Expected Council Action
In January, the Council is expected to hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the Secretary-General’s biannual letter on MINUSMA’s operations, performance, and implementation of the integrated strategic framework for Mali. Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane will brief.
The mandate of MINUSMA expires on 30 June 2022.
Key Recent Developments
There has been little progress in organising elections to complete Mali’s transition process brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) following coups d’état in August 2020 and May 2021. Meanwhile, Mali continues to experience widespread insecurity caused by terrorist groups and intercommunal violence.
The Security Council conducted a visiting mission to Mali and Niger from 23 to 25 October 2021. In Mali, it focused on assessing the status of the transition and preparations for the first round of legislative and presidential elections that had been scheduled, prior to May’s coup d’état, for 27 February 2022. Transitional President Assimi Goïta and transitional Prime Minister Choguel Maïga did not commit to adhering to the electoral calendar in their meetings with Council members, instead indicating the need to improve security and that the authorities planned to hold national consultations in December on how to proceed with elections.
In a 4 November press statement on the visiting mission, Council members reiterated their strong support for the ECOWAS and AU mediation efforts and called for the transition to be completed within the agreed timeline set out in the Transitional Charter and in accordance with the transitional authorities’ own commitments. The press statement urged the authorities to present a timetable for organising elections.
ECOWAS has continued to insist that the 18-month transition period and 27 February election date should be upheld. In a communiqué following a 7 November summit in Accra, ECOWAS noted that transitional authorities had informed it “of their inability to meet the transition deadline of February 2022”. ECOWAS “deplore[d]” the lack of progress and announced sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze on the transitional authorities, their families, and transitional institutions, effective immediately. The next day, it published a list of around 150 individuals that it had sanctioned, including transitional Prime Minister Maïga, 27 ministers of the interim government and the 121 members of the National Transitional Council. Goïta and Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop were not included.
On 23 November 2021, Malian authorities announced that the national consultations scheduled for December were being postponed. The head of the panel overseeing the organisation of these talks, Zeïni Moulaye, said that the delay was necessary to find the “broadest possible consensus” and that a new schedule would be announced in due course. Ahead of a 12 December ECOWAS summit, Goïta informed the regional bloc in a letter that Mali would provide a detailed timetable for holding elections by 31 January 2022. At the summit, ECOWAS warned that it would impose additional sanctions if there was no concrete progress by 1 January in the preparations for the elections.
Insecurity continues to afflict Mali. On 3 December 2021, unidentified militants attacked a bus travelling from the village of Songho to a market in Bandiagara in central Mali, killing at least 31 civilians. Many others were reported wounded or missing. On 7 December, seven MINUSMA peacekeepers from Togo were killed and three seriously injured when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in Bandiagara. One MINUSMA contractor from Mali was also killed in the incident, and one contractor was wounded. The day before, an Egyptian peacekeeper died from wounds suffered on 22 November when the vehicle he was in struck an IED about 11 kilometres from the MINUSMA camp in Tessalit.
As part of the plan France announced in June 2021 to reduce the size of Operation Barkhane, its Sahel-wide counter-terrorism force, to some 2,500 to 3,000 personnel, France concluded the withdrawal of its troops from three bases in northern Mali. It handed over its base in Kidal to MINUSMA on 12 October; bases in Tessalit and Timbuktu were turned over to Malian forces on 15 November and 14 December, respectively.
Tensions have persisted between Mali and its traditional partner France since Malian military leaders ousted the transition’s top civilian leaders last spring and France announced the drawdown of Operation Barkhane. As reported in September 2021, transitional authorities have held discussions on contracting fighters from the Russian private security company Wagner Group. From 10 to 12 November, Foreign Minister Diop visited Moscow to discuss strengthening military cooperation between Mali and Russia with his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. During a press conference, they denied having discussed the possible role of the Wagner Group. In a communiqué from its 12 December summit, ECOWAS reiterated its concerns “over the risk for the region o[f] the intervention of private security companies in Mali”. The US issued a stark rebuke to Mali about reaching a deal with the Wagner Group in a 15 December press statement.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a statement after her visit to Mali between 1 and 6 November 2021, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris asserted that human rights must be at the centre of the security response in Mali. During her visit, Brands Kehris engaged with a wide range of interlocutors on the deteriorating human rights situation in Mali and the broader Sahel region and on support for the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S) to implement its Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Compliance Framework.
Brands Kehris said that the MINUSMA Human Rights and Protection Division has documented a steep rise in human rights violations and abuses, with 2,032 incidents in 2020, a 48.86 percent increase from 2019. The main perpetrators were violent extremist groups; however, community-based self-defence groups and militias commit abuses as well, and there are credible allegations of violations of human rights and humanitarian law by national and international forces during counter-terrorism operations.
Brands Kehris also expressed deep concern about multiple reports that descent-based slavery remains widely tolerated in Malian society, including by some influential politicians, law enforcement officials, judicial authorities, and other secular and religious leaders. In addition, at least seven “barbaric” attacks took place in the Kayes region since January 2021 in which one person was killed, at least 77 injured, and more than 3,000 “slaves” displaced, according to a 29 October press release by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Key Issues and Options
Making progress on holding elections and restoring constitutional order are key issues. The dire security situation in Mali, particularly in the centre and north, and in the wider Sahel region, remains a matter of serious concern. Related to this is equipping MINUSMA with the requisite resources and capacities, including more air assets, to carry out its mandate to protect civilians. Human rights abuses committed by Malian security forces and other security presences during counter-terrorism operations is another related challenge.
Implementing the 2015 Mali Peace and Reconciliation Agreement between the government and northern armed groups is a recurring key issue on which progress has stalled amid the attention to carrying out Mali’s political transition.
Another significant issue usually raised at Council meetings on Mali is support for the FC-G5S, made up of forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, to combat terrorist groups. MINUSMA provides rations, fuel and logistical support to the FC-G5S and is reimbursed by the EU. The Secretary-General has proposed the establishment of a UN support office for the FC-G5S to take over and expand such functions, to be financed through UN assessed contributions.
Council members could resume discussions on the Secretary-General’s July 2021 recommendation to increase the force ceiling of MINUSMA by 2,069 personnel. Council discussions on the proposal, which according to the Secretary-General, could help improve security in central Mali if accompanied by a comprehensive political strategy by Malian authorities to stabilise the situation, were put on hold in September after Mali objected to a troop increase. Mali believed that new peacekeepers, without a more robust mandate, would not make a difference on the ground. However, in a letter dated 15 December 2021, it informed Council members that it had agreed to reinforcing MINUSMA with 1,000 additional Chadian soldiers.
Since the August 2020 coup d’état, the Council has sought to support ECOWAS mediation and its position on keeping to the 18-month timetable for the political transition. Resolutions 2584 and 2590, which renewed MINUSMA’s mandate and the Mali sanctions regime in June and August 2021, respectively, reaffirmed the need to respect the transition period and the 27 February electoral date.
Recent months have seen some emerging differences over strategy among Council members. While members recognise that it is unlikely elections can be held on time, some seek to apply maximum pressure, in line with the ECOWAS approach, on Malian authorities to organise the elections sooner rather than later. Russia, and to an extent China, express greater sympathy with the authorities over the challenges of holding elections because of the security situation and the risk of further political instability if elections take place prematurely. Ghana replaced Niger in 2022 as the West African Council member. President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana is the current Chair of the ECOWAS Authority.
France is the penholder on Mali. It has continued discussions on the Secretary-General’s proposed support office for the FC-G5S with the UK and the US, which have opposed the idea. Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez (Mexico) chairs the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee.
|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.|
|Security Council Letter|
|5 November 2021S/2021/942||This was a letter from the Secretary-General expressing his intention to appoint Major General Cornelis Johannes Matthijssen (Netherlands) as Force Commander of MINUSMA.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|29 October 2021S/PV.8893||This was a briefing on Mali.|
|29 October 2021S/PV.8892||This was a briefing on the Security Council visiting mission to Mali and Niger from 23 to 25 October 2021.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|8 December 2021SC/14727||This press statement condemned in the strongest terms a series of recent attacks against MINUSMA following an attack on 7 December 2021 that killed seven peacekeepers from Togo and one MINUSMA contractor from Mali.|
|6 December 2021SC/14720||This press statement condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack perpetrated near Songho, Bandiagara region, in Central Mali on 3 December 2021, in which more than 30 civilians, including women and children, were killed and others injured.|
|4 November 2021SC/14687||This was a press statement on the Security Council visiting mission from 23 to 25 October 2021 to Mali and Niger.|