Expected Council Action
In April, the Council will hold its quarterly briefing on Mali, followed by consultations. Special Representative and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) El-Ghassim Wane is expected to brief. The mandate of MINUSMA expires on 30 June 2022.
Key Recent Developments
Mali’s transitional authorities have continued negotiations with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on a new timeline for holding elections to restore constitutional order following coups d’état in August 2020 and May 2021. The initial 18-month transition period brokered by ECOWAS ended in March. On 31 December 2021, Mali submitted a new, five-year transition timeline to ECOWAS to hold presidential elections by December 2026. A revised calendar, proposed on 8 January, set the end of December 2025 for the presidential election.
ECOWAS rejected the proposal at a 9 January summit in Accra, Ghana, calling it “totally unacceptable”. The West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and ECOWAS announced new diplomatic, economic and financial sanctions on Mali, including a trade embargo (with exemptions for essential goods such as medical supplies and petroleum products) and the freezing of Mali’s assets at ECOWAS central and commercial banks. Sanctions would gradually be lifted only after an acceptable and agreed timeline is finalised and satisfactory progress is realised, according to the summit communiqué.
The AU Peace and Security Council endorsed the ECOWAS decisions at a 14 January meeting, and on 4 February, the EU sanctioned five individuals for obstructing and undermining Mali’s transition, including Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga. Mali’s neighbour, Guinea, which is in a transition following a coup in September 2021, said it would not enforce the ECOWAS sanctions, and Mauritania, which is not part of ECOWAS, signed a new trade agreement with Mali on 14 February. Mali has defaulted, as at 1 March, on $180 million in debt payments since the ECOWAS sanctions, according to the UEMOA.
Although Mali’s transitional parliament approved a five-year transition plan on 21 February, ECOWAS and Malian authorities continued negotiations for a shorter period. The ECOWAS mediator to Mali, Goodluck Jonathan, led a delegation to Bamako from 18 to 20 March, during which he met with transition president and coup leader Assimi Goïta. According to a statement issued by Mali, the authorities offered a 24-month period, which ECOWAS did not accept.
On 24 March, the UEMOA court of justice ordered the suspension of the sanctions that the eight-member state regional group had announced with ECOWAS against Mali in January. The ruling does not apply to the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS. The next day at an ECOWAS summit, ECOWAS urged Mali’s transitional authorities to accept a 12-to-16 month transition period and upheld its sanctions.
Meanwhile, France announced that it was withdrawing from Mali its troops that were part of its Sahel-wide counter-terrorism force, Operation Barkhane, amid deteriorating relations with the Malian authorities and the reported deployment in December 2021 of personnel from the Wagner Group, the Russian private security company. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described Mali’s authorities as “out of control” on 28 January. His comments followed Mali’s 24 January demand that Denmark immediately withdraw its 90-troop contingent, soon after it had joined the European special operations mission in Mali, Task Force Takuba. Mali asserted that the Danish troops had entered the country without permission. Denmark denied the accusation but said that it would withdraw. On 31 January, Bamako gave France’s ambassador to Mali 72 hours to leave the country.
On 17 February, France, other European countries and Canada announced that their forces would withdraw fully from Operation Barkhane and Task Force Takuba in Mali within six months. “Due to the multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities…the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali”, according to a joint statement by France, Canada and 23 other European and African countries. The statement said they would look to extend support to neighbouring countries in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa to contain the expansion of terrorist groups in the Sahel.
Mali has claimed successes in counter-terrorism operations that it launched in December 2021. The Wagner Group has continued its deployment and numbers around 1,000 personnel, according to news reports. Mali has denied engaging any private security company, saying that the Russian personnel are part of its bilateral military cooperation with Russia.
In a 15 March report, Human Rights Watch alleged that the Malian army and armed Islamist groups had killed at least 107 civilians in central and southwestern Mali since December 2021. At least 71 of these deaths were linked to government forces and 36 to armed Islamist groups. In one of the incidents described in the report, soldiers are said to have extrajudicially executed at least 35 men, detained during recent military operations around 2 March in the Segou region, making it the most serious allegation involving government soldiers since 2012. In two incidents involving abuses by the Malian army, people interviewed for the report claimed that white soldiers were present and spoke a language they did not understand.
MINUSMA force commander General Kees Matthijssen assumed his command on 14 January. Chad’s President, Mahamat Déby, announced on 21 February during a visit to Paris that Chad would increase its contribution to MINUSMA, while Sweden announced on 3 March that it would withdraw its 220 troops in MINUSMA one year earlier than originally planned. They are now scheduled to leave in June 2023.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The independent expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, Alioune Tine, conducted an official visit to the country from 8 to 17 February. In a statement on 22 February, Tine said that “for the first time since the beginning of my visits in 2018, I noted a tangible improvement of the security situation, the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the human rights situation as well as endogenous peace dynamics, especially in Central Mali”. However, he expressed serious concern over “the collapse of the education system” as well as shrinking civic space, including the role of the media.
During its 49th session, the Human Rights Council held a dialogue on 28 March with Tine and considered his report (A/HRC/49/94). The dialogue was to assess the changes in the human rights situation in the country, with a particular focus on the issue of space for civil society and human rights defenders.
On 6 January, the Secretary-General informed the Council that he was appointing the members of the Mali Panel of Experts after Russia lifted a hold that it had been placing on the nomination following the Council’s renewal of the Panel’s mandate in August 2021. On 8 February, the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee met with the Panel, which presented an overview of its work plan for the following months.
On 16 March, the 2374 Committee convened informal consultations with Mali and regional states and actors to discuss the implementation of the Security Council travel ban and asset freeze sanctions imposed in 2017 to pressure the signatory parties of the 2015 Mali and Peace Reconciliation Agreement to fulfil the agreement. Mali, regional states, and committee members also discussed the new ECOWAS sanctions intended to pressure authorities to restore constitutional order.
Key Issues and Options
The political situation, including talks between Mali and ECOWAS about a new transition period and the gradual lifting of ECOWAS sanctions, is a key issue. Council members could call on Mali’s authorities to accept ECOWAS’ request for a shorter transition.
As the security situation remains critical, the effect the withdrawal of Operation Barkhane and Task Force Takuba will have on MINUSMA is another key issue. MINUSMA was established in 2013 based on the Secretary-General’s recommendation that a parallel force would conduct counter-terrorism operations. While the Wagner Group supports Mali’s counter-terrorism efforts, there are concerns over its presence. The Russian private security firm has difficult relations with the UN peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic, where the company’s personnel have been deployed for several years. Barkhane’s departure also presents possible logistical issues. It provides flight services to MINUSMA; however, these could continue out of bases in Niger. The pending closure of Barkhane’s hospital in Gao has raised concerns for various European troop-contributing countries to MINUSMA.
The Council could consider authorizing an increase to the MINUSMA force ceiling to accommodate the new troops that Chad has offered. The mandate renewal of MINUSMA in June is a further opportunity for the Council to assess the significance of the new political and security landscape on the mission. There are also plans for an AU-UN joint strategic assessment of security in the Sahel, though it is unclear when it will be finalised.
Alleged human rights violations are a major concern. Members could reiterate the need for Mali’s armed forces to respect human rights at all times, including during counter-terrorism operations, and encourage MINUSMA to release the latest report from its human rights division.
Another issue is the stalled implementation of the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and growing concerns about the risk of hostilities resuming between the government and northern armed groups that are its signatory parties.
Council members initially sought to follow ECOWAS’ lead and supported its call for an 18-month transition in Mali. Toward the end of last year, however, differences emerged among Council members over this approach, with Russia and, to an extent, China expressing 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. Following the Council’s briefing on Mali in January, members were unable to agree on press elements that apparently would have expressed support for ECOWAS’ decisions, including the sanctions, due to Russian and Chinese objections. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo is the current Chair of the ECOWAS Authority. Ghana champions ECOWAS positions with the support of the other African Council members, Gabon and Kenya.
The US and European members have strongly criticised the Wagner Group’s deployment. Russia pushes back on such criticism, claiming a double standard given that private security companies from Western countries are deployed globally.
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.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|11 January 2022S/PV.8945||This was a briefing on Mali with SRSG El-Ghassim Wane and Ms. Adam Dicko, social activist and Executive Director of the Youth Association for Active Citizenship and Democracy.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|7 March 2022SC/14824||This press statement condemned the 7 March attack on MINUSMA near Mopti, in which two peacekeepers from Egypt were killed and four were wounded.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|22 February 2022SC/14800||This was a 2374 Committee press release about its 8 February meeting with the Mali Panel of Experts.|
|6 January 2022S/2022/14||This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the appointment of the Mali Panel of Experts.|