This article is also available in French.
For the protection of civilian populations, it is crucial that troops deployed in war zones respect International Human Rights Law (IHRL), International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Refugee Law (IRL). This is undertaken in the Sahel by the joint military force, created in 2017, by five countries in the region called the Force Conjointe du G5 Sahel (FC-G5S). The collaborative efforts of these countries to combat terrorism, transnational organised crime and human trafficking are supported by concrete and tailor-made measures and mechanisms which protect civilians with the support of the UN and the EU.
The Sahel region faces instability, weak governance, violent extremism, terrorism and environmental issues such as desertification and soil loss. According to the UN, violence has been rising sharply in the Sahel, increasing 44% from 2019 to 2020 alone. Civilians are caught between armed groups, intercommunal violence and military operations that limit their access to livelihoods, basic social services, and humanitarian assistance. Serious allegations of human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, rape, arbitrary arrests, illegal confiscation of goods and forced displacement of the population are commonplace.
To coordinate a response to these issues, five countries in the area – Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad – created the G5 Sahel in 2014. Three years later, these countries agreed to launch their joint military force, the Force Conjointe du G5 Sahel (FC-G5S)1, to combat terrorism, transnational organised crime and human trafficking in the region. Furthermore, the Technical Arrangement signed between the G5 Sahel, the EU, and the UN in 2018 includes monitoring and reporting teams across all five countries2 and the establishment by the FC-G5S of a robust compliance framework3 of measures to prevent and address potential violations of IHRL, IHL and IRL.
To establish the mechanisms and measures of the compliance framework4, the FC-G5S is assisted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). This helps the development of IHRL and IHL compliant screening and selection processes, training, rules and regulations, and the integration of IHRL and IHL norms and standards and protection of civilians into the planning, conduct and review of military operations. The OHCHR is supported financially by the EU.
Lessons learnt from the training mechanism to the FC-G5S Headquarters and troops of the participating countries:
1. Identifying training needs
The G5 Sahel Executive Secretariat and the Chiefs of Staff of the military bodies of the five countries involved set up the objectives of the training5 offered to the military and police officers.
Ange Atta, Human Rights Officer for the G5 Sahel Project at OHCHR’s Office in Bamako, explains, “a proper identification of training needs is crucial for the involvement and ownership of the participants”.
Aminata Ndiaye, Regional Gender Adviser at the G5 Sahel Executive Secretariat, adds, “the fact that we regularly meet and discuss challenges has been essential in identifying training needs and meeting these through carefully tailored training programmes.”
Commander Nayou, Communication Adviser at the FC-G5S, who attended training on IHRL/IHL explains, “I am now fully convinced that the FC-G5S cannot win this war against terrorism without respecting IHL and protecting the civilian population. Among other topics, our troops are learning how to treat prisoners while respecting their needs, how to manage conflicts and how to settle disputes caused by material damages to civilians.”
To ensure the sustainability of its training programme, the project has embarked on a Training of Trainers (ToT) programme6 on the law of armed conflict and human rights. This programme has already benefited the FC-G5S and the army headquarters of Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad7.
While content is essential, the G5 Sahel also considers other practical challenges. Commander Nayou believes, “we need to make sure all trainees understand national and international rules and norms with the complexity of the language used in legal texts.” Moreover, he continues, “understanding these texts is even more important considering that not all soldiers or police officers speak the same language.”
Such concerns and suggestions conveyed by the beneficiaries are indeed well considered in the planning and delivery of training by the project team8.
2. Targeting of participants with the right profiles
According to Aminata Ndiaye, “Participants are often a mixed military group with different grades and backgrounds. This diversity of trainees ensures dialogue, exchange of experience and reinforced collaboration.” She adds, “on one occasion the training sessions brought together military staff, the police and civil society actors to sensitise everyone on the importance of integrating and respecting gender perspective in their activities, while refraining from gender-based and sexual violence, which are human rights violations.”
Communication and collaboration with the FC-G5S are essential in nominating ideal participants. Ange Atta clarifies, “in our experience, consultation with the FC-G5S has been instrumental in agreeing on the right candidates to attend a particular training course.”
Before 2020, priority was given to in-person training which allows for interactive and collaborative discussions. However, due to the travel restrictions imposed by COVID 19, the team was forced to reschedule some training. Other sessions, such as the three-week training of the interns of the College de defence organised in June-July in Nouakchott, Mauritania, were carried out virtually.
Participants are encouraged to make use of and disseminate the content of the training once deployed in their respective area of responsibility. Commander Nayou explains, “It has been proved that former trainees have gone on to incorporate human rights and the protection of civilian principles more systematically, creating better interactions with the villagers and creating synergies with other soldiers in the barracks to change operational planning.” One such example is a ToT trainee deployed in Bankilare, Niger, within the Provost Corps. This soldier regularly educates his fellow colleagues on HR/IHL issues.
3. Integrating female officers
The empowerment of women in the Sahel region is not exclusive to the security component. “They should be part of the solution,” says Aminata Ndiaye.
Aminata Ndiaye, however, advises working closely with men to find a solution to some of the women’s challenges, “Decision-makers are mostly men, chief of staff of the military bodies are men. So, we need to work with them to achieve a sustainable, full integration of women into the army.” This also applies to the training, “We need to collaborate and work with men if we want to have more female soldiers with the same opportunities,” she says.
Specific training on gender, conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) facilitates the linkage between the military with both state and NGO counterparts to better respond to these violations. In Ange Atta’s words, “It is important to have adapted skills to protect civilians. But unfortunately, military work has not systematically included training on topics like child or gender protection9.”
Aminata Ndiaye goes even further, “training on CRSV is crucial in order to understand the implications for the victim and the consequences for the community. The problem is not fixed only by military intervention. A multidimensional solution is needed.”
Commander Nayou insists, “having women in our armies is valuable on the field because citizens feel safer with them. So often, villagers won’t share all the information with male officers while our female colleagues are more trusted by the population.”
The G5 Sahel Executive Secretariat, working with OHCHR and the EU, continues to improve soldiers’ skills in the field. This new generation of prepared army men and women will inspire and empower the soldiers of tomorrow for a more inclusive and collaborative future.
Click on the play button below to watch our video about the FC-G5S.
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About the G5 Sahel Compliance Framework project
On 8 December 2017, the UN Security Council welcomed the operationalization of the FC-G5S in its resolution 2391 and called on the G5 Sahel Member States “to establish a robust Compliance Framework to prevent, investigate, address and publicly report violations and abuses of human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law related to the FC-G5S (the Compliance Framework)”.
Since May 2018, OHCHR has been implementing a project to support the Joint Force in operationalizing its Compliance Framework with the support of the EU, its Member States, and other European countries such as Norway and the UK.
The Compliance Framework translates international and regional human rights and international humanitarian law obligations into concrete measures and mechanisms that are operationally relevant and practical at a military and security tactical level. It seeks to reduce the risk of harm to civilians in the conduct of the Force’s military operations, and to ensure that potential violations committed in the course of these are promptly and fully investigated and addressed. Furthermore, the Compliance Framework directly supports the FC-G5S to better achieve its military and security objectives, including by gaining and reinforcing the confidence and the trust of the civilian populations it is mandated to protect.
This is done by working across seven interrelated pillars: (1) the selection and screening of the FC-G5S soldiers; (2) their training; (3) the adoption by the FC-G5S of human rights and humanitarian law compliant rules and regulations to conduct hostilities; (4) the integration of protection of civilians into the planning and conduct of operations; (5) after-action reviews; (6) internal monitoring and reporting mechanisms; and (7) accountability for allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by members of the FC-G5S.
Three years later, the project has contributed to important achievements on the ground. Some examples include:
Credit: Video © Capacity4dev | Photo © European Union
1 UN Security Council Resolution 2391 (Dec 2017) calls upon the G5 Sahel States “to establish a robust compliance framework to prevent, investigate, address and publicly report violations and abuses of human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law related to the FC-G5S (“the compliance framework”) and calls upon regional and international partners to support […] efforts in the establishment and implementation of the compliance framework”.
2 The Technical Arrangement signed on 23 February 2018 established that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) works with the military force by providing it with direct technical support and advice for the integration of International Law across all phases of the planning, conduct and review of military operations.
3 The Compliance Framework is a pioneering approach for the integration of human rights in regional peace and security operations based on lessons learned and good practices from OHCHR’s work in Afghanistan, Somalia and other relevant peace operations.
4 The mechanisms and measures of the compliance framework include: selection and screening on the suitability of units and personnel for deployment; drafting/adoption/dissemination of rules and regulations to govern the conduct of units and personnel; training; plan, conduct of operations and after-action reviews in relation to the conduct of operations and military tactics; monitoring and reporting including the Civilian Incidents Tracking and Analysis Cell (CITAC); accountability mechanisms to address allegations of Human Rights violations.
5 Strengthening the Joint Force’s Headquarters capacities to better understand the Compliance Framework and its importance has helped the Force in applying and enforcing HR and IHL principles at sector (fuseau) and Battalion levels including through the development of a training curriculum and the conduct of pre-deployment training for key personnel.
6 The methodological approach is built on comparative advantages of various partners with strong coordination centred around the FC-G5S. This approach ensures the collaboration of other institutions working for peace in the region. One of these successful collaborations is the Training of Trainers (ToT) programme.
7 As of March 2021, The TOT programme strengthened the capacity of a pool of 142 trainers to enhance the army headquarters’ own capabilities to deliver training sessions. TOTs were conducted in collaboration with various partners including the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), European Union Capacity Building Mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali) and EUCAP Sahel Niger.
8 Three years after the start of the project, the impact of these training sessions is visible. By incorporating human rights training into standard training for personnel at HQ and at battalion levels who join the Force in regular rotations, the accountability of individual elements of the FC-G5S has been increased, as demonstrated during pre-and post-training assessments. This in turn enhances the credibility of the FC-G5S’s operations. The legal and communication advisors assigned to each sector to monitor and communicate on the implementation of the Compliance Framework also strengthen the joint Force’s command and control capabilities.
9 The project has succeeded in increasing the number of female participants in its training, with a view to increasing the number of women deployed to the Joint Force and enhancing the integration of gender aspects into the Joint Force’s work, for example by improving the design and implementation of measures aimed at reducing and mitigating risks of sexual violence during military operations.
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