Mali: Vote to Renew the Sanctions Regime*
This afternoon (30 August), the Security Council is expected to vote on the renewal of the Mali sanctions regime. At the time of writing, it appears that Council members will be voting on two draft resolutions. One draft resolution, prepared by France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), would renew the Mali asset freeze and travel ban sanctions until 31 August 2024 and extend the mandate of the Panel of Experts that supports the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee until 30 September 2023. The second draft resolution, proposed by Russia, would renew the sanctions measures for another year but dissolve the mandate of the Panel of Experts.
France and the UAE, which served as co-penholders for this year’s sanctions renewal, circulated an initial draft resolution to Council members on 11 August and convened an expert-level negotiation on the text on 16 August. In a letter sent to Council members that same day, Mali requested that the Council terminate the sanctions regime. This prompted the penholders to convene another shorter expert-level meeting to discuss Mali’s request, and then to hold bilateral discussions, since last week, with Council members and Mali. On 25 August, China and Russia broke silence on an updated version of the co-penholders’ draft resolution. Last night (29 August), the penholders circulated a further revised version of the draft resolution and put it directly in blue. Russia then circulated its alternative text, which it also put in blue.
The Council established the sanctions regime through resolution 2374 of 5 September 2017 to pressure Malian parties to implement the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. Its designation criteria, as set out in resolution 2374, includes: engaging in hostilities in violation of the peace agreement; taking actions that obstruct, obstruct by prolonged delay, or that threaten the agreement; and acting for or on behalf of, or otherwise supporting or financing, those violating the agreement by engaging in hostilities or obstructing its implementation, including through proceeds from organised crime. Other designation criteria entail attacks against the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA); obstructing delivery of humanitarian assistance; and violating international human rights and international humanitarian law, including the targeting of civilians and sexual violence. Application of the sanctions—which have been imposed on eight individuals from northern Mali—has been limited. The latest designations were in December 2019.
This year’s final report of the Panel of Experts, dated 3 August, depicts the fragility of the 2015 peace agreement amid intensified tensions between signatory armed groups and the Malian government. The panel’s report says that the impasse in the agreement’s implementation is weakening the signatory armed groups to the benefit of Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), with the former positioning itself as the sole actor capable of protecting communities in the north in the face of sustained ISGS violence against civilians. It suggests that, over the past year, the Malian government has refrained from intervening against the ISGS—which has nearly doubled the area that it holds in Ménaka and Gao regions, displacing tens of thousands of civilians—since it believes that the fighting between rival groups benefits the government. According to the report, these conditions risk reverting Mali to a situation where terrorist groups regain control of northern cities which they held in 2012.
The panel’s report also observes that Malian armed forces, foreign security personnel that are presumably from the Russian private security company the Wagner Group, and local self-defence militias have committed sexual violence, including rape, during joint military operations, and suggests that such acts appear to be “systematic”. The report describes the worsening humanitarian situation, caused in particular due to the ISGS’s campaign in Ménaka. This includes the first indications of “catastroph[ic]” levels of food insecurity in Mali. Humanitarian actors have experienced increased difficulty in delivering assistance, caused, in part, by terrorist groups’ greater use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Negotiations on the Draft Resolution
For this year’s renewal, France and the UAE proposed a shortened text focusing on renewing the sanctions regime and the mandate of the Mali Panel of Experts. By preparing a streamlined draft resolution, they sought to minimise potential tensions with Mali, which has accused the Panel of Experts of going beyond its mandate and of bias. The panel’s experts have not visited Mali for over a year after the transitional authorities revoked their visas in June 2022. Most Council members appeared keen to renew the sanctions regime, taking the view that this will be the Council’s main tool to monitor the 2015 peace agreement and exercise pressure on the parties to implement the accord, now that MINUSMA is withdrawing from Mali by the end of the year.
Mali’s letter, which requested the lifting of the sanctions regime, recalled that the Malian government had first requested the creation of the sanctions regime to target those blocking the peace agreement’s implementation, justified at the time by the resumption of hostilities between signatory armed groups. These reasons for creating the regime no longer exist, according to Mali’s letter. Mali also reiterated its criticism of the Panel of Experts, citing its “non-compliance with the mandate” and “hostile, biased reports”.
China and Russia have stressed the importance of listening to Mali and finding ways to gain its support, which would allow the sanctions regime to serve as an effective tool. The Council’s three African members (A3)—Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique—contended that from a regional perspective, when there has been a resurgence in clashes between the parties, the Council should not end a mechanism that provides a safeguard for the peace agreement.
A revised penholders’ draft after the 16 August negotiations maintained the sanctions regime and the mandate of the Panel of Experts. The penholders, however, added four new paragraphs largely drawn from A3 proposals, which include messages on the peace agreement, threats to the ceasefire, and the sanctions list that were based on language in last year’s sanctions renewal. In keeping with their approach to still have a minimalist text, they did not take on several members’ calls to restore elements on human rights violations and sexual violence, and proposals such as the need for the Panel of Experts to have access to Mali.
Since last week, France and the UAE have engaged bilaterally with Council members and Mali to identify and consider possible solutions to the impasse. These have included permanent representative-level discussions between the UAE and Mali. However, Mali has maintained its position on lifting the sanctions, which it reiterated at a 28 August Council briefing earlier this week on a UN plan to transfer MINUSMA’s tasks. During these bilateral discussions, Russia proposed revisions to the mandate of the sanctions regime, which it contended could represent a middle ground to reflect Mali’s concerns. Before circulating a revised text, it seems that the UAE put forward several proposals aimed at finding an acceptable solution, such as changes to the duration of the mandate and the number of panel experts, but differences between members appeared too wide to bridge.
The draft in blue that France and the UAE circulated yesterday adds language acknowledging Mali’s request to end the sanctions and emphasising the Council’s readiness to review the measures as appropriate. Russia’s alternative text appears to be similar, except that it dissolves with immediate effect the Panel of Experts.
Post-Script (30 August, 4:30 pm EST): Prior to the vote, which was scheduled for 3 pm EST, some Council members called for the vote’s postponement to allow further time for deliberations. Other members opposed this proposal, and the US (August’s Council President) convened the meeting as scheduled. Before members took action on the drafts in blue, Russia took the floor and requested to hold consultations before the vote, which was supported by China and the A3 members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique). After the US denied the request for consultations, Russia called for a procedural vote on the matter, which did not take place, as the US decided to suspend the meeting temporarily. When the meeting resumed, the US announced that Council members would hold consultations.
Post-Script (30 August, 5:30 pm EST): the Security Council failed to renew the Mali sanctions regime and the mandate of the Mali Panel of Experts. Russia vetoed the draft resolution proposed by France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which received 13 votes in favour and one abstention (China). The Russian draft text failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite votes. It received one vote in favour (Russia), one against (Japan), and the remaining 13 Council members abstained. (A draft resolution on substantive matters is adopted if it receives nine or more affirmative votes and is not vetoed.) In its explanation of vote, China noted that it abstained on the Russian draft because it had not received instructions from capital in time for the vote.
Many members who took the floor following the vote on the penholders’ draft regretted Russia’s veto. The A3 members said that they believe that the sanctions measures are still necessary, and several members said that they are willing to engage in the coming days to find a compromise on the sanctions regime’s renewal. As part of its explanation of vote, Russia highlighted concerns that maintaining a Panel of Experts against the objections of the government would be counterproductive to supporting Mali’s peace process, which was the purpose of establishing the regime. Prior to the vote on its draft resolution, Russia said that it would not engage further if its resolution was not adopted.