April 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 April 2023
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Expected Council Action

In April, the Council will hold a 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 mandate of MINUSMA expires on 30 June.

Key Recent Developments

The security situation in Mali remains dire while MINUSMA continues to face operational constraints and challenges amid strained relations with Malian transitional authorities. Jordan became the latest troop-contributing country (TCC) to end its participation in the UN peacekeeping operation when it decided in January to withdraw its contingent, which had participated in MINUSMA’s mobile task force.

On 16 January, the UN submitted the report of its internal review of MINUSMA to the Council. The Council requested the review in resolution 2640 of 29 June 2022, which renewed MINUSMA’s mandate, because of the mission’s increased operational constraints and challenges. The review said that MINUSMA has been stretched “beyond capacity” since the Council expanded its mandate in 2019 to include supporting the stabilisation of central Mali without increasing its resources. The withdrawal of French and other European counter-terrorism forces in 2022 exacerbated this challenge. According to the review, the situation has left MINUSMA unable to meet the expectations of Malians and subjected it to increasing criticism by the authorities and the population.

The internal review presented three sets of options for the reconfiguration of the mission. One option is to increase MINUSMA’s uniformed personnel, currently set at 13,289 military personnel and 1,920 police. A second option is to consolidate the mission’s presence to optimise the use of its resources. According to the review, these two options require four key conditions or “parameters” for MINUSMA to operate: (1) advances in Mali’s political transition, in accordance with the electoral timetable; (2) progress in the implementation of the Mali 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement; (3) MINUSMA’s freedom of movement, including for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets critical for the safety and security of peacekeepers; and (4) MINUSMA’s ability to implement its entire mandate, including its human rights provisions.

If these conditions will not be met, the review presented, as the third option, withdrawing uniformed personnel and converting MINUSMA into a special political mission based in Bamako. The review noted that this option “would likely result in a serious deterioration in the security situation in Mali”. An annex attached to the report presented the Malian authorities’ preferences. These include that MINUSMA increase cooperation with and support to the Malian armed forces, giving “top priority to the security dimension of its mandate”, and refrain from “politicization and instrumentalization of the question of human rights”. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 26 January.)

On 27 January, the Security Council held its quarterly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Mali, in which the review figured prominently. At the meeting, civil society briefer Aminata Cheick Dicko of l’Observatoire Kisal, an organisation that defends the rights of pastoralist communities in the Sahel, asserted that Russian forces, with which Mali has partnered since December 2021 in its counter-terrorism operations, have committed “serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”. Transitional Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop, who represented Mali at the briefing, concluded his intervention by strongly criticising Dicko’s participation in the meeting.

On 5 February, Mali’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared Guillaume Ngefa-Atondoko Andali, the director of MINUSMA’s Human Rights Division, persona non grata, criticising his role in selecting Dicko as a briefer and giving him 48 hours to leave the country. Ngefa’s expulsion and threats reportedly directed at Dicko following her briefing led Council members to meet in closed consultations on 7 February to discuss the situation with Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris. Dicko reportedly fled Mali because of threats against her.

In a 1 March letter to Security Council members, Mali said that it “rejects” France continuing to serve as the Council penholder on Mali, the latest evidence of the rift in French-Malian relations. Following a request by Russia, Council members discussed the letter in closed consultations under “any other business” on 8 March.

Northern armed groups suspended their participation in the mechanisms of the 2015 peace agreement on 21 December 2022 following a dispute over the government’s level of participation in the Agreement Monitoring Committee (CSA). Tensions between the signatory parties heightened further after Mali’s Minister for National Reconciliation Ismaël Wagué sent a letter, dated 24 February, to the foreign minister of Algeria, accusing the Coordination of the Azawad Movements (CMA) of repeated violations of the agreement and of “increasingly obvious collusion with terrorist groups”. The government, Wague added, “while remaining committed to the intelligent implementation of the agreement, will automatically reject any accusation that would hold it responsible for the possible consequences of [its] violation”.

On 27 February, Mali’s transitional president, Assimi Goïta, received the “final” draft of a new constitution. On 10 March, the transitional government announced the postponement of the constitutional referendum, which had been scheduled for 19 March. The delay had been expected because of a lack of preparations to hold the referendum, but it also followed criticism of the draft constitution’s principle of secularism by religious leaders of the Mali League of Imams and Scholars for Islamic Solidarity, who called on Muslims to oppose the constitution.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 21 February, the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee met to discuss the midterm report of the Mali Panel of Experts. The report highlighted the stalled implementation of the peace agreement due to a lack of trust between the parties and the erosion of belief in the accord as an instrument to achieve durable peace and security in Mali. Committee members were unable to agree on a press release about the meeting, apparently over whether to include a sentence regretting that the Panel had been unable to visit Mali. As the report notes, the Panel members’ visas were revoked in June 2022.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 20 February, the UN independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali, Alioune Tine, issued a statement at the end of his ten-day visit to the country. He noted the progress made in the democratic transition as Mali embarks on an electoral process. However, Tine observed that he faced difficulties during his visit, emphasising that his mission “took place in a tense context, marked by the continued shrinking of civil space, attacks on human rights defenders and civil society by state and non-state actors”. He underscored his concern about the attacks on human rights defenders, who were denounced by the National Human Rights Commission of Mali, adding that he himself was verbally attacked on social networks before and during his visit.

Tine’s statement followed the 31 January statement from several independent UN human rights experts, who called for an immediate independent investigation into “gross human rights abuses and possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Mali by government forces and the Russian private military contractor known as the Wagner Group since 2021.”

On 22 March, MINUSMA issued its quarterly note on trends in and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Mali for the period 1 October to 31 December 2022. Among its findings, the number of people killed grew from 584 in 2021 to 1,277 in 2022, and 2,001 people were impacted by acts of violence last year, including 370 who were abducted or disappeared. Terrorist groups were the main perpetrators of violence against civilians (56 percent of the total); Malian forces, sometimes accompanied by “foreign personnel”, caused 35 percent of the violations.

Women, Peace and Security  

In a recent report based on his eighth visit to Mali, in August 2022, Tine, expressed concern at the situation of women and girls in the country and at the significant impact that the degradation of the security situation continues to have on their rights, in particular through the disturbing recurrence of cases of gender-based violence. The report also notes that women and girls continue to be negatively affected by rules set by violent extremist groups, such as imposing the separation of men and women in public spaces. The report further says that some civil society actors reported having received death threats or threats of detention or having suffered physical attacks and attacks on their property because of their opinions.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue will be considering progress in the four parameters that the Secretary-General’s internal review of MINUSMA says are critical for the mission to operate. Access restrictions, especially denials of permission for MINUSMA surveillance flights, continue to be a problem, impeding the mission’s ability to carry out its mandate and imperilling UN peacekeepers. Mali’s objections to MINUSMA’s reporting on human rights also remain a challenge to implementation of the mission’s mandate.

Replacing the TCCs that have withdrawn from the mission is another important issue. Announced troop withdrawals over the past year (prior to Jordan’s departure) represented 17 percent of MINUSMA’s current force strength.

Stalled implementation of the peace agreement and heightened tensions between the signatory parties is a key issue. Regarding Mali’s political transition—another major issue—organising the referendum on the draft constitution is an important step for holding elections to restore an elected government by 29 March 2024, the new timeline that transitional authorities and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed last year.

The upcoming meeting will allow members to advance their consideration of the options presented in the internal review for the mandate renewal of MINUSMA in June. Council members may reiterate calls on the authorities to cease restrictions on MINUSMA’s freedom of movement and allow it to conduct human rights monitoring. Some members may highlight concerns that the UN has not released investigation findings on Mourah—the central Mali village where, according to credible allegations, Malian forces and personnel of the Wagner Group, a Russian private security company, executed approximately 300 civilians and suspected terrorists from 27 to 31 March 2022.

Council Dynamics

It seems that Council members consider the Secretary-General’s internal review of MINUSMA as a good basis for discussing the upcoming mandate renewal. Most members have expressed concerns about the restrictions on MINUSMA and have encouraged Malian authorities to cooperate and respect the status of forces agreement with MINUSMA. The P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other members also highlight concerns about international human rights violations and the need for MINUSMA to carry out its human rights mandate, including reporting. The A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique) stress the importance of MINUSMA for regional stability.

China and Russia are supportive of the positions and views of the Malian authorities. Besides the presence of the Wagner Group, Russia’s growing cooperation with Mali has included deliveries of combat aircraft and helicopters. On 7 February, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pledged further military support to Mali during his first visit to the country.

The issue of France’s penholdership on Mali appears to remain unresolved. At the 8 March meeting on Mali’s letter, it seems that no member said that France should cease to act as penholder, nor did any member offer to take on the role. Several members apparently suggested that the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Matters, which has a standing agenda on penholdership, should be the forum for further discussion of the issue.

Ambassador Pedro Comissário Afonso (Mozambique) chairs the Mali 2374 Sanctions Committee.

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Security Council Resolution
29 June 2022S/RES/2640 This renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2023.
Secretary-General’s Report
16 January 2023S/2023/36 This was an internal review of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Security Council Letter
1 March 2023S/2023/161 This was a letter from Mali rejecting France’s continued role as penholder on Mali.
Security Council Meeting Record
27 January 2023S/PV.9251 This was a briefing on Mali by Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane and civil society representative Aminata Cheick Dicko, President of the association Protection Sahel.
Security Council Press Statement
21 February 2023SC/15207 This press statement condemned the attack against MINUSMA earlier that day that killed 3 peacekeepers from Senegal and injured five others.
Sanctions Committee Document
22 February 2023S/2023/138 This was the midterm report of the Mali Panel of Experts.