I would like to welcome the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr Leonardo Santos Simão, and thank him not only for his statement, but also for the valuable work of his office. I would also, of course, like to thank Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni for her statement and for the valuable information she provided.
I am encouraged by the signs of continued strengthening of democratic governance and the positive advances in transitional justice – and my colleague from Sierra Leone just mentioned a few of them – in some of the region's countries. However, today's briefing underlines that the security situation - particularly in the Sahel - remains worrying. In addition, humanitarian needs continue to grow. On the political front, some transitional processes towards a return to constitutional order are not progressing as planned, and we have faced a new coup d'état and several attempts in 2023.
According to the United Nations Charter, the Security Council is mandated to take measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace. Prevention is the most effective way to avoid new conflicts and the escalation of existing crises. This is why the Secretary-General has placed such emphasis on prevention in his New Agenda for Peace. Given the importance of stability and prosperity in West Africa and the Sahel, several areas require urgent preventive action by the international community to prevent another lost decade, and instead turn it into a decade of opportunity.
Firstly, in terms of governance, notably through inclusive elections: A large number of elections took place in West Africa in 2023, most of them peaceful. In Nigeria, Switzerland supported national partners to reduce electoral violence during campaigns and elections, thus enabling a peaceful outcome. We also welcome the progress made in women's representation in political bodies following the elections in Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone. We support the Secretary-General's call to promote and implement legislation on women's empowerment and gender equality. We are also pleased that UNOWAS is supporting Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Togo ahead of their elections this year. This important work includes institution-building, the promotion of democratic governance and general electoral processes and cycles.
Secondly, the security situation remains fragile in some regions, with recurrent attacks on the civilian population by armed jihadist groups. With the withdrawal of MINUSMA and the end of the G5 Sahel, the Security Council needs to pay more attention to the region. Now is not the time to disengage. It is crucial to better combine multinational, regional and bilateral commitments in order to mitigate the risk of a deepening regional crisis. This must be done in close collaboration with the African Union and sub-regional organizations.
Thirdly, we continue to face a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by instability, conflict, forced displacement and climate change. The ever-increasing humanitarian needs coupled with diminishing resources and access challenges often due to insecurity are impacting the population. According to the Secretary-General's report, over 26 million people in the Sahel require vital assistance, but only 36% of the humanitarian response plan is funded. Switzerland has contributed to the plan, for example by meeting the food and nutritional needs of over a million people in Mali in 2023.
Finally, climate change and its consequences for security in West Africa and the Sahel are a reality that cannot be ignored. The region suffers disproportionately. Switzerland - as raised during the stake-in that preceded this briefing - welcomes the progress made by UNOWAS in implementing the Dakar Call to Action. Ongoing analysis of climate security risks and a better understanding of the link between climate, peace and security must be an integral part of measures towards sustainable peace. This is particularly important to help the most vulnerable countries adapt to the effects of climate change.
The Security Council must take seriously its responsibility to act preventively. It must support the United Nations effectively in applying the full range of diplomatic, humanitarian, sustainable development and peacebuilding tools.
As co-penholder with Sierra Leone, Switzerland will be intensifying its efforts to obtain a presidential statement to underline the Council's strong interest in this region. Through this initiative, we wish to reiterate our joint support for the important work of UNOWAS in all areas of its mandate.
I thank you.