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Ministerial Meeting on the Central Sahel
Hosted by the UN, EU, Denmark and Germany

Statement by Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights New York,
20 October 2020


Excellencies, Distinguished guests,

Thank you for inviting OHCHR to this important meeting.

A “perfect storm” of conflict, weak governance, underdevelopment, demographic pressure, and climate change in the central Sahel has led to one of the worst protection crises in the world, aggravated by COVID-19. At its core is a human rights crisis, in which millions of people are deprived of their basic rights to life, food, education, health, and development. To resolve the multiple challenges confronting the Sahel, our collective effort must therefore have human rights and the human dignity of all people in the region at its centre. As the Secretary-General has said, “human rights are the perfect tool to bring a transformational change to the life of people in the Sahel”. To this end, OHCHR strives to ensure a robust presence on the ground to support the people and work together with key stakeholders to make change sustainable.

We remain extremely concerned at the levels of violence and attacks on civilians in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali from extremist groups, criminal groups, and by self-defence groups operating with states’ overt or complicit acquiescence, in a climate of impunity. The behaviour national security forces in a number of incidents also raises serious questions. The humanitarian consequences on the civilian populations are unprecedented. Years of development gains and of peaceful coexistence between communities have been lost.

We recognize the military efforts in the region to contain the expansion of violent extremism and organized crime. However, States in the region need to step up their commitment to conduct these efforts in compliance with both international human rights law and international humanitarian law, with the protection of civilians at their core, and provide justice and accountability for violations and abuses by security forces and all armed actors. This is key to strengthening the populations’ confidence in all states in the region. OHCHR stands ready to further assist governments and other partners in these efforts. Our significant cooperation with the G5 Sahel and its Joint Force in operationalizing its Compliance Framework demonstrates undeniable achievements to date together with robust plans for further action.

Excellencies, colleagues,

The interlinked crises in the Sahel are a clear example of why the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights is both necessary and urgent. As noted,, this crisis is a human rights crisis. Only a human rights-based, comprehensive and “One UN” approach addressing the root causes of the crisis – such as poverty, inequalities, exclusion, weak governance and rule of law, competition over natural resources – can provide a sustainable and inclusive response to the challenges in the region.

We look forward to continuing working hand in hand with all stakeholders, including affected communities, to advance the human rights of all people in the central Sahel.

Thank you.