Mali: Briefing and Consultations
On Monday morning (28 August), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the Secretary-General’s plan for the transfer of tasks of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which is withdrawing from Mali by the end of this year. Special Representative and head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane is expected to brief via videoconference. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare, both of whom undertook visits to Mali this month, are expected to brief in the closed consultations.
Resolution 2690 of 30 June, through which the Council decided to end MINUSMA, requested the Secretary-General to engage with Mali’s transitional government “to articulate a plan for the transfer of MINUSMA’s tasks, bearing in mind the possible contribution of the United Nations Country Team, the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and other stakeholders, including in support of the [2015 Peace and Reconciliation] Agreement”. The resolution requested that the plan be presented to the Council by 15 August. Council members originally considered giving the UN a 30 September deadline to present the plan, but the timeframe was shortened during the negotiations on resolution 2690 due to pressure from Mali for MINUSMA’s prompt closure. (For more on the negotiations on resolution 2690, see our 29 June What’s in Blue story.)
The Secretary-General presented his current plan, which is still under discussion, for the transfer of MINUSMA’s tasks in a letter dated 18 August. According to the letter, “the timeline, scope and complexity of the withdrawal of MINUSMA are unprecedented”. Challenges include Mali’s vast terrain, the presence of terrorist groups, the volume of the mission’s equipment, and recent developments following a coup in Niger, which is a key transit country both for the supply of the mission during the drawdown and the exit of its personnel and equipment.
The letter identifies a range of tasks that will not be transferred because of the compressed withdrawal timeline, including “important gaps” that will be created regarding the monitoring mechanisms of the 2015 peace agreement and human rights monitoring and reporting. It indicates that serious risks face the peace agreement absent “urgent” confidence-building measures and steps to bring the peace process back on track. Capacities to deliver aid and to protect civilians will inevitably be severely impacted. MINUSMA’s withdrawal could also create opportunities for violent extremist groups to expand their activities, with risks of spillover to neighbouring countries, according to the letter. At Monday’s meeting, the briefers may further emphasise the significantly different operating environment that will exist in Mali following MINUSMA’s departure, and underscore that it is unclear which entities can fulfil some tasks formerly carried out by the mission.
The threat to the 2015 peace agreement was starkly demonstrated earlier this month, during the handover of the mission’s camp to Malian authorities in Ber, Timbuktu region. The camp is one of four camps in territory in the north controlled by the signatory movements, which are slated to be returned to the government. On 11 August, the signatory movement, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), accused the Malian army and the Wagner Group, the Russian private security company, of attacking their forces in Ber. Mali said that six of its soldiers were killed near Ber in fighting with armed “terrorist” groups. Moreover, al-Qaida affiliated group Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) reportedly announced that it would impose a blockade on Timbuktu and oppose the Malian army’s deployment to Ber. The deteriorating situation led MINUSMA to expedite its withdrawal from Ber; the mission left on 13 August, two days earlier than planned. The departing UN convoy came under attack twice after vacating the camp. In the second incident, which took place approximately 30 kilometres from the city of Timbuktu, shelling and small arms fire injured four peacekeepers from Burkina Faso, three of them seriously. On Monday, the briefers may indicate that further tensions are expected during the return of bases in Aguelhok, Kidal, and Tessalit.
At the briefing, Council members are likely to express strong concerns over the stability of the peace agreement. Some members may encourage the UN to consult with the parties closely ahead of MINUSMA’s withdrawal from its other northern camps to avoid a repeat of the events in Ber. Members might also encourage a role for the International Mediation to the peace agreement, which Algeria leads, in mitigating tensions resulting from the drawdown process.
On the transfer of tasks, the 18 August letter presents potential roles for UNOWAS and the UN Country Team, which, if agreed to with the Malian authorities, will require new funding sources. The Secretary-General suggests that UNOWAS, because of its good offices mandate that covers the West Africa and Sahel region, is well-placed to assume MINUSMA’s good offices role in the peace agreement’s monitoring committee. The transfer plan suggests that UN agencies, funds, and programmes, with assistance from the UN Secretariat, could support the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration and security sector reform process set out by the peace agreement.
UNOWAS is also well-placed to take on good offices and high-level advocacy roles to support Mali’s political transition. The Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and UN Women can maintain operational support for the electoral process, albeit at reduced logistical and security capacity than MINUSMA provided, according to the Secretary-General’s letter. Among other areas, the continued presence of the UN Mine Action Services (UNMAS) will be crucial, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will continue to provide capacity-building support, which could be bolstered to some extent by other international partners.
Wane might mention a workshop that MINUSMA convened from 2 to 4 August with the transitional government, the UN Country Team, UNOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the AU, and the EU Capacity Building Mission in Mali to discuss the transfer of tasks. At the workshop, Mali expressed its intention to assume responsibility for the political transition and elections, support to the peace process, restoration of state authority and support to the stabilisation of centre regions, protection of civilians and humanitarian assistance, as well as the safety and security of UN operations after the withdrawal. However, as noted in the Secretary-General’s letter, the government raised concerns about the gap in financial resources for it to take on these functions.
At Monday’s session, Council members may reiterate the importance of Mali cooperating with the UN to ensure the safe and secure withdrawal of peacekeepers. At an 18 August press conference held at the conclusion of his visit to Mali, Lacroix expressed satisfaction with the authorities’ cooperation regarding the withdrawal. He may repeat this on Monday. Still, the Secretary-General’s letter notes restrictions on imports for MINUSMA—which the authorities first imposed on 27 June—as well as some persisting restrictions on internal mission flights, an issue which some members may raise.
Council members are likely to encourage the Malian authorities to continue engaging with the UN on the transfer plan to agree on the roles that UNOWAS and the UN Country Team can play. Some members may also emphasise that MINUSMA’s departure should not mean the end of the Council’s engagement on the peace agreement. Since this could be the Council’s last meeting on Mali before the withdrawal’s completion, members may reiterate concerns they expressed during the adoption of resolution 2690 on 30 June. Some may recall their concerns over the decision to end the mission in the first place—which Mali requested just two weeks earlier at a 16 June Council briefing—and over the withdrawal’s short timeframe. As Council members are currently negotiating the extension of the Mali sanctions regime and the mandate of the Mali Panel of Experts, which are expected to be voted on by the end of this month, members may express their views about the renewal.
The briefers are expected to highlight the need for additional resources—new donor funding for envisioned UN Country Team activities, and new General Assembly appropriations for MINUSMA, in particular for its liquidation period and for any increased role for UNOWAS in Mali. Difficult negotiations on MINUSMA’s budget at the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee during June resulted in member states agreeing to allocate $590 million for six months until 31 December. The Secretary-General expressed concern over this decision since he had requested at least $750 million for nine months to include the mission’s liquidation. Fifth Committee discussions in December will provide an opportunity for member states to consider additional funding requirements for MINUSMA and UNOWAS.