NEW YORK (IDN) - As Ban Ki-moon inches closer to ending his second five-year term as the UN Secretary-General, he is setting his sights on the Saharan Sahel spanning across eight African countries – Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad – assuring that improving the situation in the region is a “top priority” for the United Nations.
The region is faced with a “triple peril” of environmental degradation, poverty and insecurity, Ban said during a visit to Mauritania on March 4. The UN estimates that one in seven Sahelians lack food, one in five children will die before their fifth birthday, and four and a half million people have been forced to flee their homes. Communities have also been struggling against harsh environmental conditions and worsening climatic shocks. Besides, many of the countries in the Sahel region are dealing with a volatile security situation.
“You know my dedication to the Sahel,” Ban told those participating in an event on peace and security, which discussed the root causes of instability in the region. “When I visited at the end of 2013, we mobilized the international community to find durable solutions,” he recalled. “The countries of the region can defeat these difficulties by working together, with the support of the international community,” he added.
“The international response has a new boost thanks to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change,” the UN chief declared. “We have another opportunity to strengthen global solidarity at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May. I count on Sahelian leaders to attend.”
Ban said he was “especially concerned about the interlinked activities of criminal groups and terrorist organizations”. Local people pay the highest price, he added, noting that insecurity in Northern Mali has driven thousands of people from their homes, including some 48,000 refugees living in the Mbera camp in Mauritania.
The UN Chief assured: “The United Nations is ready to assist in countering terrorism and other asymmetric threats. In this, we insist on full respect for human rights and international humanitarian law – as a matter of moral responsibility and strategic effectiveness.”
Welcoming the African Union Nouakchott Process and its sustained focus on security and terrorism, Ban said Mauritania's engagement is “invaluable.” In his remarks, he saluted President Abdel Aziz's regional leadership and his role in establishing the 'G5 Sahel' comprising Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.
“We need to carry out these new initiatives. And we need enhanced regional support to the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA,” he said. “I especially applaud the G5's decision to establish a regional cell in Nouakchott for the prevention of radicalization. This can complement my global Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.”
MINUSMA; the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, was established by Security Council resolution 2100 of April 25, 2013 to support political processes in that country and carry out a number of security-related tasks. The Mission was asked to support the transitional authorities of Mali in the stabilization of the country and implementation of the transitional roadmap.
By unanimously adopting resolution 2164 of June 25, 2014, the Council further decided that the Mission should focus on duties, such as ensuring security, stabilization and protection of civilians; supporting national political dialogue and reconciliation; and assisting the reestablishment of State authority, the rebuilding of the security sector, and the promotion and protection of human rights in that country.
Ban also stressed that youth across this region need better access to education and decent jobs. “They can be a powerful force for progress against violent extremism. The historic Security Council resolution 2250 recognizes that young people can actively shape peace, contribute to justice and heal societies.”
He added that it is equally essential to empower women, including by ending female genital mutilation (FGM), and praised Mauritania's national policy against FGM – and similar efforts across the region. Furthermore, he welcomed the country's laws to penalize slavery and address torture. “Such abominable practices have no place in the modern world,” he stressed.
On March 5, Ban met with Sahrawi refugees suffering terribly under harsh conditions in Algeria. “The world cannot forget their plight. The Sahrawi people must enjoy their human rights – especially the right to self-determination within the framework of a mutually acceptable political solution,” emphasized the UN chief.
He underlined that his aim is to contribute to this solution and facilitate “genuine” negotiations so that Sahrawi refugees can return home to Western Sahara.
“I am also deeply concerned about the situation in Libya,” he added. “There are alarming reports of widespread human rights violations, including serious abuses that may amount to war crimes. All those with influence must use it to calm the situation and stop the fighting. It is utterly irresponsible for any outside player to stoke the fires.”
Ending his remarks, the UN chief said he is inspired by Mauritania's rich history, and that the world needs “such an open-hearted spirit to break down walls and forge trust.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 6 March 2016]
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Photo: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers his keynote address at a Peace and Security in the Sahel Region event in Nouakchott, Mauritania. UN Photo/Evan Schneider