Mali and Sahel Visiting Mission
Expected Council Action
During October, the Security Council will hold its quarterly briefing and consultations on Mali. Special Representative and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) El-Ghassim Wane is expected to brief.
The Council is also expected to conduct a visiting mission to the Sahel during the month, travelling to Mali and Niger. France and Niger are co-leading the mission.
Key Recent Developments
Mali’s political transition to restore constitutional order following coups d’état in August 2020 and May appears increasingly unlikely to follow the 18-month timeframe established in October 2020 by military authorities after negotiations with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The military’s influence over the transition has deepened as Colonel Assimi Goïta, who led the August 2020 coup, ascended to the transitional presidency in June. Little progress has been made since then in preparing presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 27 February 2022. Meanwhile, terrorist groups continue to launch deadly attacks against security forces and civilians in Mali and across the Sahel region.
At a virtual summit of ECOWAS on 8 September, West African leaders expressed “great concern” about the lack of electoral preparations. They urged the transitional government to “rapidly” develop plans for the “consensual definition of the legal framework for the elections, the preparation of the voters list, and the choice of the body to conduct the elections”.
At a second summit in Accra, Ghana, on 16 September, ECOWAS heads of state and government reiterated their demands for conducting elections “within the non-negotiable deadline of February 2022”. They insisted that the transitional authorities implement only the necessary reforms for conducting elections, reflecting concerns that the transitional government’s action plan is too ambitious and could provide excuses to extend the transition. ECOWAS further said it would impose targeted sanctions against persons or groups of persons whose actions have a negative impact on the transition timetable and instructed the president of the ECOWAS Commission to compile and submit a list of such individuals or groups.
The implementation of Mali’s 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement between the government and northern signatory movements also remains slow amid the focus on completing the political transition. The 23 August report by the Carter Center, which the Security Council has mandated as the agreement’s independent observer, says that from January to July, the parties have “engaged in positive dialogue and taken steps in the right direction” but have “produced few tangible achievements”.
Meanwhile, violence continues in northern and central Mali. According to media reports in September, the transitional authorities were close to reaching a deal to allow the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, to deploy to Mali. France and Germany warned Mali against following through with an agreement. ECOWAS also condemned the decision “to hire private security companies” in its 16 September communiqué.
The security situation in the broader Sahel remains dire. Over 160 civilians were killed in an overnight attack on 4 and 5 June in Solhan village in Yagha province, Burkina Faso. The majority of the assailants were reportedly child soldiers. Among more recent attacks, militants ambushed a military convoy on 18 August in Burkina Faso’s Soum province, killing 80 people, including 65 civilians. An estimated 275,000 newly displaced people have been recorded in Burkina since April, raising the number of displaced persons in the country to more than 1.4 million. In Niger, a Human Rights Watch report issued on 11 August said that Islamist armed groups have killed over 420 civilians and displaced tens of thousands in western Niger since January. On 16 August, gunmen on motorbikes attacked the village of Darey-Daye, Niger, opening fire on civilians while they were working their fields, killing 37 people, including 14 children.
Following Mali’s coup d’état in May, France announced it would draw down its 5,100- member regional counter-terrorism force, Operation Barkhane. At a summit on 9 July hosted by France with the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—which make up the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—French President Emmanuel Macron said that France would leave 2,500 to 3,000 troops in the region and that France hoped to expand the role of the Takuba Task Force. The Task Force, which is comprised of European special forces based in Mali, became operational last year.
On 21 August, Chad announced that it was recalling 600 of its soldiers from the 1,200-member G5 Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S) Chadian contingent that deployed earlier this year to the tri-border area of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The move comes as Chad’s authorities have also committed to an 18-month transition following a military takeover after President Idriss Déby died in April while fighting rebels who had invaded from Libya.
In June, the Council adopted resolution 2584 renewing MINUSMA’s mandate. The resolution requested the Secretary-General to produce a report with recommendations on the mission’s troop ceiling in light of the growing insecurity and physical violence against civilians in central Mali. In the ensuing report, released in July, the Secretary-General proposed an increase in MINUSMA’s authorised force ceiling by 2,069 uniformed personnel—1,730 military personnel, 300 formed police unit personnel and 39 individual police officers. While recommending the troop increase, the Secretary-General suggested that the additional peacekeepers would be unable to make a sustained difference absent a political strategy on the part of Malian authorities for reinforcing the presence of the state and protecting civilians.
In September, Council members began discussing a draft resolution to increase MINUSMA’s troop ceiling. The proposal was put on hold, however, as Malian authorities raised objections to the additional troops, apparently believing that they will not make a difference unless given a more robust mandate.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 6 August statement, the independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali, Alioune Tine, expressed concern over the continuing deterioration of the security situation following an 11-day official visit to the country. During his visit, he heard accounts of an increase in extrajudicial executions, other killings, kidnappings of civilians, and gang rapes of women, according to the statement. MINUSMA documented at least 43 extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions committed by the Malian Defense and Security Forces between 1 April and 30 June. There has also been an increase in human rights abuses by militias and armed community groups this year, and abductions have increased as well. In the first six months of the year, MINUSMA documented 435 abductions, five times more than in all of 2019. Tine is expected to submit a full report to the Human Rights Council in March 2022.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue is the timely holding of Mali’s presidential and legislative elections to restore constitutional order. Only five months remain to comply with the ECOWAS-brokered transition timeline.
Another key issue is the terrorism threat to Mali and the Sahel. Despite regional and international efforts, terrorist groups continue to expand their presence and operations in the region. The growing insecurity has also fuelled inter-communal violence and a worsening humanitarian situation.
A related issue is support for the FC-G5S, which was established in 2017 by the G5 Sahel to combat terrorist groups and organised crime. By the end of September or early October, the Secretary-General was expected to submit a letter to the Council that, according to resolution 2584, should include “detailed and operational options” for supporting the FC-G5S, “including through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms and organisations, other than MINUSMA”. This is likely to include further details on the controversial proposal for a UN office to provide a logistical support package to the FC-G5S, which the Secretary-General has previously recommended to facilitate more predictable funding for its operations.
Often underlying Council discussions on Mali and the Sahel is the need to complement security initiatives with stronger approaches to address structural causes of instability, such as underdevelopment, poor governance, climate change and respect for human rights.
The Council visiting mission to Mali and Niger—its first mission since the COVID-19 pandemic—will be an opportunity to address these issues. The Mali leg is expected to focus on the political transition and preparations for the elections, the security situation, and the peace agreement’s implementation. With negotiations on hold to raise the MINUSMA troop ceiling due to Mali’s apparent objections, the proposed troop increase is another likely issue for discussion with authorities.
In Niger, the mission is expected to exchange views with the authorities on the security and humanitarian situation in the Sahel. Discussions will also focus on responses to the region’s insecurity and the options that the Secretary-General will outline in his anticipated letter to support the FC-G5S and implementation of the joint force’s human rights due diligence policy.
The Council has supported ECOWAS’ calls for an 18-month political transition in Mali. Resolution 2584 reaffirmed the need to respect the transition timetable and the 27 February 2022 electoral date. It also affirmed that MINUSMA should support the political transition as part of its “primary strategic priority”.
France initially proposed the increase in the MINUSMA troop ceiling in June during negotiations to renew the mission’s mandate. At present, China, Russia and the “A3 plus 1” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), among other members, are unwilling to support the increase because of the Malian authorities’ objections to the proposal.
The Council is divided over how to support the FC-G5S. Niger and France are strong advocates for establishing a UN support office, citing it as the best way to provide the FC-G5S with more predictable and sustainable funding. The UK and US oppose the proposal. They object to using UN assessed contributions for non-UN missions and are not convinced that a support office can be more effective than bilateral military support. They have also raised concerns about having a UN operation support a counter-terrorism force that compromises UN peacekeeping principles and would put the UN in the position of providing support to the FC-G5S despite its reported human rights violations.
France is the penholder on Mali. Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez (Mexico) chairs the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON MALI
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 August 2021S/RES/2590||This resolution renewed the Mali sanctions regime until 31 August 2022 and the mandate of the Mali Panel of Experts until 30 September 2022.|
|29 June 2021S/RES/2584||This resolution renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2022.|
|16 July 2021S/2021/657||This Secretary-General’s report recommended increasing MINUSMA’s force ceiling by 2,069 uniformed personnel.|