August 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2023
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Expected Council Action

In August, the Security Council is expected to have a briefing and consultations on Mali to consider the Secretary-General’s plan for the transfer of MINUSMA’s tasks. According to resolution 2690, which mandated the drawdown and withdrawal of MINUSMA, the Council should receive the plan by 15 August. In addition, the Security Council may renew during August the assets freeze and travel ban measures of the Mali sanctions regime, which expire on 31 August, and the mandate of the Mali Panel of Experts, which expires on 30 September.

Key Recent Developments

On 16 June, Malian Transitional Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop called for the “withdrawal without delay” of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) during a Security Council briefing on Mali. Diop claimed that MINUSMA—which has been in Mali since 2013—had “become part of the problem, fuelling inter-community tensions exacerbated by extremely serious allegations that are highly detrimental to peace, reconciliation and national cohesion”. He added that “[t]he situation is creating a feeling of mistrust among the Malian population towards MINUSMA and causing a crisis of confidence between the Malian authorities and MINUSMA”.

Diop’s call to end the mission surprised most Council members, who had already begun negotiations to renew MINUSMA’s mandate. It followed Malian authorities’ increasingly hostile stance towards MINUSMA, however, which since last year has included restrictions on the mission’s freedom of movement. The authorities expelled MINUSMA’s spokesperson in July 2022 and the head of its human rights division in February. In May, they announced the opening of an inquiry into the UN staff that had drafted a recent OHCHR fact-finding report which said that Malian security forces and “foreign personnel” were likely responsible for killing at least 500 people during a counter-terrorism operation in the town of Moura in April 2022. (“Foreign personnel” was an apparent reference to the Wagner Group, the Russian private security company, which has partnered with Malian forces since late 2021.) Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane, speaking to the press after the 16 June Council session, suggested that it would be “nearly impossible” for MINUSMA to remain in Mali without the host country’s consent, which is a principle of UN peacekeeping. In the days following Diop’s call, there were reports that authorities were blocking imports for MINUSMA.

On 30 June, the Security Council adopted resolution 2690, which ended the mandate of MINUSMA and requested the mission immediately to start the transfer of its tasks and the drawdown and withdrawal of its personnel, with the objective of completing the process by 31 December. The resolution requested the Secretary-General to engage with Mali’s transitional government to articulate a plan for the transfer of MINUSMA’s tasks. The plan, which the Council expects to receive by 15 August, should consider the possible contributions of the UN Country Team, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), and other stakeholders, including support for the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali.

Resolution 2690 sets out a new limited mandate for MINUSMA. This includes for MINUSMA to respond to “imminent threats of violence” to civilians in consultation with Malian authorities, and to contribute to the safe, civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance until 30 September. The resolution requested the Transition Government of Mali to fully respect all provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) until the departure of the “final element” of MINUSMA from Mali. In addition to presenting the transfer plan by 15 August, resolution 2690 requested the Secretary-General to keep the Council regularly informed about the withdrawal process.

Negotiations on MINUSMA’s budget in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee resulted in an agreement on 29 June to allocate $590 million for six months. On 30 June, the Secretary-General issued a statement on the Council’s decision to end MINUSMA, which expressed concern over the budget appropriation that, he said, “increases the complexities and risks of the drawdown operation”. He had requested at least $750 million for nine months, also covering the mission’s liquidation.

At a 9 July summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc established a presidential commission composed of Benin, Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria “to propose, within 90 days, a comprehensive response mechanism to the dual developments of the MINUSMA withdrawal and the presence of foreign private armies in the region”, according to the summit communiqué. On 18 July, the presidents of these three countries and Niger met in Abuja. This “Troika + 1” decided that President Patrice Talon of Benin would re-engage with Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso to ensure adherence with their commitments to restore constitutional order. According to a communiqué, they also reviewed regional security initiatives.

In other developments, Malian voters approved a new constitution in a referendum held on 18 June, with 97 percent of votes in favour. Voter turnout was 39.4 percent of registered voters, according to Mali’s electoral commission, which announced the outcome on 23 June. The new constitution strengthens presidential powers and grants amnesty for the perpetrators of previous coups d’état. The Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development (CSP-PSD), a coalition of armed groups in northern Mali, did not allow the vote to be held in the Kidal region. Regarding the Malian government’s call for MINUSMA’s withdrawal, the CSP-PSD said in a 22 June statement that the mission’s exit would be a “fatal blow” to the 2015 peace agreement.

Women, Peace and Security

The Secretary-General’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), which was issued on 22 June, said that in 2022 MINUSMA verified 98 cases of CRSV, affecting 85 women and 13 girls. Significantly higher numbers were registered by humanitarian service providers, with 392 cases of sexual violence against women and 294 against girls. Where perpetrators could be identified, the report says that they were members of armed groups, as well as “militia and self-defence groups”. Members of the Malian Defence and Security Forces were also allegedly implicated, with the UN further documenting “cases in which foreign security personnel appear to have been allegedly implicated”. The report notes that survivors who publicly testified before Mali’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission “experienced further stigmatization”.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is to monitor and ensure the safe and orderly withdrawal of MINUSMA, including Mali’s full cooperation and respect for its commitments regarding the withdrawal. Completing the withdrawal within six months, by 31 December, will be a challenge, given MINUSMA’s size and complexity and the dangerous operating environment.

Another key issue is the potential gap resulting from MINUSMA’s departure. There is serious concern that the withdrawal of the approximate 14,000-strong force will create a security vacuum and significantly increase the threat against civilians. Despite its operational challenges, MINUSMA’s presence has had a deterrent and stabilising impact, especially in preventing the spread of conflict to urban centres. Likewise, the withdrawal of the mission and the loss of its good offices creates new challenges for maintaining the peace agreement and for implementing Mali’s political transition to restore constitutional order. An additional potential repercussion is the economic impact of MINUSMA’s departure, as the mission has been a significant provider of jobs and contributor to local economies.

In addition to discussing the Secretary-General’s plan for the transfer of MINUSMA’s tasks, Council members could reiterate, as stipulated in resolution 2690, that the Secretary-General keep the Council updated on the withdrawal process, especially when difficulties arise.

Renewing the sanctions regime is a key issue for the Council in August. The Council established sanctions in 2017 to increase pressure on the peace agreement’s signatory parties to implement the accord. Since December 2022, northern armed groups have not participated in the agreement’s monitoring mechanisms, accusing the government of not being committed to its implementation, which has been followed by a fresh cycle of tensions. To date, sanctions have been imposed on eight individuals from northern Mali. A related issue is the inability of the Panel of Experts to visit Mali after the government revoked its visas in June 2022; its last visit was in April 2022. The 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee discussed the Panel’s final report on 25 July. An option for the Council is to extend the sanctions regime through a technical rollover.

Council Dynamics

Council members recognise the serious risks that MINUSMA’s departure poses to the security and humanitarian situations in Mali and to the broader West Africa and Sahel region. Until Mali called for the mission’s withdrawal, members appeared ready to renew MINUSMA with a reconfigured mandate for another year, despite their frustration over the obstacles that authorities were placing on its operations and the mission’s other shortcomings, because of concerns about the potential security implications of its withdrawal. However, negotiations on resolution 2690 demonstrated that Council members agree that MINUSMA cannot stay in Mali without the host country’s consent.

Switzerland and the UK indicated in their explanation of votes during the adoption of resolution 2690 that they did not consider six months sufficient time for a mission as large and complex as MINUSMA to leave the country. The six-month period was considered the most politically feasible, however, given Mali’s request for MINUSMA’s immediate withdrawal and the tense relations between the Malian authorities and the UN. (At one point during the negotiations, Mali had called for a three-month timeline.) Many Council members highlighted in their explanations of vote resolution 2690’s request that Mali respect the SOFA until the “final element” of MINUSMA departs. Several members, including the three African members (A3)—Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique—and Japan, noted that the Council will still need to continue its engagement with Mali and regional actors to promote the implementation of the peace agreement and political transition. The US warned that MINUSMA should take precautions to avoid its assets falling into the hands of terrorist groups or the Wagner Group during the withdrawal.

Russia has close relations with Mali’s transitional authorities. In the Fifth Committee negotiations, Russia proposed a reduced budget ($191 million) and shorter time period than that requested by the Secretary-General, which appeared to align with Mali’s call for a shorter withdrawal period.

France is the penholder on Mali. Ambassador Pedro Comissário Afonso (Mozambique) chairs the 2374 Sanctions Committee.

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Security Council Resolutions
30 June 2023S/RES/2690 This resolution terminated the mandate of MINUSMA and decided to start the drawdown and withdrawal of its personnel, with the objective of completing the process by 31 December.
30 August 2022S/RES/2649 This resolution renewed the Mali sanctions measure until 31 August 2023 and the mandate of the Mali Panel of Experts until 30 September 2023.
Security Council Letter
21 June 2023S/2023/463 This was a letter from Mali that confirmed its request for the immediate withdrawal of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Security Council Meeting Records
30 June 2023S/PV.9365 This was the meeting record for the adoption of resolution 2690 terminating the mandate of MINUSMA and Council members’ explanation of votes.
16 June 2023S/PV.9350 This was a briefing on Mali at which Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop called for the “immediate withdrawal” of MINUSMA.

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