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But it’s not only the violent extremists. We now have drug traffickers and arms smugglers finding safe havens and porous borders, providing them a launching pad to extend their reach throughout not only the region, but beyond. And nearly 500,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and 4.5 million more are suffering from dwindling food supplies. This is not only a humanitarian crisis; it is a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore.
The United States supports the appointment of a senior UN envoy empowered to lead a comprehensive international effort on Mali and the creation of a diplomatic core group. This effort must include coordinating the delivery of emergency aid, helping address longstanding political grievances of ethnic groups in the north, and preparing for credible elections. We need to bring together all of the nations affected, and I appreciated President Yayi’s very strong statement about what is at stake for the countries of the region, and also his speaking on behalf of the African Union. The African Union must be at the table, ECOWAS must be at the table, because these are complex and interconnected security, political, and humanitarian challenges.
The United States has already provided more than $378 million to meet the escalating humanitarian needs in the Sahel, and we call on all parties to ensure unhindered access so that emergency aid meets those who need it most. We encourage fellow donors to increase their pledges and follow through quickly and fully. The need is urgent and growing.
It is also critical for all the actors in the region to redouble their efforts to develop a sound approach to tackling what is happening coming over their borders. We have to train the security forces in Mali, help them dislodge the extremists, protect human rights, and defend borders. We have seen the success of African-led efforts to do just that in Somalia and in Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere. We need to now get about the business of examining seriously proposals to do the same. Because in the end, only a democratically elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in Northern Mali, end the rebellion, and restore the rule of law. So it is imperative that the interim government meet the April deadline for holding elections that are fair, transparent, and free of influence by the military junta. And all parties must do more to protect human rights and punish abuses.
But let us be clear. What is happening inside Mali is augmented by the rising threat from violent extremism across the region. For some time, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups have launched attacks and kidnappings from northern Mali into neighboring countries. Now, with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions. And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.
This is a threat to the entire region and to the world, and most particularly, to the people in the region themselves who deserve better. They deserve better from their leaders and they deserve better from the international community. The United States is stepping up our counterterrorism efforts across the Maghreb and Sahel, and we’re working with the Libyan Government and other partners to find those responsible for the attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi and bring them to justice. But we are also expanding our counterterrorism partnerships to help countries meet their own growing threats. We’re taking aim at the support structure of al-Qaida and its affiliates – closing safe havens, cutting off finances, countering their ideology and denying them recruits. Let me mention briefly three initiatives.
First, our Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership is now helping build the capacity of 10 countries across the region, providing training and support so they can tighten border security, disrupt terrorist networks, and prevent attacks. This program brings together civilian, law enforcement, and military experts to pursue a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism.
Second, we are expanding our work with civil society organizations in specific terrorist hotspots – particular villages, prisons, and schools – trying to disrupt the process of radicalization by creating jobs, promoting religious tolerance, amplifying the voices of the victims of terrorism.
And third, we are working with our partners to reform security services and strengthen the rule of law. For example, Tunisia has agreed to host a new international training center that will help police, prosecutors, and other criminal justice officials across the region move away from the repressive approaches that helped fuel radicalization in the past, and instead develop strategies grounded in the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Ultimately, our perspective is that strengthening democratic institutions must be at the heart of our counterterrorism strategy. It is democracies that offer their citizens constructive outlets for political grievances, create opportunities for upward mobility and prosperity, and are clear alternatives to violent extremism. And their success offers a powerful rejection of the extremist ideology of hate and violence as we also saw in Benghazi last week.
So all this work, from meeting the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel to bringing stability back to Mali to combating violent extremism across the region is a shared responsibility. And there is no place where that shared responsibility can be actualized other than the United Nations. So in the days and weeks ahead, I look forward to deepening our cooperation and accelerating our common action. I personally don’t believe we have any time to waste.
Thank you. (Applause.)