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London 18:29, 02 Jan 2013
New York 13:29, 02 Jan 2013

'We recognise the responsibility that all UN member states share to help the people of the Sahel'

10 December 2012

Statement by the British Prime Minister's Special Envoy for the Sahel, Stephen O'Brien, at the UN Security Council debate on the Sahel; Towards A More Comprehensive and Coordinated Approach
United Nations Security Council Chamber

I am grateful to you for convening this timely and important debate and to the Secretary-General, to the Special Representative Prime Minister Prodi, the High Commissioner Gutierrez and Foreign Minister Diby for their briefings and I am very pleased to follow US Representative Rice and I look forward to hearing more from our colleagues from the region, including the African Union, the community of Sahel Saharan States and the Maghreb Arab Union.


The United Kingdom approaches the problems of the region with respect, with care, and with a clear sense of purpose. My Prime Minister, David Cameron, has asked me, as his Special Envoy for the Sahel, to convey his personal commitment to working with our partners here at the UN and in the region in order to tackle the challenges ahead.


We recognise the responsibility that all UN member states share to help the people of the Sahel, working in full partnership with those countries most affected. For instability in the Sahel threatens not only the security and livelihoods of people in the region, but also that of its neighbours and beyond. Events in Mali have made this only too clear.


So, Mr President, what are the challenges that we face?


First, fragility exists across much of the Sahel, where, for a variety of historical reasons, states are weak, borders are long and porous, and Governments are challenged by the need to serve diverse and growing populations over vast distances, and with few resources. Despite remarkable achievements over the last fifty years, many states in the region remain fragile.


Secondly, poverty and vulnerability. The Sahel is one of the most devastatingly poor parts of the world, with people surviving on the smallest possible incomes. These many millions of people are blighted by the lack of economic opportunity and unfair market access and they are on the front line of the world’s natural challenges – especially that of malnutrition. Food insecurity compounded by political uncertainty has led to hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and refugees this year alone as just so graphically defined by the High Commissioner Gutierrez who rightly urged us to give humanitarian action equal strategic emphasis along with the political and anti-violence strategies.


And finally, there is insecurity – the use of and the wider threat of terror, violence, and crime, imported from outside the Sahel. Extremism imposed in the name of religion in the North of Mali is entirely contrary to the long traditions of tolerance, diversity and respect which characterise Islam in West and North West Africa. Criminality that accompanies it is also an aberration imported from outside, however much it subverts and poisons local populations.


So for the sake of the people of the Sahel, and the wider international community, we must get to the heart of these problems, and quickly, by: addressing poverty, building resilience, as the Secretary-General himself so strongly stressed earlier today, with his example of sustainable energy for all – a solar exemplar in this part of the world – promoting political dialogue, and a new engagement with all acceptable interlocutors , including civic service organizations and combating the scourge of terrorism and crime.


Working in concert with the region, we must all share the responsibility of being the builders of stability, opportunity, and of decent lives.


So Mr President, how can we achieve this?


  •             We must show resolve against those who wish to exploit poverty and instability for their own ends. Extremists and criminals – terrorists, kidnappers, destroyers of heritage, human rights violators. Nowhere is action more urgently needed than in the North of Mali. I welcome the work of ECOWAS, the AU and the UN to offer a political process to those in the North who want to work for a stronger, more just, united Mali, and to prepare the option of military action against those who seek to rule by hatred and terror. We must apply equal effort to both these initiatives;


  •             But, in focusing on the urgent needs of Mali, we must not lose sight of the needs of the wider region where many of the same drivers of conflict are present.


  •            While others work to advance stability in Mali, we look to President Prodi, as the Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Sahel, to lead this critical work in the wider region. The UN’s Integrated Strategy for the Sahel must address the problems of fragility, of poverty and of insecurity comprehensively and with urgency. And only with such leadership, will we be able to build stability and prosperity for all in the Sahel;  
  •           Since February this year, the United Kingdom has committed over $90 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to the current crisis, which will reach at least 1.6 million people in need. But, we know that such assistance can only provide short term relief. Together we must help the region build resilience to the shocks of scarcity, climate change, population growth and food insecurity, and lay the foundations for long-term development. The UN Integrated Strategy must show the way and I welcome President Prodi’s insistence that this is to be action orientated, not just fine words.


  •          And, to ensure the sustainability of that development, we must work with our partners in the region to build the institutions of good governance, and stability.


  •             In this way, we can, together, fight terrorism and organised crime and build a better future for the people of the region.


The United Kingdom believes that there is an urgent need for action to build stability and resilience and fight the scourge of terrorism and organised crime. And the United Kingdom looks forward to a strengthened, comprehensive and coordinated approach and thanks the UN, through Special Representative Prodi, working with regional partners to achieve this.


So Mr President,


We have a common analysis and we have a common political will. We are all already united. So now is the time to grasp that opportunity that unity gives us, and to deliver our vision.

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