Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja at the High Level Meeting on the Sahel, New York, 26 September 2012.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Finland wishes to thank the Secretary-General for convening this timely and important meeting. The situation in the Sahel poses multiple challenges, in particular to the countries directly affected, but even for the international community as a whole. It is utmost important that the Sahel remains high on the international agenda.
In the Sahel region, the food crisis has become a recurrent phenomenon. A deadly combination of conflict and poor harvests has pushed millions of people to the brink of starvation and beyond. This year, hunger and conflict affect around 18 million people, forcing many to leave their homes.
The international community has finally awoken to the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel. This year Finland has directed over 25 million euros in humanitarian aid to the Sahel region. We would like to thank all UN agencies and their staff as well other humanitarian actors for their tireless efforts to deliver aid to the needy in challenging circumstances.
In the Sahel, humanitarian action alone is not enough. There is an urgent need for political solutions to bring peace and stability to the region. The prolonged crisis in Mali is of special concern and has dire consequences for regional security. Finland warmly supports the efforts of mediation between the parties. We are encouraged by the strong engagement by relevant regional bodies, ECOWAS and the African Union. ECOWAS, its Member States and neighboring countries have unique regional knowledge and ownership that are crucial in brokering a comprehensive and lasting political solution for the serious political and security crisis in Mali.
Finland is deeply concerned of the wide-spread human rights violations in the Sahel region. Particular attention must be paid to violence against women and to the use of child soldiers. Furthermore, we are appalled by the damage caused to UNESCO World Heritage sites in Timbuktu.
It is important to address the underlying causes of the conflict in the region, including desertification and poverty. High levels of youth unemployment increase the appeal of terrorism and joining organized crime groups. Through the EU Finland supports capacity building to combat terrorism and organized crime in the Sahel.
The refugee problem arising from the crisis in the Sahel region affects many countries in the region and elsewhere. We would like to congratulate Africa for adopting the Kampala Convention on the Internally Displaced People. This first regional humanitarian instrument carries unique weight. We stand ready to provide further assistance in making the Convention work for all too numerous IDPs in West Africa.
Another important Convention in addressing the problems of the region would be the Arms Trade Treaty, as the proliferation of illegal and uncontrollable small arms have contributed to the crisis in the Sahel. Finland as the co-author of the original ATT resolution in this regard, continues to strive for a substantive and universal treaty within the United Nations.
In conclusion, let me reiterate the support of Finland for the efforts to address both the immediate challenges in and the long-term development needs of the region. We strongly support the efforts by the Secretary-General and the UN activities in the region, and wish that the Integrated Strategy for the Sahel will be finalized as a matter of priority.