What's In Blue

Mali: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (12 April), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations on Mali. Special Representative and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) El-Ghassim Wane is expected to brief.

Wane will present the Secretary-General’s latest report on Mali, which was issued on 30 March and covers developments since 6 January. The report focuses on 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: (1) advances in Mali’s political transition, in accordance with the electoral timetable; (2) progress in the implementation of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali; (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.

The report describes some advances in the transition, such as the ongoing constitutional review process, which Council members may acknowledge at tomorrow’s meeting. At the same time, some critical activities have experienced delays, challenging Mali’s ability to complete the political transition by March 2024, which was the new timetable that transitional authorities agreed to with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) last July for restoring an elected government. Wane may note that these include delays in establishing the local chapters of Mali’s independent electoral management body, the Autorité Indépendante de Gestion des Elections (AIGE), as well as the postponement last month of the referendum on the constitution, which was scheduled for 19 March. Some members might assert that the constitutional reform should not be a reason to delay the elections, while calling on authorities to ensure that arrangements are put in place to hold these polls. Most members are expected to underscore the importance of adhering to the March 2024 electoral timetable.

Wane is likely to report on the continued impasse in implementing the 2015 peace agreement and a rise in tensions between the signatory parties. This has included “accusations and counter-accusations of violations of the ceasefire, and worrying rhetoric on social media, including hate speech, by various actors”, according to the Secretary-General’s report.

He may refer to Algeria’s efforts, as the leader of the International Mediation of the accord, to revive the agreement’s implementation after northern armed groups suspended their participation in its monitoring mechanisms at the end of last year following a dispute over the level of the government’s representation in the Agreement Monitoring Committee (CSA). Most recently, the International Mediation—which is comprised of Algeria, France, the US, MINUSMA, the AU, ECOWAS, and the EU—met on 7 April, and announced in a 9 April communiqué that it had presented concrete proposals to the parties aimed at relaunching the implementation of the peace agreement. The communiqué appealed to the parties to refrain from statements and actions that could jeopardise efforts to facilitate the successful conclusion of the peace process. Tomorrow, Council members may encourage the parties to overcome their differences and resume dialogue.

Wane may stress that the need to resolve the tensions between the government and signatory armed groups has become more urgent in light of the security situation in Gao and Ménaka. The two northeastern regions continue to see fighting between two extremist groups, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), which has created a major displacement crisis. Regarding other fronts, Wane might observe that on 17 March the transitional government formally launched its strategy to stabilise central regions, where the Malian Armed Forces have continued offensive operations against extremist groups. Members are likely to express concerns over the volatile security situation, including the rise in extremist groups’ use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the centre. Three Senegalese peacekeepers were killed and five others injured on 21 February by an IED.

Wane may also report on MINUSMA’s ongoing operational and logistical challenges. In addition to the dangerous security environment, the Secretary-General’s report describes the mission’s “inadequate strength and limited capability compared with the magnitude of the needs on the ground”, including the non-availability since July 2022 of three of the four combat escort convoy companies. In February, Jordan became the latest troop-contributing country (TCC) to inform the UN that it is withdrawing from the mission—with the departure of Jordan’s forces, MINUSMA has lost three of the four TCCs that have contributed to the operation’s mobile task force.

Host country cooperation also remains an issue, and is likely to be raised at tomorrow’s session. MINUSMA recorded six restrictions of ground movements during the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report. For example, Malian forces have prevented MINUSMA’s access to areas south of Ansongo town in the Gao region since 14 January, citing ongoing military operations. As at 1 March, authorities had also denied authorisation to 297 (or 24.1 percent) of MINUSMA’s flight requests, most of which (238) applied to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned aircraft. The mission and the Malian authorities had agreed in November 2022 to a new procedure regarding flight requests, which the Secretary-General’s report says MINUSMA has complied with.

Some Council members are likely to express concern that restrictions on MINUSMA’s movements have continued, and note that such constraints—particularly those relating to surveillance flights—imperil UN peacekeepers’ security. Several members are expected to reiterate calls for the authorities to end these restrictions and to respect the status of forces agreement (SOFA) with MINUSMA. Some members are also likely to voice concerns about the mission’s ability to conduct its human rights mandate. They may reference in this regard Mali’s expulsion on 5 February of the Director of the Human Rights Division of MINUSMA, Guillaume Ngefa-Atondoko Andali, declaring him persona non grata over his role in selecting civil society briefers to the Security Council. (For more information, see our 7 February What’s in Blue story.)

Members may also raise concerns about violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. On 22 March, MINUSMA published its latest quarterly note on trends in violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law in Mali, covering the period 1 October to 31 December 2022. It showed that the number of people killed grew from 584 in 2021 to 1,277 in 2022, and 2,001 people were affected 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”—an apparent reference to Russian private security contractor the Wagner Group—caused 35 percent of the violations.

This data does not include the numbers killed in the central Mali village of Mourah where, according to credible allegations, Malian forces and Wagner Group personnel killed approximately 300 civilians and suspected terrorists from 27 to 31 March 2022. Some members may highlight concerns that the UN has yet to release the results of its investigation into the incident in Mourah, which occurred over a year ago.

Tomorrow’s session takes place as Council members prepare to renew MINUSMA’s mandate, which expires on 30 June. The Secretary-General’s 16 January internal review of MINUSMA presented the Council with options to reconfigure the mission. These include proposals to increase MINUSMA’s uniformed personnel—currently set at 13,289 military personnel and 1,920 police—or alternatively to consolidate the mission’s presence to optimise the use of its resources. However, if the four parameters for MINUSMA to operate are not met, the review suggested as a third option to withdraw the mission’s uniformed personnel and convert MINUSMA into a special political mission. Council members may use tomorrow’s closed consultations to discuss these options for MINUSMA’s reconfiguration with Wane.

Council members last met on Mali on 8 March in closed consultations to discuss the Malian authorities’ “rejection” in a 1 March letter of France continuing to serve as the Council penholder on Mali, in the latest example of the rift in French-Malian relations. At the meeting, it seems that no member suggested that France should cease to act as penholder, nor did any member offer to take on the role.

For more information, see the brief on Mali in Security Council Report’s April Forecast.

Tags: ,
Sign up for What's In Blue emails

Subscribe to receive SCR publications