The UN envoy for West Africa and the vast Sahel region on Thursday told the Security Council that the COVID-19 pandemic is amplifying and exacerbating preexisting conflict drivers with grave implications for peace and security in West Africa and the Sahel.
“The pandemic is having a negative impact on human rights and the rule of law and is disproportionately affecting women and girls, including with respect to their role in informal trade and due to a reported increase in femicide, sexual and gender-based violence.
Heavy-handed responses by some security services to enforce restrictions have been reported, even in countries with more solid human rights records,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, special representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), said while briefing the Security Council on the report of the secretary-general on the activities of the UNOWAS.
“We are also observing the impact of the pandemic on governance structures and systems; electoral and political dialogue processes; the humanitarian situation; the socio-economic situation; and regional and multilateral engagements. Terrorists and violent extremist groups are also exploiting the situation to further launch attacks in the region, in disregard for the secretary-general’s appeal for a global ceasefire,” the envoy warned.
“Conscious of this, various countries in the sub-region have developed national COVID-19 response plans with support from UN country teams,” he added.
Chambas said that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the region has witnessed a number of positive developments including the relatively peaceful conduct of the presidential elections in Togo, local elections in Benin and the completion of the work of the Constitutional Review Commission in The Gambia.
According to the envoy, five high-stake presidential elections are planned in the second half of the year in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Niger.
“These elections present an opportunity for democratic consolidation in these countries. However, to ensure that these processes are credible, transparent, inclusive and peaceful, consensus will be needed to address underlying challenges and any disruptions including those linked to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
In the meantime, Chambas warned that attacks by violent extremists and intercommunal violence have continued to undermine peace and security in the region, particularly in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin.
While national and multinational forces intensified counterterrorism operations, he added, some communities have resorted to organized volunteer groups and self-defense militias for protection.
As a result, Chambas said, human rights groups have raised concerns over alleged abuses by both self-defense groups and security forces.
He told council members that support and coordination amongst the various initiatives aimed at addressing security, humanitarian and development challenges in the region is crucial.