve, and you have our support.

Thank you.