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Progress in West Africa Remains Fragile

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The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, said today that while West Africa has witnessed some positive trends recently, including the holding of peaceful elections, progress in the region remains fragile and faces a number of threats. In his written report on the work of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), the Secretary-General wrote that the overall peace and security situation in the region continued to improve over the past six months.

"In spite of a number of debilitating internal and external factors, including food insecurity and the global financial crisis, West Africa is witnessing the emergence of positive trends towards peace, post-conflict recovery and stability," said the Secretary-General. "Progress in the areas of governance and the rule of law, although significant, have remained essentially fragile and might even be reversible in some areas," he continues. "Furthermore, emerging and growing security threats, including organized crime, illicit and terrorist activities and climate change, jeopardizing ongoing endeavors and the gains achieved so far." In addition, the Secretary-General voices deep concern about the "recent wave" of unconstitutional changes of government in the region.

"Coups d'-etat are illegitimate acts that constitute a severe setback for democratization in West Africa and a threat to national cohesion and stability, with significant subregional implications," the Secretary-General states, adding that the resurgence of coups in the region has generated serious human rights concerns, a problem that is compounded by impunity for perpetrators.

The Secretary-General says the international community must respond in a firm, proactive, collective and consistent manner to address both the root causes of coups and those practices that can act as triggers, such as grievances related to wealth and power-sharing and infringements of democratic processes and disregard for human rights. The report also highlights drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime, which continue to impact negatively on security in West Africa, with the Secretary-General noting that growing international engagement, coupled with bold national and subregional initiatives, are beginning to yield results.

While drug trafficking is emerging as one of the more pervasive and dangerous forms of cross-border organized crime in West Africa, other illicit activities are also a concern. These include human smuggling, piracy and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, as well as the activities of criminal and other armed groups. The Secretary-General notes that in the coming six months, UNOWA - headed by his Special Representative Said Djinnit - will continue to focus on priority areas such as advocacy for conflict prevention and peace consolidation.

The Office will also continue to play a significant role in efforts to address drug trafficking and organized crime, as well as help to strengthen the capacity of national institutions, including the security sector, in providing security for electoral processes.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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