Watching the watchers: the G5 Sahel Force has a human rights problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/12/2017 - 11:52pm in

If history
is a lesson, without a robust human rights framework, international missions
are more likely to add to, rather than
prevent, violence.

lead French President Emmanuel Macron lunches with French troops during his visit to France's Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in Africa's Sahel region in Gao, northern Mali, 19 May 2017, his first trip outside Europe since his inauguration on 14 May 2017. Pool/Press Association. All rights reserved.The Sahel
region took centre stage last week as African leaders met at the regional
Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security to discuss growing lawlessness
along its arc. Consequently, Senegalese President Macky Sall on Monday called for a unified, comprehensive
military response that leaves no room for Africa’s terror groups
to hide. While such a response has been welcomed with open arms, concerns
have been expressed over the possible sidelining of human rights. Fears abound
that without adequate safeguards, any new military intervention will only
worsen the bloodshed.

It is not
difficult to see why a military option has so much appeal as the best approach
to resolve the security issues in an increasingly volatile region. Since Libya
descended into civil war in 2011, Islamists have overrun parts of northern Mali
to the east, and Boko Haram has been persistent in its efforts to secure a
foothold at the heart of the region in northern Nigeria. To the south,
militants threaten the Sahel from Congo, Central African Republic and South
Sudan. At the same time, partially as a result of the militants’ advances, a
humanitarian crisis is unfolding. This year, at least 11
million are facing a major food crisis. The UN has called for efforts to break
the cycle of food crises, citing land degradation, population displacement, and
ongoing political instability as the pillars of Sahel’s hardship. This year, at least 11 million
are facing a major food crisis.

The Dakar
peace forum comes on the heels of the launch of the G5 Sahel force in
July, a military initiative working across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania
and Niger to root out jihadist groups in the region. The newest joint
international force in the world, the G5 Sahel envisions up to 5,000 military,
police and civilian troops by March 2018. As part of a greater strategic push
for intensified cooperation with the Sahel zone, the EU pledged to support the force with $50 million
in funding. Brussels hopes that the migration streams from the region will be
reduced when the underlying causes for regional instability are assertively
tackled. Added to the 4,000 French troops already deployed across the Sahel,
one could be optimistic about the force’s capacity to target and eliminate
terrorist hotspots across the Sahel.

the hopeful rhetoric of European and Sahel leaders should be matched with an
equal sense of caution. While focus is placed on gathering the necessary funds
and troops, the mission crucially overlooks human rights protection as an
important aspect in appeasing the region. And if history is a lesson, without a
robust human rights framework, international missions are more likely to add to, rather than
prevent, violence.

Terrorism is only the topsoil

The G5
Force is unlikely to be an exception. So earlier this month, the UN Assistant
Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour visited Mali with the express
purpose of discussing a human rights compliance mechanism for the Sahel Force.
He described respect for human rights as a
“cornerstone” in the fight against terrorism. He is right to stress this point:
sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers throughout Africa has been well-documented, leading the UN Security
Council to adopt a resolution targeting UN peacekeepers in
March last year.

The UN
Security Council called on the G5 Sahel force to implement a
gender perspective in fulfilling strategic operations, citing the role women
play in preventing conflict and pursuing peace-building projects. Though
participants of this week’s conference stressed a universal respect for human
rights and international law, no specific provisions have been put in place to
ensure compliance. But within a new and poorly organised international force, it is
unclear how these provisions would be implemented even once articulated.

put, a military-focused approach will not solve broader governance issues
relating to civil liberties and human rights. This is especially true when the
military is part of the problem. In Mali, this is more often the case than not.
Government troops have committed grievous human rights violations, with
extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests reported in recent years. Earlier this
year, Burkinabe soldiers allegedly burned property and beat at least 70 men
accused of supporting a local Islamist group.
 Adequate control of G5 forces is
furthermore hindered by the complexity of fractured societies as the
operational environment. Earlier this year, Burkinabe soldiers allegedly burned property and beat
at least 70 men accused of supporting a local Islamist group.

in the region are the result of a “sedimentation of problems”, and terrorism is only the
topsoil. Issues of state legitimacy, violent offences by security forces and
corruption contribute to pervasive tensions within local populations. It is
unclear how the G5 hopes to address these concerns. Given how local populations
are routinely victims of arbitrary arrests and other abuses of troops, the
force’s ability to elicit trust from locals is severely limited.

rights violations are frequently justified in the name of fighting terrorism,
thereby undermining the legitimacy of the troops and the governments they
represent. Rather than alleviating the problem, many young people reportedly join rebel groups in reaction
to treatment at the hands of government forces.


The risk
of further violence is especially high given the involvement of partners that
are likely to use Sahel Force participation to cement their power. Mauritania
is a key example: President Abdel Aziz has been trying to assert his grip over
the country in a controversial referendum where voting for changing
Mauritania’s flag was combined with abolishing the nation’s
senate. The move laid the groundwork for Abdel Aziz to unlawfully extend his stay in office
indefinitely. Highly unpopular, Aziz could be tempted to employ his country’s
G5 military contingent to crack down on civil unrest in the name of maintaining
regional stability. The effect will be counter-productive, as this will likely
fuel anti-establishment sentiment and increase the risk for religious

European countries backing the G5 Force have a responsibility to ensure that
protecting civilians comes first. France, being militarily active in the region, could
no doubt help improve training and share
intelligence with local troops. Failing to do so would leave the people of the
Sahel vulnerable to an inadequately trained and politically disparate armed
force united in name only, resulting in the exacerbation of existing problems
and empowering of abusive regimes.

Related stories: 

Chaos in the Sahel

The Sahel: north-west Africa’s security weakest link

Country or region: 









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The American War Machine Is Already on the Death March Across the African Continent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/11/2017 - 3:24am in

This post originally appeared at AlterNet.

On Oct. 4, US military personnel were on their way back to their forward operating base in Niger. They had been on a reconnaissance mission to the village of Tongo Tongo, near Niger’s border with Mali. US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford says that 50 ISIS fighters ambushed them. The soldiers did not call for air support for the first hour, said Gen. Dunford, thinking perhaps that they could handle the attack. By the time the drones came along with French fighter aircraft, ISIS had disappeared.

Tongo Tongo is in the middle of a belt that is ground zero for the illicit trade that defines the Sahara. West of Tongo Tongo is Gao (Mali) and to its east is Agadez (Niger). These are the main ports for South American cocaine, flown in on various kinds of aircraft (Air Cocaine, as they are called) and then driven across the Sahara Desert in trucks to be taken by small boats across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Evidence of the cocaine trade is everywhere — whether in Gao’s neighborhood known as Cocaine Bougou or in the nickname of one of the leading chiefs in Agadez — Cherif Ould Abidine — known as Cherif or Mr. Cocaine.

Cocaine is one dramatic commodity. There are others: refugees and guns. This belt of towns just below the Sahara played a historic role as caravanserais for the old trades in gold, salt and weaponry. The creation of nation-states closed off some of these routes. In particular, Libya — under the previous regime of Moammar Gadhafi — largely shut down the illicit commerce from Mali and Niger. NATO’s war against Libya, which created chaos in that country, opened these routes up. Fleets of white Toyota trucks arrived in the desert to carry refugees and drugs to Europe and to bring weapons into central and western Africa. The trucks run from Agadez to Sabha (Libya) before they find their way to the port cities. There are several kinds of refugees — the adventurers (les aventuriers), many single young men who are leaving behind deserts of opportunity for Europe, and war refugees. Both are desperate, fodder in the hands of the smugglers who must get them — and the drugs — across the forbidding sands.

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US Army Brigadier Gen. Donald Bolduc (left) and Senegal's Army Gen. Amadou Kane review the troops during the inauguration of a military base in Thies, 70 km from Dakar, on Feb. 8, 2016, the second day of a three-week joint military exercise between African, US and European troops, known as Flintlock. (Photo by Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

Mission Impossible: Keeping Track of US Special Ops in Africa

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Firmly opposed to the refugee traffic across the Mediterranean, the European Union (EU) has joined hands with governments in Niger and elsewhere to make this southern border of the Sahara their frontier. Niger passed a draconian law in 2015 against smuggling. The EU provided funds to Niger’s military and police, which have started an all-out war against the smugglers. In 2016, Niger arrested over a hundred smugglers and confiscated their vehicles. People in towns like Agadez, a World Heritage site for its beautiful red buildings, say openly that they are vulnerable to extremist groups. There are many to chose from — al-Qaida in southern Mali and southern Algeria, ISIS in southern Libya and Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and into areas near Lake Chad. No wonder that the United States calls the belt from Mali through Niger the ‘ring of insecurity.’

It is notable that the pressure on the traffickers has not decreased the terrible situation for the refugees and the ‘adventurers.’ They continue to come for reasons that have nothing to do with an open border or a closed border. But the new military presence has meant — as the International Organisation of Migration says — that the smugglers are abandoning the refugees at the first sign of trouble in the dangerous desert. The United Nations has rescued over 1,000 abandoned refugees and many hundreds are said to have died along this route. The Nigerien Red Cross says that one group of 40 refugees died in May when their truck broke down. It is legible to believe that the death count will never really be known as the European border moves south, from the northern edge of the Mediterranean to the southern edge of the Sahara.

Five hours drive north of Agadez is the town of Arlit, one of the key sources of uranium. Readers might remember that the United States had accused Saddam Hussein’s government of procuring yellowcake uranium from Niger. This turned out to be a hoax, uncovered by Ambassador Joe Wilson when he went to Niger and met its former Prime Minister Ibrahim Assane Mayaki. The accusation against Iraq was false, but the Arlit mines are real. The town is a fortress of European mining companies, from Niger’s own government company to a series of French firms, most prominently Areva. The road out of Arlit is known as Uranium Highway. It is this road that was used by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb when it came and kidnapped five French employees of an Areva mine in 2010. The Areva mines were also attacked by a car bomb in 2013. French Special Forces operate to protect these mines and the close to 2,000 Europeans who live in this uranium town. “One of every three light bulbs is lit thanks to Nigerien uranium,” noted Oxfam in 2013. It is too precious for the French to be ignored. That is why France’s Operation Barkhane runs from across the Sahel, from Mauritania at one end to Chad at the other. It has its headquarters in Chad’s capital of N’Djamena.

The French are not alone. The Americans not only have thousands of troops across Africa, but also have many bases. The most public base is in Djibouti (Camp Lemonier), but there are also bases in Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as forward operating positions across the Sahel. The United States is also building a massive base at the cost of $100 million in Agadez. Air Base 201 will be mainly a drone base, with the MQ9 Reapers flown out of Agadez to collect intelligence in this resource-rich and poverty-stricken area. This base is being constructed in plain sight

It is, therefore, surprising to hear Sen. Lindsey Graham — who is on the Committee on Armed Services — say, ‘I didn’t know there were 1,000 troops in Niger.’ He meant US troops.

There has been no evidence presented to the public that those who killed the US forces near Tongo Tongo were from ISIS. Privately, US intelligence officials say this is a guess. They are not sure about the combatants. In fact, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) officials concur, saying it is “inappropriate” to speculate about the incident and those who attacked the US forces.

There is a particularly dangerous soup at work here. Certainly extremist groups operate in the region, such as the militants who freed over 100 prisoners from a prison in Mopti (in central Niger). The dreadful desiccation of the Sahel has produced various feuds amongst herder communities in eastern Niger, where these have morphed into ethnic conflicts (and where certain groups — such as the Mohamid and Peuls — have used the opportunity to accuse the Boudouma of being, therefore, part of Boko Haram). Such opportunism was frequently used in Afghanistan, where tribes used American airpower to settle scores with their old adversaries (to blame someone for being Taliban was sufficient to call in an air strike).

The root causes of the conflicts are the same as elsewhere: environmental destruction, joblessness, war and the commodities (such as Cocaine and Uranium) that are essential to the West. None of this will be addressed. More troops will arrive in Niger. More destruction will follow. More sorrow. More anger. More war.

There will be no interest in the newly formed North African Network for Food Sovereignty (formed in Tunis on July 5) and in its sensible charter of demands. Nor will there be any reflection on the assassination of hope for the Sahel, when Thomas Sankara — president of Burkina Faso — was killed 30 years ago on Oct. 15. “We must dare to invent the future,” said Sankara. What is before us from the American and French Special Forces and the militaries of Niger and Chad is not the future. It is wretched.

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