1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2391 (2017) of 8 December 2017, in which the Council requested me, in close coordination with the States members of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel) (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and the Niger) and the African Union, to report on the activities of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel. It provides an update since my previous report of 12 November 2018 (S/2018/1006) on progress in the operationalization of the Joint Force, international support for the Force, the implementation of the technical agreement between the United Nations, the European Union and G-5 Sahel States, challenges encountered by the Joint Force, possible measures for further consideration and the implementation by the G-5 Sahel States of a human rights and international humanitarian law compliance framework.
2. The Joint Force resumed operations in January 2019, following a six-month hiatus after the complex attack on its headquarters in Sévaré, Mali, in June 2018. It attained 75 per cent operational capacity, but ongoing equipment and training shortfalls hamper its full operationalization. In accordance with resolution 2391 (2017), States members of G-5 Sahel continued their efforts to generate outstanding troops and equipment, assisted by the European Union coordination hub and with the support of partners and donors. Further steps were taken in the operationalization of the police component and the establishment of the human rights and international humanitarian law compliance framework, with the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
II. Political, security and humanitarian developments
3. On 28 January, the Defence and Security Committee of G-5 Sahel convened its seventh ordinary session in Niamey. The chiefs of defence staff of the States members of G-5 Sahel discussed the status of the operationalization of the Joint Force and issued recommendations for the meeting of ministers of defence and ministers for foreign affairs of the G-5 Sahel countries on 3 February in Ouagadougou. The Council of Ministers of the Group recommended to enter into further negotiations with the United Nations and the European Union to revise the technical agreement signed on 23 February 2018 in order to assess the possibility of broadening the scope of support provided by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to the Joint Force.
4. On 5 February, the Heads of State of G-5 Sahel held their annual summit in Ouagadougou. They discussed the deteriorating security situation and the delays in the operationalization of the Joint Force. In this regard, they called for the rapid disbursement of pledges made by international donors and partners, urged the Group’s Council of Ministers to speed up the operationalization of the G-5 police academy in Koundoul, Chad, and called for the transfer of the Sahelian Threat Analysis and Early Warning Centre from Nouakchott to Ouagadougou. The Heads of State further instructed the Council of Ministers to roll out the G-5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme and to accelerate the establishment of a Sahel regional airline. The President of Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, assumed the presidency of the Conference of Heads of State of G-5 Sahel for one year, taking over from the President of the Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.
5. Overall, the security situation in the Sahel continued to deteriorate, having spillover effects on neighbouring countries that are not members of G-5 Sahel, including Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo.
6. In Mali, French forces, in cooperation with Malian defence and security forces, reportedly eliminated a number of jihadist figures, including the leader of the so-called “Emirate of Timbuktu”, Yahia Abou el Hammam, on 21 February. Notwithstanding these achievements, the security situation remains precarious, and attacks on Malian defence and security forces, as well as international forces, continued unabated. In central Mali, intercommunal violence reached unprecedented levels and has been exacerbated by the presence of armed extremist groups and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. More than 160 people of Fulani origin, mostly civilians, were killed during an attack on Ogossogou village in the Mopti region on 23 March. The border regions between Mali and Burkina Faso were the most affected by violence, with movements of presumed terrorist elements and displaced populations reported in both directions.
7. In Burkina Faso, intercommunal violence and the presence of terrorist groups, militias and criminal gangs continued to increase in the northern and north-eastern regions. On 31 December, the Burkinabe Council of Ministers declared a state of emergency for a period of six months, in 6 of 13 regions. In February, the President appointed a new cabinet and a new chief of defence staff in a bid to ramp up efforts to address the increasing security threats.
8. In the Niger, on 15 March, the Government extended a state of emergency for three months in the Diffa, Tahoua and Tillabéri Regions. During a recent joint mission by the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel and the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa to Boko Haram-affected parts of the country, interlocutors expressed concern about increased links between Boko Haram and armed groups present in the area of operations of the Joint Force. They noted that several foreign fighters of undetermined nationalities had been seen during recent operations and that the use of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices had increased.
9. On 27 December, the Government announced that joint air and ground operations by Nigerien and French forces had killed some 15 presumed Islamist militants near the village of Tongo Tongo, on the border with Mali, approximately 175 km from Niamey. On 31 January, a Nigerien army vehicle hit an improvised explosive device on the Titahoune-Antes-Ayorou axis in Tillabéri, wounding four soldiers, two seriously. It was the first reported incident involving an improvised explosive device that targeted the forces armées nigeriennes in the area.
10. In Chad, inter-ethnic violence intensified among groups involved in illegal gold mining in the north. The Government scaled up efforts to counter rebel activity in the area, closed its border with Libya on 5 March and on 25 March, and established a mixed unit in the Province of Tibesti to secure the border between Chad and Libya, fight trafficking, disarm combatants and implement security measures.
11. In Mauritania, the Government developed a more proactive military posture against jihadists, with increased restrictions on Islamic organizations. In recent weeks, the presence of armed terrorist groups has been reported in Fassalé, in the Hodh ech-Chargui Region, on the Malian border.
12. The humanitarian situation across the Sahel continued to deteriorate. As a result of the ongoing food and nutrition crisis, an estimated 274,145 children are expected to require treatment for severe acute malnutrition, an increase of more than 60 per cent compared with original estimates.
13. Nearly one third of the population of Mali lives in conflict-affected areas. The deteriorating security in-country has caused unprecedented levels of internal population movements, tripling the number of internally displaced persons, as well as causing a sharp increase in humanitarian and protection needs. By the end of 2018, 120,298 individuals were displaced, compared with 38,172 in 2017. An estimated 4.1 million people, more than half of whom were children, were in need of humanitarian assistance. Conflicts across the country led to the closure of 857 schools, 60 per cent of which were located in the Mopti region.
14. Burkina Faso is also facing an unprecedented humanitarian emergency caused by persistent insecurity in the Centre-North, East and North Regions, with 1.2 million people in critical need of assistance. In February, the number of displaced persons had reached more than 100,000. Some 120,000 children remain without access to education owing to school closures.