Statement by Ambassador Sven Jürgenson at UN Security Council briefing on UNOWAS

Thank you Mr. President,

I would like to thank SRSG Annadif for his briefing on the most recent developments in West Africa and the Sahel region. I would also like to welcome the briefing by Ms. Ayemou and for highlighting the important aspects of the rights of women and children in the region.

At the outset, allow me to express Estonia’s full support to the work and the good offices of UNOWAS that has remained very active over the latest reporting period. We would also like to commend ECOWAS for their active engagement and role in facilitating the dialogue with various national stakeholders.

The past one and a half years have been especially significant in the democratic processes in the West Africa and the Sahel region due to the number of elections held in several of the region’s states. While a number of these elections were held in a relatively peaceful environment, we remain concerned about the reportedly growing perception in the region of a shrinking political and civic space. The sense among the population of a democratic reversal should be treated as an important early warning sign that needs to be addressed immediately. While the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affects the overall functioning of a society, it must not be used as a pretext to curtail civil liberties.

In connection with the democratic processes, I would like to stress the importance of full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all aspects of the political processes. While the strengthening of the normative framework on women’s inclusion is positive, the reality in terms of women’s representation in the national governments and parliaments remains clearly inadequate. Concrete steps are required from the region’s states in order to create opportunities and a safe space for women to participate in the political processes as voters and candidates as well as civil society representatives.

Estonia remains alarmed about the deteriorating security situation in West Africa and the Sahel region. We are encouraged by some success in the regional counter-terrorist efforts, we welcome the strengthening of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and commend the region’s states operating through joint operations, as well as the Multinational Joint Task Force. However, the overall situation remains extremely concerning with mostly the civilian population suffering from the ongoing violence. It is essential that the region’s states continue enhancing cooperation amongst themselves and with the international community. Estonia from its part will continue contributing through various international efforts.

Nevertheless, security-centred approach alone will not suffice in bringing lasting peace and stability to West Africa and the Sahel region. It is crucial to address the root causes of conflict, take into account the underlying grievances in the society and ensure access to basic social services. In this connection it is very concerning that a significant amount of schools across the Sahel region remain closed or non-operational. Ensuring children’s right to education, protecting and empowering those most vulnerable in the society is one of the key factors in the long-term stability of the society.

Respect for human rights and fight against impunity are essential elements in achieving long-term stability in the society. Accountability for human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law is essential in restoring the trust of the people and supporting the reconciliation process.

I thank you.