What's In Blue

Posted Thu 26 Jan 2023

Mali: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (27 January), the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Mali. Special Representative and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) El-Ghassim Wane and a civil society representative are expected to brief.

Wane will present the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on Mali, dated 6 January, and the UN internal review of MINUSMA submitted to the Council on 16 January. The quarterly report depicts the continued volatile security situation and the increasing operational constraints and challenges that MINUSMA has faced over the past year. In November 2022, further troop and police contributing countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Germany, and the UK), announced the end of their participation in MINUSMA because of tensions with Mali’s transitional authorities and Mali’s decision to partner with Russian private security company the Wagner Group. Restrictions on MINUSMA air and ground movements by the authorities have significantly affected the mission’s ability to maintain situational awareness and to fulfil its mandate. Fighting between Al-Qaida and Islamic State-affiliated groups in the Ménaka and Gao regions in Mali’s northeast since March 2022 has displaced tens of thousands of people and has further stretched MINUSMA’s ability to protect civilians. Though terrorist groups remain responsible for the majority of documented violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, Malian forces and “foreign personnel” have also continued to commit violations in their counter-terrorism operations in the country’s centre, according to the report.

It was in a similar context that the Security Council endorsed the Secretary-General’s proposal to conduct an internal review of MINUSMA, and requested that it include options on the future configuration, force levels, and ceiling of uniformed personnel, when it renewed MINUSMA’s mandate through resolution 2640 on 29 June 2022. Wane is likely to comment on the review’s findings. These echo the Secretary-General’s quarterly report with regard to the impact of still missing critical capacities required under the mission’s 2020 Force Adaptation Plan, the announced troop withdrawals over the past year (which represent 17 per cent of MINUSMA’s current force strength), and host country restrictions.

The review adds that since the Council’s decision in 2019 to expand MINUSMA’s mandate to support the stabilisation of central Mali without increasing its resources, the mission has been stretched “beyond capacity”. The withdrawal of French and other European counter-terrorism forces during the past year has further exacerbated the challenges for MINUSMA. 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 population.

The review presents three sets of options for the reconfiguration of the mission, which Wane may mention during the briefing. One option is to increase MINUSMA’s uniformed personnel, which are currently set at 13,289 military personnel and 1,920 police. In this regard, the report presents two different scenarios—a more ambitious augmentation of the force ceiling by 3,680 personnel that would include new specialised capacities, and another, more modest, expansion by 2,000 uniformed personnel. These proposed increases may be adjusted based on the findings of a UN military and police capability study being conducted in the first quarter of this year.

A second option proposes consolidating the mission’s presence to optimise the use of its resources in more effectively implementing MINSUMA’s strategic priorities. In one scenario, the mission would close or hand over to Malian forces some smaller camps in locations without significant protection of civilians concerns and increase MINUSMA’s presence in Ménaka and Ansongo, Gao region. The mission would still maintain its strategic priority of supporting the implementation of the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement that aims to address the drivers of the conflict in Mali’s north, as well as continuing its support to the government in stabilising central Mali and protecting civilians in the centre. A second proposal would reconfigure the mission to focus primarily on its support to the peace agreement’s implementation by concentrating its forces in northern Mali, while significantly reducing MINSUMA’s uniformed and civilian personnel in the centre.

According to the review, these options all require key conditions for the mission to operate, including MINUSMA’s freedom of movement and its ability to implement its entire mandate, including its human rights provisions.

If these conditions are not met, the review suggests, as a third option, withdrawing uniformed personnel and converting MINUSMA into a special political mission based in Bamako. The special political mission would continue providing support to: political dialogue and reconciliation processes; capacity building and good governance; human rights monitoring, promotion and protection; and encouragement for the re-establishment of state authority. The review notes that this option “would likely result in a serious deterioration in the security situation in Mali”.

It seems that Council members consider the internal review as a good basis to begin their discussion on the upcoming mandate renewal of MINUSMA in June. Some members may stress the importance of MINUSMA’s presence in Mali and the need to strengthen the mission to better deliver on its mandate. Members could acknowledge the UN’s efforts in preparing the review, including the extensive consultations with Mali’s authorities, whose expectations for MINUSMA are set out in the report and an attached five-page annex. These include that MINUSMA conduct joint planning with Mali’s armed forces, help to stabilise areas freed from extremist groups, and provide additional logistical support to defence forces, such as rations, fuel, and the construction and rehabilitation of military infrastructure.

During the session, Council members are likely to urge the authorities to cooperate with MINUSMA, including in its human rights monitoring. Members could reiterate calls that Mali cease its restrictions on MINUSMA. Among the restrictions confirmed in the Secretary-General’s quarterly report were 237 MINUSMA flight requests since 4 October 2022 that had either been denied or had received no response from authorities. Most of these (219) applied to unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, which affected the safety of MINUSMA convoys. An agreement on 15 November 2022 regarding flight request procedures that went into effect on 11 December has apparently improved the situation, according to the report, though flights are still being restricted in the areas of counter-terrorism operations.

Wane is also likely to report tomorrow on political developments. The Secretary-General’s report describes last month’s decision of the signatory movements to the 2015 peace agreement to suspend their participation in the accord’s implementation as “a cause for serious concern”. The decision followed a controversy over the level of the Malian government’s participation in the meetings of the Agreement Monitoring Committee, and criticism by one signatory movement, the Coordination of Azawad Movements, that the government and international community lacked commitment to the peace process.

Members could welcome the diplomatic efforts that led to the release earlier this month of the 46 Ivorian soldiers that Mali arrested in July 2022 on charges of engaging in mercenary activities. According to Côte d’Ivoire, the soldiers had deployed to Mali as support personnel to MINUSMA. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had been pressing for their release. Some members may further welcome progress in carrying forward Mali’s political transition since the agreement in July 2022 between the authorities and ECOWAS to restore an elected government by 29 March 2024.

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