Thank you, Mr. President, for convening this important session. I’d also like to thank the Secretary-General and Special Envoy Prodi for their briefings and those of others.
We gathered last on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly general debate to spur international action on the deteriorating situation in the Sahel. Today, the international community and the people of the Sahel continue to face a complex set of interrelated challenges that threaten the security of the region and beyond. Serious tensions persist within and between the countries of the region. Violent extremism is flourishing. Terrorist and criminal organizations exploit safe havens to plan and conduct attacks and traffic in weapons and other illicit materials. The humanitarian situation remains dire as millions suffer from violence and a lack of food. These problems are linked, and they require a comprehensive solution with contributions from a range of partners.
The United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the actions of Special Envoy Prodi are critical for mobilizing deeper cooperation among international actors, including the United Nations, regional, and sub-regional organizations, to achieve our common goal of a more democratic, stable, secure and economically developing Sahel region.
While the acute crises in Mali – which we are addressing in separate sessions – are perhaps the most conspicuous problems we face in the Sahel, as the Secretary-General has noted, they must be understood in the broader context of a deeply strained region. Though Mali’s current predicament arises largely from specific internal factors, the country’s challenges are reinforced and exacerbated by a range of transnational dynamics such as region-wide afflictions, adverse ecological changes, underdevelopment, disaffected local populations, and organized criminal networks.
Given Mali’s delicate situation, we must be careful to address the crises in Mali without further destabilizing the entire region. More than 210,000 Malian refugees have fled to neighboring countries and are living among communities already stressed by drought. Any military intervention in Mali must thus be designed to minimize the operation’s humanitarian impact and the impact on human rights. This is best achieved through humanitarian participation in the military planning process, and we welcome the Secretary-General’s recommendation in his most recent report on Mali that UN human rights observers be mandated to ensure that any intervention adheres to international and human rights law.
The rise of violent extremism and organized crime across the region is aggravating the situation in Mali. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, and other terrorist groups have launched attacks and kidnappings from northern Mali into neighboring countries, and terrorists and criminals are extending their reach. This threat demands better coordination of existing efforts across the Sahel to combat transnational crime and the proliferation of terror networks. We can only tackle these threats effectively, if, as many have said, we work together. The United States has expanded our counterterrorism partnerships in the region to help countries tackle growing threats to their own security. The Global Counterterrorism Forum, for example, is working on Good Practices for Preventing and Denying the Benefits of Kidnapping for Ransom to Terrorists. We are also working to shut down safe havens, cut off financing, and counter extremist ideology.
Considering the humanitarian situation across the Sahel, there are immediate needs that demand our urgent attention. However, international assistance that builds long term resilience ultimately saves more lives and reduces the likelihood of repeated humanitarian crises. So as we work to ameliorate suffering now, we must enable communities to mitigate and recover from shocks and reduce food insecurity. The U.S. has committed more than $445 million in 2012 to humanitarian assistance for drought-affected and conflict-displaced communities in the Sahel. We intend these resources to alleviate the dire situation at hand, reduce chronic vulnerability, and ultimately to promote more inclusive growth.
The multifaceted and overlapping challenges of the Sahel mean we face a long road ahead that must include stemming the terrorist threat, fighting organized crime, and controlling the proliferation of weapons; promoting reconciliation and mediation within and between countries; responding to humanitarian needs, and all while strengthening communities’ resilience. This is a complex but essential agenda that demands deeper cooperation by all of us on each of these challenges to lay the foundation for long-term solutions to the multidimensional issues that pose a serious threat to peace and stability of the region.
We urge continued progress towards developing a comprehensive strategy for the Sahel that focuses the international community and coordinates its action to bring peace, political stability, and sustainable development to the people of this region. Thank you, Mr. President.
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