Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which expires on 30 June. Earlier in the month, the Council will hold its quarterly briefing on Mali, followed by closed consultations. Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane is expected to brief.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation in Mali remains dire despite Malian forces’ intensified counter-terrorism operations and the country’s increased security cooperation with Russia. Meanwhile, MINUSMA faces difficult relations with host country authorities, contributing to the withdrawal or announced departure by troop-contributing countries (TCCs) amounting to over 20 percent of the peacekeeping operation’s forces since last year.
In the Ménaka and Gao regions near the borders with Niger and Burkina Faso, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) has continued a military offensive in which it has occupied large swathes of territory during the past year, creating a major displacement crisis. On 10 April, ISGS took over the town of Tidermène in the Ménaka region, which, according to news reports, has left Ménaka city isolated and surrounded.
On 22 April, militants launched a complex attack, including suicide car bombings, that targeted a military base reportedly used by the Russian private security company the Wagner Group and the airport in the central Malian town of Sévaré. According to reports, at least ten civilians and three soldiers were killed and over 60 civilians were injured, and at least 20 buildings were damaged, including a petrol station. Al-Qaida-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed responsibility. A mob injured two MINUSMA staff the next day amid a disinformation campaign accusing MINUSMA of responsibility.
In other signs of the dire security situation, Mali announced on 20 April that Oumar Traoré, chief of staff to Mali’s transitional president Assimi Goïta, had been killed with at least three other people in an ambush near Nara, a town close to the Mauritanian border. On 8 May, six Malian soldiers were killed during a rare attack in western Mali about 80 miles from Bamako. Two days earlier, on 6 May, an improvised explosive device (IED) struck a MINUSMA convoy near Douentza, wounding seven peacekeepers. According to MINUSMA, this was the sixth IED incident recorded against MINUSMA this year in central Mali.
On 30 May, the UN announced that Egypt would begin “phasing out” its 651-member combat convoy battalion during June. Since August 2022, the Egyptian contingent had suspended its participation in MINUSMA because of the high number of casualties it had suffered while conducting convoy escorts.
Implementation of Mali’s 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement has been stalled, and tensions have been rising between its signatory parties following the decision of northern armed groups to withdraw from the accord’s monitoring mechanisms in December 2022, citing the government’s lack of commitment to the agreement. Algeria, as leader of the international mediation of the peace process, has sought to revive the accord since its new foreign minister, Ahmed Attaf, took office on 18 March. In a joint statement on 27 April, following a meeting in Bamako between Attaf and transitional President Goïta, Mali and Algeria affirmed their commitment to reviving the accord.
On 5 May, Mali announced that it would hold the delayed constitutional referendum on 18 June. The referendum, initially scheduled for 19 March, was postponed because of insufficient preparations to hold the vote and to allow authorities more time to consult stakeholders who had voiced objections to the draft constitution. These include influential religious leaders, who have criticised the draft constitution’s inclusion of the principle of “secularism”. The Local Transition Monitoring Committee in Mali, made up of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the AU, and MINUSMA, welcomed the new date for the referendum in a press release which noted that this is the first of the various ballots that will lead to the restoration of constitutional order in March 2024, in accordance with Mali’s transition timetable.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 12 May, OHCHR released a fact-finding report about the reported killing of hundreds of people during a military operation in the central Malian village of Moura from 27 to 31 March 2022. While Malian authorities refused UN staff access to Moura, OHCHR concluded from interviews and other information, such as satellite imagery, that there were “strong indications” that more than 500 people had been killed—the vast majority summarily executed—by Malian troops and foreign military personnel. Mali condemned the report as “based on a fictitious narrative”, noting its own ongoing investigation. Mali further asserted that it was opening an inquiry against the fact-finding mission for espionage because of its use of satellite imagery without authorisation.
On 8 May, Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, and Alioune Tine, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, issued a statement on the persistence of descent-based slavery in Mali, which is widespread in the Kayes region and central and northern regions in the country, including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. The experts urged the government to adopt legislation to criminalise slavery without any further delay. “Mali is the only country in the Sahel that does not have such legislation”, they said.
Women, Peace and Security
On 28 March, the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) met on the situation in Mali. Deputy Special Representative for MINUSMA Daniela Kroslak briefed. Among the issues IEG members discussed was women’s participation in transitional processes and in the economy, and they asked how MINUSMA was following up on reprisals against women peacebuilders, including Aminata Dicko, who briefed the Security Council in January. (For background, see the brief on Mali in our April Forecast.) IEG members were informed that “another Malian woman from civil society had recently been arrested due to public statements she made on social media”. They were also informed that 2022 saw a 49 percent increase in reported cases of gender-based violence in Mali compared with 2021.
UN Women, as the IEG secretariat, put forward several recommendations ahead of MINUSMA’s mandate renewal. Among them were that Council members consider adding language which urges the Malian transitional authorities “to create a conducive environment for women’s rights and their protection and promotion, that prevents and addresses violence, including gender-based violence, against women peacebuilders, human rights defenders and women’s organizations engaged in the political transition, electoral process and the peace process, including through legal frameworks”. UN Women also proposed requesting MINUSMA to monitor and report on these issues.
On 4 May, the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee held informal consultations with representatives of regional states and organisations, including Mali, to discuss the implementation of the Mali sanctions regime.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for Council members in June is MINUSMA’s mandate renewal, which will take place amid major challenges to the mission’s ability to carry out its mandate. In addition to having to replace departing TCCs, tensions persist with authorities over MINUSMA’s human rights reporting and access restrictions; the Secretary-General’s 30 March report on Mali cited authorities’ denial of 297 (or 24.1 percent) of MINUSMA’s flight requests, most of which (238) applied to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned aircraft that are critical for the security of UN peacekeepers. In this context, important issues for the Council include assessing progress in the four conditions or “parameters” that the Secretary-General’s internal review of MINUSMA, dated 16 January, identified as key for the mission to operate. These parameters are:
- advances in Mali’s political transition, in accordance with the electoral timetable;
- progress in the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement;
- MINUSMA’s freedom of movement, including for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets; and
- MINUSMA’s ability to implement its entire mandate, including its human rights provisions.
The internal review presented the Council with three sets of options to reconfigure MINUSMA, which is a central issue for the mandate renewal. These include proposals to increase MINUSMA’s uniformed personnel, currently authorised at 13,289 military personnel and 1,920 police. A second set of options proposes consolidating the mission’s presence to optimise the use of its resources, which the review says can be done by closing or handing over to Malian forces some of MINUSMA’s smaller camps in locations without significant protection of civilians concerns. If the parameters for MINUSMA to operate are not met, the review suggested, as a third option, withdrawing the mission’s uniformed personnel and converting MINUSMA into a special political mission.
Other important issues include TCC caveats and a lack of enabling capacities such as air assets, which hinder MINUSMA’s ability to carry out its mandate. Misunderstanding and unmet expectations among Malians about MINUSMA, including that it should engage in counter-terrorism operations—which goes beyond the capacity of UN peacekeeping—is a recurring issue, compounded in the past year by intentional disinformation campaigns about the mission.
A potentially complicating issue for this year’s mandate renewal is the Malian authorities’ “reject[ion]” of France’s continued role as penholder, which Mali conveyed in a 1 March letter to Council members.
The Council may renew the mandate of MINUSMA for one year. In doing so, it could highlight within the mandate the four parameters that are key for MINUSMA to operate, signalling to authorities the need for progress in fulfilling these conditions when the Council considers whether to maintain MINUSMA in 2024. Considering the practical difficulties of increasing the troop ceiling, the Council may decide to support some form of option two of the internal review that optimises MINUSMA’s resources by consolidating its footprint. Another option is replacing MINUSMA with a special political mission, but this is not expected for this upcoming renewal cycle. If the penholdership issue remains unresolved, members could consider a technical rollover of MINUSMA.
Council discussion on Mali has become polarised since reports towards late 2021 about Russia’s partnership with Mali’s transitional authorities through deployment of the Wagner Group. Last year, China and Russia abstained on the MINUSMA renewal. It was the first time the mandate was adopted without consensus. During the explanation of vote, they cited the “intrusive language” on human rights and excessive emphasis on MINUSMA’s human rights mandate.
The P3 (France, the UK, and the US) along with other members, meanwhile, highlight concerns about human rights violations and the need for MINUSMA to carry out its human rights mandate, including reporting. Most Council members also express serious concerns about the restrictions on MINUSMA and have encouraged Malian authorities to cooperate and respect the status of forces agreement with MINUSMA. The three African members (A3)—Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique—play an important role in Council negotiations on Mali. Last year’s A3 configuration was cautious about criticising Mali, particularly over human rights, which they believed could prove counterproductive to MINUSMA’s efforts to induce cooperation.
Despite its challenges, it seems that Council members still consider MINUSMA essential because of the security vacuum that its withdrawal could create in Mali and the West Africa region. Practical and political challenges appear to render infeasible an increase in MINUSMA’s force level, which transitional authorities had already rejected in 2021.
The positions on MINUSMA of the transitional authorities, whose views Russia and China tend to support, represent another factor in upcoming mandate negotiations. In a six-page letter, attached as an annex to the Secretary-General’s report of the internal review, Mali set out its preferences, asserting that MINUSMA should increase support to the Malian armed forces and give “top priority to the security dimension of its mandate”. It should also avoid the “politicization” of the human rights issue. Mali’s foreign minister and Mali’s ambassador to the UN expressed disappointment over the options in the review at Council briefings in January and April, although they stated that they remain open to dialogue with the UN over the mandate.
France has been the penholder on Mali since the onset of Mali’s crisis in 2012. Ambassador Pedro Comissário Afonso (Mozambique) chairs the 2374 Sanctions Committee. It is possible that France could serve as a co-penholder with another Council member or members. In renewing the Mali sanctions regime in August 2022, France was co-penholder with Mexico, whose Permanent Representative chaired the 2374 Committee last year.
UN DOCUMENTS ON MALI
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 June 2022S/RES/2640||This renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2023.|
|30 March 2023S/2023/236||This was a Secretary-General’s report on Mali.|
|16 January 2023S/2023/36||This was an internal review of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).|
|Security Council Letters|
|16 May 2023S/2023/361||This letter contained the summary note of the meeting of the Informal Expert Group on WPS on the situation in Mali.|
|1 March 2023S/2023/161||This was a letter from Mali rejecting France’s continued role as penholder on Mali.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|12 April 2023S/PV.9302||This was the quarterly briefing on Mali with Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane.|