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

Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 10, 2023


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Deputy Special Representative Biha and President Touray for your briefings; your work and your insights are particularly valuable and important to us during this perilous time for the region.

Let me begin, as others have, by noting we are approaching the expiration of UNOWAS’s mandate; we strongly support its renewal before the end of this month and look forward to working with the penholders.

Like our briefers, the United States is deeply concerned by the security, humanitarian, and political crises occurring in the Sahel; crises which are causing a dramatic increase in the strength and influence of violent extremism – violent extremism that, as we have heard, is spreading into parts of Coastal West Africa.

Violent extremism thrives when state authorities are absent; when the delivery of services is weak; when democracy is fragile or fleeting; when justice is inaccessible; and when economic and political exclusion prevail.

For the United States, instability in the Sahel is clearly a security problem with a democratic governance solution.

And we also cannot ignore the fact that the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group is interfering in African countries’ internal affairs, robbing them of their resources, committing human rights abuses, and endangering the safety and security of peacekeepers and UN personnel. Its presence and operations are not only failing to address the immediate violent extremist threat, but actually increasing the likelihood violent extremism will grow.

We are also gravely concerned about democratic backsliding across the region and urge the return of democratically elected, civilian-led governments. We applaud the continued efforts of UNOWAS to support democratic processes and to advise transitional governments on how to return to full civilian-led democracy.

We strongly condemn the killing of 28 people in northern Burkina Faso in late December and we will continue to engage with the transitional government to strengthen protections for human rights and civil liberties, and we will support accountability for human rights violations and abuses.

We share the concerns expressed by the UN on the departure of the UN resident coordinator in Burkina Faso, and we are concerned about reports that the French Ambassador to Burkina Faso has been asked to leave the country.

In Mali, to the government must eliminate all restrictions against MINUSMA so that that operation can effectively carry out the mandate this Council authorized, which includes protecting civilians, promoting human rights, and advancing peace and stability in Mali.

We must reinvigorate our collective action and support our African partners in addressing the problems that cross borders. We applaud the UN, the AU, G5 Sahel, and ECOWAS’ efforts to support the region, and we hope to see soon the Joint Strategic Assessment in accordance with their timeline.

Thank you.