We, members of the People’s Coalition for the Sahel, witness with concern and dismay the continued deterioration of the security situation in the region. The Sahel is now at a critical juncture. We call on Sahelian governments and their international partners to take into account the anger that is brewing among the populations and to reorient their response to the crisis.
There is an urgent need for a coherent and coordinated approach that takes into account the aspirations of civilian populations and ensures their effective protection in the face of increasing threats. It is also imperative that all actors, including Sahelian and international defense and security forces, demonstrate greater transparency and accountability in the conduct of their military operations in order to restore trust with civilians.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 800 civilians have been killed in attacks attributed to so-called jihadist armed groups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. We honor the memory of all civilian victims of this violence, including 31 people, among which, women and children from the village of Songho, killed by unidentified gunmen on 3 December while travelling by bus to the Bandiagara market in Mali, and other civilians who have disappeared or been found dead following military operations, including in the Mopti and Segou regions of Mali and the Cascades and South-West regions of Burkina Faso.
“The Sahel is now at a critical juncture. We need a wake-up call to revisit a failed security-first approach”
We also note with concern that violence has claimed the lives of an increasing number of members of the defense and security forces, including 53 people, of which 49 gendarmes, killed on 14 November in Inata, Burkina Faso, and community groups, including 69 members of a civilian self-defense group killed on 2 November near Banibangou, Niger.
Neither the Sahelian defense and security forces nor the international forces that have been present in the region for a long time have managed to stop this spiral. Faced with new atrocities week after week, the populations are exhausted by a multidimensional crisis that has led to the forced displacement of over 3 million people in the central Sahel. This has led to increased food insecurity, more than 700,000 children out of school and an explosion of gender-based violence against women and girls. Fear and disarray are giving way to a growing movement of anger against national authorities and countries outside the Sahel that have a military presence in the region, notably France.
In the face of the current impasse, we call for a real wake up call to revisit the failed security-first strategy. The People’s Coalition for the Sahel, in its the report “Sahel: What needs to change,” published in April 2021, has presented concrete recommendations for a response focused on the needs of the people. More than ever, it is imperative to implement a strategy based on the four “People’s Pillars“, which prioritizes the protection of civilians, provides political responses to the root causes of the crisis, including governance, addresses the humanitarian emergency and effectively combats impunity.
In this particularly volatile context, we call on Sahelian governments and their international partners to redouble their efforts to demonstrate greater transparency and accountability in the conduct of their military operations. The widely documented abuses attributed to members of the defense and security forces in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, while decreasing in 2021, continue to enjoy near total impunity, fueling the cycle of violence and mistrust among the population, and encouraging recruitment by armed groups.
It is imperative that all forces present in the Sahel systematically protect civilian populations as part of their obligations under international humanitarian law. In the event of allegations of violations of human rights or international humanitarian law attributed to defense and security forces or international forces, it is essential that an investigation is launched, and the findings made public. In this regard, we call for the immediate publication of the results of investigations carried out by the Nigerien authorities into the repression of demonstrations against a French military convoy, which left three people dead and dozens injured last month in Téra, Niger.
Respect for international humanitarian law is also required by non-state armed actors, including so-called jihadist groups, which systematically target civilians, and self-defense militias, which regularly target civilian populations and infrastructure.
More than ever, we urge Sahelian governments and their international partners to listen to the demands and the protection needs of the population and to reorient their response to the crisis, rather than prioritizing a military-first approach, which is now widely recognized as not being able to solve the crisis in the Sahel on its own. We urge all decision-makers to implement without delay the “civil and political surge” announced in February 2021 at the N’Djamena Summit, which threatens to join the long list of unfulfilled promises.
West African signatory organizations
International organizations supporting the declaration:
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
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