Privés d'accès à la santé à cause de l'insécurité qui règne au Burkina Faso, les Burkinabè n'ont parfois d'autre choix que de partir de chez eux © Mylène Zizzo

Statement of the People’s Coalition for the Sahel - June 24, 2021

The People’s Coalition for the Sahel urges governments to uphold their commitments to protect civilians and fight impunity.

The People’s Coalition for the Sahel, represented by the undersigned 26 Sahelian and international civil society organizations, is deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Sahel region, marked by a surge in violence against civilians and two unconstitutional changes of power in the space of a few weeks in Chad and Mali.

INCREASE IN ATTACKS ON CIVILIAN POPULATIONS IN THE SAHEL

We condemn in the strongest terms the increase in attacks by armed groups, including so-called "jihadists", against civilian populations in the tri-border region of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, which have resulted in more than 500 deaths since the beginning of the year 2021. We honor the memory of the 140 victims of the Solhan and Tadaryat massacres that occurred on June 4 and 5, 2021 in Burkina Faso. We also pay tribute to the more than 300 civilians, including many children, women, and elderly persons, killed in large-scale indiscriminate attacks on their villages in January and March in the Tillabéri and Tahoua regions of Niger.

 

THE POWERLESSNESS OF THE SAHELIAN AUTHORITIES

These tragic events demonstrate once again that the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are facing real challenges to uphold their responsibility to protect their populations. The announcement of a "civilian and political surge" by heads of state of the G5 Sahel and their international partners during a summit in N'Djamena in February 2021 had nonetheless raised a glimmer of hope. We welcomed new commitments by the region's leaders to protect civilians, respect human rights, fight impunity and respect the rule of law. Since then, we have unfortunately witnessed worrying setbacks.

 

POLITICAL INSTABILITY AT THE EXPENSE OF THE RULE OF LAW

Two of the five G5 Sahel countries experienced institutional coups within weeks of one another, Chad in April and Mali in May (the second in nine months). The leniency shown in this regard by the African Union (as regards Chad) and ECOWAS (as regards Mali) - in disregard not only of their usual practices, but above all of the provisions and sanctions provided for in their texts and mechanisms - is of deep concern. We call on African institutions to demonstrate leadership based on strict respect for the rule of law and the principles of democratic governance.

 

TOWARDS A CHANGE IN FOREIGN POLICY IN THE SAHEL

In this context, French President Emmanuel Macron's decision to end Operation Barkhane in the Sahel, though its detail remains to be clarified, could represent an important step towards the change of approach that the People’s Coalition for the Sahel has called for. For us, this decision is recognition of the conclusion presented in our report, "Sahel: What Needs to Change": a primary military response, notably a counter-terrorism approach, is insufficient to effectively address the multidimensional crisis in the Sahel.

A renewed approach that places the protection of civilians at its heart.

We call on governments of Sahelian countries to seize this opportunity to adopt a renewed approach that places the protection of civilians at its heart, following the specific recommendations based on measurable indicators we presented in April 2021. This includes zero tolerance for serious human rights violations in the region, regardless of who commits them.

 

MILITARY ABUSES IN THE SAHEL POTENTIALLY UNPUNISHED

In this regard, we are deeply concerned about a specific provision in the statute of the newly created "Special Forces" in Burkina Faso, which states that they "may not be prosecuted for acts committed in the performance of their duties”. This measure contradicts the commitments by the region's heads of state to fight impunity in their armed forces. None of the defense and security forces present in the Sahel should have a specific status that exonerates them from their responsibilities in the event of committing abuses. For our organisations, the fight against impunity is a crucial element in stabilizing the region and restoring the people’s confidence in the State.

 

REFORMATTING THE FRENCH PRESENCE IN THE SAHEL: A DOUBLE OPPORTUNITY

Finally, the announcement of a reformatting of the French presence in the Sahel presents a twofold opportunity for international partners: on the one hand to revisit the spirit underlying existing partnership, in order to give priority to expectations and priorities expressed by Sahelian populations, and on the other hand, to undertake a courageous in-depth review of their interventions in response to the ongoing crisis. If this shift were simply to result in strengthening the European Task Force Takuba (to which only a limited number of European states have contributed to date) or extending the mandate of the European Union training mission EUTM (whose results have been limited to date), with a sole counterterror focus, it would be a missed opportunity at the expense of Sahelian communities who continue to face growing insecurity.

 

TO ASSERT THE INTERESTS OF THE SAHELIAN CIVILIAN POPULATION

International players, including France, the European Union, and the United States, must support and accompany efforts to better protect civilians and effectively combat impunity in order to bring justice to the countless victims of violence in the region. They must also use their influence with the governments of the Sahel to ensure respect for the rule of law and the principles of transparent and democratic governance.

Signatory organisations

West African Organisations:
African Security Sector Network (ASSN)
AfrikaJom Center
Association des Femmes Africaines pour la Recherche et le Développement (AFARD) - Mali
Association des Juristes Maliennes - Mali
Association Malienne des Droits de l’Homme – Mali
Association Nigérienne pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (ANDDH)
Association pour la Protection Féminine de Gaoua (APFG)
Collectif contre l'impunité et la stigmatisation des communautés (CISC) - Burkina Faso
Institut Malien de Recherche Action pour la Paix (IMPRAP) - Mali
Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP) - Burkina Faso
Observatoire Kisal
Organisation pour de Nouvelles Initiatives en Développement et Santé (ONIDS) - Burkina Faso
Réseau de Réflexion Stratégique sur la Sécurité au Sahel (2r3s)
Réseau Nigérien pour la gestion non violente des conflits (Réseau GENOVICO) - Niger
Réseau Panafricain pour la Paix, la Démocratie, et le Développement (REPPAD) – Niger
Wathi
West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) - Burkina Faso


International Organisations:
CARE International
CCFD-Terre Solidaire (Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement)
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Médecins du Monde
Oxfam International
Plan International
Search for Common Ground (SFCG)
Saferworld

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