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

Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 7, 2022


Thank you, Mr. President, and let me thank Special Representative Annadif and Ambassador Fatima for their helpful and insightful briefing. And we’ll keep our fingers crossed that we might be able to hear from Ms. Magigi and her insights as well.

As the number of coups and transition governments have grown in West Africa, so has the importance of UNOWAS. The United States strongly welcomes UNOWAS’ efforts to support the democratic process in the Sahel and advise these transitional governments, especially in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. So thank you, Special Representative, for that work.

Today, I’d like to talk about how we can make progress in those three countries, as well as in the broader regional security threats. In Mali, the authorities must urgently restore constitutional rule by holding timely elections. Fortunately, ECOWAS and Mali came to a welcomed agreement on a 24-month transition timeline starting from March 2022. We trust the transition government of Mali will turn its full attention to implementing the benchmarks for the remainder of this transition. That is what we expect. That is what the Malian people expect. And that is what the entire international community expects. We will all pay close attention to those benchmarks in the days to come. I must stress that the United States government is very concerned about the alarming increase of credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses carried out by the Malian Armed Forces in conjunction with the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group. These potential abuses and violations are exactly why we warn countries against partnering with the Russia-backed Wagner Group.

Turning to Guinea, the transition government must support the right of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest. It is long past time to return the country back to constitutional, civilian-led democracy. ECOWAS is an essential partner here. We encourage its continued engagement and dialogue with all stakeholders.

Likewise, in Burkina Faso, ECOWAS plays a key role in support of transition processes and security. We are encouraged by the transition government’s proposal to ECOWAS for a two-year transition timeline to return Burkina Faso to democratically elected civilian-led governance. We encourage partners to prioritize productive engagement with the transition government and to take into account Burkina Faso’s security and humanitarian challenges. Finally, at the regional level, terrorist violence against civilian and military targets in the Sahel is tragically rampant. The ongoing conflict in neighboring Libya increases instability by contributing to an increased flow of arms and mercenary groups in the region.

Working in this dangerous and complicated environment is not easy, so we applaud UNOWAS’ efforts to address so many of the region’s challenges, from climate change to security to development in West Africa. We especially support work through its partnerships with the International Organization for Migration, the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the UN’s Environment Programme.

For our part, the United States continues to work with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The Coalition welcomed Burkina Faso as its 84th member in late 2021 and Benin in spring 2022 as the Coalition’s 85th member. The Coalition also announced the formation of the Africa Focus Group in December 2021, which seeks to enhance African Coalition members’ civilian-led counterterrorism capabilities. All these efforts are critical. We can only stamp out terrorism by working together.

This is a moment of crisis for West Africa and the Sahel, Mr. President. But it can also be an opportunity – an opportunity to defeat terrorism, promote democracy, and put the people of the region first. Let us all continue to work closely with UNOWAS to do just that. Thank you.