What's In Blue

Posted Thu 15 Jun 2023

Mali: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (16 June), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Mali. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) El-Ghassim Wane is expected to brief. Mali’s Transitional Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop is expected to represent his country at the briefing.

Tomorrow’s session is taking place as Council members have begun negotiating the renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate, which expires on 30 June. The expected mandate renewal comes amid major challenges facing MINUSMA. Since last year, several troop-contributing countries (TCCs) have withdrawn from or announced their plans to leave the mission and MINUSMA has faced repeated restrictions by Malian authorities on its freedom of movement and ability to report on human rights. In addition, the security situation in Mali remains dire, having worsened over the past year particularly in the northern regions of Ménaka and Gao as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) has seized large swathes of territory, displacing tens of thousands of civilians.

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Mali, dated 1 June, assesses progress in the four parameters that a UN internal review of MINUSMA, submitted to the Council in 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.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Wane will present the Secretary-General’s report, which depicts some progress in the transition process. However, the peace agreement’s implementation remains paralysed amid heightened tensions between the government and the northern signatory movements which withdrew late last year from the accord’s monitoring mechanisms citing the government’s lack of commitment to the agreement. The report also mentions challenges in MINUSMA’s mandate implementation, such as the authorities continuing to prevent MINUSMA from conducting on-site fact-finding missions into alleged human rights violations, or the fact that they did not approve 29.5 percent of MINUSMA’s flight authorisation requests during the period between 1 April and 11 May (167 of the 565 authorisations requested).

January’s internal UN review presented three sets of options for reconfiguring MINUSMA: (1) an increase in MINUSMA’s uniformed personnel; (2) consolidation of the mission’s presence to optimise the use of its resources; or (3) conversion of MINUSMA into a special political mission. Tomorrow, Wane is likely to recall the Secretary-General’s recommendation in his 1 June report that the Council extend MINUSMA’s mandate for one year, maintaining its current authorised strength of 13,289 military and 1,920 police personnel in line with sub-option 2(a) of the review that proposes maintaining focus on MINUSMA’s strategic priorities with a consolidated footprint. In his report, the Secretary-General says that he intends to deploy personnel where they are most needed, based on progress in implementing the peace agreement and the political transition. He adds that the Council could consider streamlining MINUSMA’s tasks around a limited set of priorities to improve its overall effectiveness until the end of the political transition in March 2024.

At tomorrow’s session, some Council members may express support for including the four parameters in the upcoming mandate as an important framework for measuring progress in Mali, and also support the Secretary-General’s suggestion to streamline the mission’s tasks. Several members might reiterate concerns over Mali’s obstructionist behaviour that impedes MINUSMA in carrying out its mandate and, especially in instances of restrictions on surveillance and reconnaissance flights, imperils the safety of peacekeepers. In a recent incident demonstrating the dangers faced by the mission, an attack on a MINUSMA convoy on 9 June killed two Burkinabe peacekeepers and injured six others. Some members, such as China and Russia, may underscore that changes to the mission’s mandate would need the support of the Malian authorities, who have previously stressed that the mission should prioritise the “security aspect of its mandate”. These members may underscore that Mali’s counter-terrorism efforts should be recognised and supported.

Wane is expected to focus on the constitutional referendum that will be held in Mali this coming Sunday (18 June). He may speak about the significance of the referendum for advancing the political transition—including as an indicator of Mali’s ability to hold elections planned for early next year to restore constitutional order—and the referendum’s links with the implementation of the peace agreement. The International Mediation to the peace agreement, which Algeria leads, has engaged in extensive efforts to address the signatory movements’ concerns that the draft constitution does not recognise commitments made in the 2015 peace agreement. In an 11 June communiqué, the International Mediation stated that it has provided “international legal expertise to facilitate a common understanding of the relationship between the draft constitution and the peace agreement, in particular in its provisions relating to the institutional framework and to territorial reorganization”. The communiqué highlighted the government’s assurances that it would remain committed to the peace process after the referendum, and stressed that the draft constitution does not preclude operationalising the institutional architecture of the peace agreement.

Wane may report that, on 11 June, Mali’s defense and security forces cast early votes for the referendum except in the towns of Kidal and Tessalit, where the northern movements prevented them from voting. Council members may express hope that this weekend’s referendum is conducted in a peaceful manner that will allow all who wish to vote to do so. Members are also likely to stress the importance of the parties upholding the peace agreement.

Tomorrow’s session will be the Council’s first meeting on Mali since the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a fact-finding report on 12 May 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. 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; the latter appeared to be a reference to the Wagner Group, a Russian private security company deployed in Mali since late 2021 as part of growing security cooperation between Mali and Russia. In a 13 May statement, Mali’s Transitional Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation condemned the report as “based on a fictitious narrative”, noting the Malian authorities’ own ongoing investigation. The statement further asserted that the authorities are opening an inquiry against the fact-finding mission and “its accomplices” for “espionage”. Several Council members are likely to express concerns about the findings of the OHCHR report, as well as the reaction of authorities, who on 19 May requested from MINUSMA a list of the personnel who participated in the fact-finding mission.

Diop’s address to the Council may present an opportunity for the transitional government to clarify its position on MINUSMA’s reconfiguration, which appears to remain unclear to Council members. The foreign minister may also reiterate Mali’s criticism of France as penholder, having requested in a 1 March letter that France no longer continue in this role.

On 7 June, the Council held a meeting with MINUSMA’s TCCs at which Wane provided an update on efforts to generate new TCCs. These include the UN’s recent invitation to Sri Lanka to deploy one company to help replace Egypt’s combat convoy battalion, which suspended its participation in MINUSMA in July 2022 following repeated casualties. On 30 May, the UN officially announced Egypt’s planned withdrawal starting this month. Today (15 June), Council members held their first expert-level meeting on the draft resolution renewing MINUSMA’s mandate that France circulated on Tuesday (13 June).

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