What's In Blue

Posted Wed 6 Apr 2022

Mali: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (7 April), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane will present the Secretary-General’s latest report on Mali, which covers the period from 1 January to 15 March. A civil society representative will also brief the Council and provide perspectives on gender-related issues.

Wane may note that negotiations continue between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Mali’s transitional authorities to set a new timeframe for holding elections to restore constitutional order. The 18-month period for completing the political transition, established after Mali’s August 2020 coup d’état, passed in March. In late December 2021, the transitional authorities proposed extending the transition by five years. They then presented in early 2022 a revised timeline proposing a four-year extension of the transition period. ECOWAS, at a 9 January summit, rejected the proposal, calling it “totally unacceptable”, and imposed new economic and financial sanctions on Mali, including the closure of ECOWAS land borders with Mali and the freezing of state assets at ECOWAS central and commercial banks.

Wane is likely to mention that the ECOWAS mediator to Mali, former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, conducted a mission to Bamako from 18 to 20 March. There, he was joined by members of the local transition follow-up committee, including the AU High Representative for Mali and the Sahel Maman Sambo Sidikou and Special Representative Wane. During the visit, the transitional president and coup leader, Assimi Goïta, proposed a two-year extension of the transition. At a 25 March ECOWAS summit in Accra, West African leaders urged Mali’s authorities instead to adhere to a 12 to 16-month period and called on the ECOWAS mediator to continue and finalise discussions on the timeframe with the transitional authorities. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may express support for ECOWAS’ proposed timeframe and encourage continued dialogue between Mali’s authorities and ECOWAS to reach an agreement.

Wane is also likely to report on the changing security landscape in Mali. Tensions since last year between the transitional authorities and France culminated in February when France and allied European countries announced in a 17 February joint statement the full withdrawal over the next six months of their counter-terrorism forces in Mali, Operation Barkhane (France’s Sahel-wide regional mission) and Task Force Takuba (which is comprised of European special forces). The statement, which Canada and seven West African and Sahelian countries also signed, noted that the countries would look to extend support to neighbouring states in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa that have come under increasing threat from terrorist groups in the Sahel. The Secretary-General’s report observes that the departure of these operations “will undoubtedly create a security gap, with implications for MINUSMA”, adding that some capabilities “will no longer be available” to the mission.

On the ground, Mali’s military, bolstered by the reported deployment since mid-December 2021 of the Russian private security company Wagner Group, has intensified offensive operations this year in central Mali and claimed some military gains. Malian forces, however, have reportedly suffered rising casualties over the past month, including in a 4 March attack by a presumed extremist armed group on an army base in the rural commune of Mondoro that killed 27 soldiers.

Many members are expected to raise concerns over reported increases in human rights incidents involving Mali’s security forces during counter-terrorism operations. The Secretary-General’s report notes “allegations of serious human rights violations reportedly perpetrated” by Mali’s armed forces. Additionally, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, Alioune Tine, raised concerns at the UN Human Rights Council on 29 March about “serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” attributed to Mali’s security forces. In his report, the Secretary-General underscores the need for Mali to “ensure that its military operations, including those conducted with its bilateral partners, are conducted in compliance with its international obligations”.

Concern over the human rights situation has been further heightened following reports since last week of the possible killing of hundreds of civilians in the central Mali village of Mourah. After social media and news reports emerged about the killings, Mali issued a statement on 1 April announcing that it had killed 203 terrorist combatants during an operation from 23 to 31 March in Mourah. In a 1 April tweet, MINSUMA expressed concern about the allegations of violence against civilians during the fighting in Mourah and said it was consulting with Mali’s authorities to establish the facts and circumstances. On 5 April, Human Rights Watch, which last month issued a report documenting the alleged extrajudicial killings or executions of at least 71 civilians by Malian security forces, published a report on the incident in Mourah, which states that from 27 to 31 March, an estimated 300 civilians and suspected militants were executed by the Malian military and foreign soldiers, who were identified as Russians by several sources. It said that the incident was the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decade-long armed conflict.

Council members are likely to call on Mali’s authorities to cooperate with MINUSMA and grant the mission access to investigate the facts of the Mourah incident. They are expected to stress the importance of accountability for human rights violations that may have been committed in this and other incidents. Members could reiterate the need for Mali’s armed forces to respect human rights at all times, including during counter-terrorism operations, and may refer to the anticipated release later this month of a report by MINUSMA’s human rights division.

Some members are likely to condemn the Wagner Group’s reported presence in Mali. In recent months, the P3 members (France, the UK and the US) have strongly criticised the transitional authorities’ decision to employ the security company and raised concerns about the company’s human rights record in other countries where it has deployed. Mali has denied engaging any private security company, saying that the Russian personnel are part of its bilateral military cooperation with Russia, while Russia has responded to criticism of the Wagner Group by calling out other countries’ “double standards” given the number of Western private security companies operating abroad.

Wane may also elaborate on the deteriorating security situation over recent weeks near the tri-border area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. There has been fighting between the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and signatory groups of the 2015 Mali Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, particularly in the communes of Tessit and Talataye—which are located in the Cercle of Ansongo in the Gao Region of south-eastern Mali—and in the Ménaka region. This has killed hundreds, including civilians, according to some news reports, and caused significant displacement. A 31 March MINUSMA statement said that the mission had deployed one unit to the area and was in the process of sending another. The mission added that it is mobilising teams to assess the impact of the violence on communities and had initiated an investigation into related human rights abuses.

Other issues that could be raised is the “frustratingly slow” implementation, according to the Secretary-General, of the 2015 peace agreement. Members are also likely to highlight the humanitarian situation and the need to fund this year’s $686 million humanitarian response plan for Mali. Despite a decrease in internally displaced persons by the end of last year, the Secretary-General’s report describes the humanitarian situation as continuing to deteriorate owing to inter-communal conflicts and tensions. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 5.9 million people in 2021 to 7.5 million this year. Additionally, more than 960,000 children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition.

The evolving political and security dynamics in Mali are unfolding as the Council prepares to renew MINUSMA’s mandate ahead of its 30 June expiry. Some members may use the closed consultations to seek more information from Wane about the implications of recent developments for the mission.

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