Collective, Sustained Commitment Vital to Building a More Secure, Stable Mali, Sahel Region, Secretary-General Tells Security Council
Building a politically stable, more secure Mali requires “collective and sustained commitment”, along with continued support for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the country, Secretary‑General António Guterres told the Security Council during a 11 June videoconference meeting*.
“We owe this to the people of Mali and the Sahel region,” he said, recalling that it has been five years since the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation was signed by Malian parties in Algiers. Despite protracted delays, important progress has been registered in the last year — notably through an inclusive national dialogue, which resulted in several resolutions and enabled parties to refocus on implementation of the peace accord.
In addition, he said that following the integration of 1,330 former combatants of the armed movements into the national defence and security forces, more than 1,100 personnel were redeployed to Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and Menaka as part of the reconstituted units of the national armed forces. Action will resume soon to integrate 510 remaining combatants and another batch of 1,160 to reach the objective of 3,000 newly integrated soldiers by mid-2020.
Noting that the arrival of the first reconstituted unit in February marked the first formal presence of the national armed forces in Kidal since rebel forces took control of the main cities in northern Mali in 2012, he said these units will strengthen national armed forces in the country’s north, once fully operational.
“It is now paramount for all redeployed units to become operational,” he said. To this end, he called on all parties to live up to their commitments to urgently provide infrastructure, equipment, training and take measures to strengthen cohesion. An effective community-oriented police force is equally important.
Turning to the role of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), he said its good offices have been crucial in helping parties reach agreement on the modalities for the redeployment. Steps were also taken to operationalize the Northern Development Zone, with a view to addressing the drivers of instability. MINUSMA also supported legislative elections, held in March and April, which saw the highest percentage of women ever elected. However, he called for the immediate release of opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, who was abducted during the electoral campaign.
In central Mali, he said terrorist activity continues to fuel violence. While welcoming the Prime Minister’s personal engagement, he said authorities must demonstrate their commitment to fight impunity, recalling that 128 peacekeepers were killed as a result of malicious acts, and not a single perpetrator has been held accountable. Alleged summary killings and executions of 38 civilians by Mali’s armed forces in two villages in Mopti region last weekend are equally appalling.
He said MINUSMA and the Secretariat have taken important steps to enhance the United Nations presence in central Mali and better protect civilians. “The Mission’s adaptation plan remains a viable proposal for a more agile, mobile and flexible operation,” he said, with tailored units and enhanced capabilities. “In an increasingly challenging security environment, additional air assets are urgently needed.”
He went on to emphasize that fighting terrorism is a joint responsibility, commending Mali’s army, the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) [Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger] joint force and French forces for stepping up their operations and improving coordination in the Liptako-Gourma region. He also commended France, Germany and the European Union for spearheading the Coalition for the Sahel established at the Pau summit in January. He reiterated the call for a comprehensive support package for the G5 Sahel, funded by assessed contributions, likewise advocating support for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.
Pierre Buyoya, African Union High Representative for Mali and the Sahel, addressed the Council on behalf of African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, stressing that the Sahel is experiencing a triple health, economic and security crisis linked to COVID‑19.
“The situation has deteriorated sharply, especially since the second half of 2019,” he said, and particularly in the Liptako-Gourma area, known as the “three borders area”, where terrorist activities have increased in number and intensity. Intercommunal violence in central Mali continues — despite multiple strategies implemented by the Government — and has led to a significant number of civilian casualties in recent weeks. Such volatility naturally has caused humanitarian conditions and respect for human rights to deteriorate.
Faced with this situation, Mali has put in place a new military initiative, “Operation Maliko”, he said, the results of which are visible. The G5 Sahel joint force has grown in strength, and the cooperation and coordination mechanism set up in Pau appears to be working. Other initiatives have been under way since 2019, notably by ECOWAS, which has provided significant financial support to the G5 Sahel. The African Union, at the summit in February, similarly expressed its solidarity by deciding to deploy a force of 3,000 personnel. The process of establishing this force is under way.
On the political front, he commended Mali on the holding of the national inclusive dialogue and organization of legislative elections, which enabled the instalment of the new National Assembly. Progress also has been made on the deployment of the reconstituted army and he encouraged Malian authorities to complete the accelerated disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process — one that will lead to the total disarmament of armed movements and militias.
In that context, he welcomed the establishment of the interim authorities in the Taoudénit and Ménaka regions and encouraged the Government to complete this process this year. He also welcomed the transfer of competences and resources to local authorities and the operationalization of the territorial police. On the expected formation a new Government, he expressed hope that the next Government will create a “new dynamic” in the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement, with the adoption of a new timetable to complete the identified priority actions.
“The political and security situation in Mali — and in the Sahel region — remains difficult,” he said. It requires sustained efforts by the international community, in particular for the optimal implementation of Mali’s peace agreement. “This agreement constitutes the privileged framework and way for the resolution of the multidimensional crisis that this country is experiencing”, he assured, expressing support for the renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate with its current staff.
In the ensuing dialogue, Jean-Yves le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, recalled that his country intervened in 2013 to stop terrorists from advancing towards Bamako. Significant progress has been made since the signing of the Algiers Agreement. For the first time in five years, 1,000 soldiers in Mali’s reconstituted army — including former rebels — have returned to northern cities, including Kidal, with progress also made on decentralization, development in the north and women’s participation in the peace process. At the international level, the Coalition for the Sahel will hold its first ministerial meeting on 12 June. A joint command mechanism has been established between the French Barkhane force and the G5 Sahel joint force — with last week’s neutralization of the Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb leader among its victories — while the Takuba Task Force, which involves European special forces, has also been launched.
“MINUSMA remains the best tool available to the international community to support the Malians on the path to peace,” he said, encouraging support for its adaptation plan. In mandate negotiations, the focus will be on confirming priority tasks: implementation of the peace agreement, support to the redeployment of the State and the protection of civilians in Mali’s centre. The Council will seek to indicate its expectations towards the Government and armed groups, as “the international community is still expecting significant progress from them”. Actions by certain actors in blatant substitution of State authority in the north are unacceptable. Their disarmament must continue, under conditions agreed by the parties. “The peace agreement resulting from the Algiers process must remain our compass,” he said. “Those who oppose it, on whatever side, will face sanctions.” Because MINUSMA acts in conjunction with other security presences, it is important that adequate synergies be established. France will advocate continued support for the G5 Sahel joint force, and clarification on how that assistance is provided beyond Mali’s territory.
Belgium’s representative said that, despite “much slower” progress than hoped, there is no alternative to the 2015 peace agreement. The redeployment of elements of the reconstituted army in the north, and establishment of decentralized administrations are among the gains made. But, benchmarks identified by the Council in June 2019 have “not really been met”. Security sector reform must be a priority, along with the balanced representation of all Malians in the State institutions. The reformed State must redeploy as soon as possible and protect citizens, he said, underscoring that security, justice and education are basic services that can help undermine the recruitment of community militias and terrorists. The MINUSMA adaptation plan is an important initiative in this regard, “even if we all know that the work of this Mission, in which more than 80 Belgian soldiers are engaged, can only be framed in support of a political process”. He also encouraged Mali to adopt a national criminal policy, expressing regret over the lack of investigation into alleged abuse by the Defence and Security Forces, and the fact that no trial has been held for those who committed crimes against MINUSMA peacekeepers.
Kalla Ankourao, Niger’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens Abroad, said that, despite continued terrorist attacks and intercommunal conflict, progress has been made in the peace process. He cited the holding of the 2019 inclusive national dialogue as a “milestone” in the establishment of a national consensus on political and institutional reforms, noting that the 29 March legislative elections also demonstrated Mali’s adherence to democratic values. Yet, other crucial reforms are lagging, notably the setting up of local police, the administrative and territorial restructuring and the redeployment of the reconstituted army units to the north.
He expressed concern about implementing the MINUSMA adaptation plan for central Mali without adequate resources and urged the Council to favourably consider support for additional financial resources. The situation in the Sahel — particularly in Mali — underscores the need for MINUSMA’s continued presence. He advocated consensus among Council members on its mandate, budget, size and operational capacity, expressing Niger’s view that the force should be more robust. He called on all Member States to provide the required capacities and resources for MINUSMA, noting that the creation of the Rapid Intervention Brigade within the Mission could increase its effectiveness. He advocated MINUSMA’s continued support to the G5 Sahel joint force, reiterating the request for the latter to be established under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and emphasizing that the best option for MINUSMA to support the joint force is one that allows for predictable financing, multifaceted support as close as possible to the battalions and the development of local service delivery capacities.
Miguel Vargas Maldonado, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic, condemned recent attacks on MINUSMA peacekeepers and extended condolences to those killed, as well as those who lost their lives to COVID-19. Terrorist groups in Mali and the Sahel region continue to perpetrate violence as they compete for control of areas with limited State presence, and they are now using the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to increase their attacks – all while exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. He called for the urgent implementation of the peace agreement and efforts to ensure the empowerment and political participation of women. All those challenges – as well as the country’s precarious security and humanitarian situations – must be considered in view of MINUSMA’s upcoming mandate extension and discussions on necessary adjustments. He also stressed the importance of establishing human rights and international legal responsibilities in the context of the fight against terrorism, thus strengthening credibility and encouraging a broader acceptance of those efforts.
Jüri Luik, Minister for Defence of Estonia, said the rapidly evolving dynamic in the region requires constant attention, stressing: “The lines between jihad terror and ethnic violence are becoming increasingly blurred.” Estonia, a troop contributor to MINUSMA, also participates in the European Union training and capacity-building missions. It is currently doubling its contribution to Operation Barkhane and its special operations Task Force Takuba. He welcomed efforts to re-establish the Government’s presence in central Mali and redeploy reconstituted units of the armed forces to the north. Peace can only come through an inclusive political process and he called for women’s increased participation. More broadly, all grave violations must be addressed and perpetrators held accountable, regardless of their status, he said, stressing that the attack on two Mopti villages last week requires a transparent investigation. The MINUSMA adaptation plan should focus on increasing mobility and flexibility and strengthening the Mission’s early warning systems. Troop-contributing countries must ensure that their troops have adequate training, equipment and capabilities specific to the operating environment in Mali.
Candith Mashego-Dlamini, Deputy Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, expressed deep concern over security conditions in Mali and the Sahel, as terrorists have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand their reach and violence has claimed “far too many” lives of peacekeepers, Malian Defence and Security Forces and civilians. Contributions must be made to the underfunded Humanitarian Response Plan, she said, noting more broadly that restoring State authority depends on political progress guided by the 2015 peace agreement. She expressed hope that the National Legislative Assembly will pave the way for institutional and political reforms. She encouraged Malian parties to ensure that the reformed forces are fully operational, underscoring the imperative that parties refrain from reneging on their commitments regarding the recruitment and use of children in conflict.
She went on to commend Mali for advancing women’s participation in political and peace processes, citing their increased representation in the National Legislative Assembly, and agreed the drivers of instability must be adequately addressed. United Nations-coordinated, predictable and sustainable logistical and operational support is “urgent and necessary” for the G5 Sahel countries. The African Union’s deployment of 3,000 forces, along with the action plan and financial resources provided by ECOWAS, complement the efforts needed in the region. MINSUMA’s mandate should be extended, particularly in the protection of civilians, implementation of the peace agreement and restoration of State authority in the northern and central areas.
Tariq Ahmad, United Kingdom Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, and Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, urged Bamako to fully implement all requirements of the peace agreement. Revised goals for northern Mali, as set out in MINUSMA’s mandate, must be ambitious and achievable, with new benchmarks set to restore State authority and tackle impunity in the centre. Recent reports of violations must rally MINUSMA to protect civilians and encourage accountability. The United Kingdom will significantly increase its contribution through the deployment of 250 troops in a long-range mechanized infantry reconnaissance task patrol group. It will also support improved mission performance through bilateral support and training for troop-contributing countries. While MINUSMA is the United Nations most expensive peacekeeping operation, it is not a permanent solution. The United Kingdom supports its adaptation plan and will continue to fund implementation of the peacekeeping intelligence policy, which facilitates the non-clandestine collection of intelligence. It will also continue to fund the comprehensive performance assessment system that informs decisions made within the integrated policy performance framework.
China’s representative welcomed the holding of legislative elections in Mali, redeployment of national armed forces’ reconstituted units to the north and further implementation of the peace accord. More investment should be made in countering terrorism in the region and he advocated international support to help Mali improve its counter-terrorism capacity, advance regional cooperation and promote poverty reduction, noting that China has provided funding to the joint force. To tackle the causes of instability, he expressed hope that efforts will be made to follow through on the infrastructure projects in northern Mali announced by the Prime Minister. On MINUSMA, he said China supports the adaptation plan and will consider dispatching an unmanned aircraft system unit. He expressed hope that the Mission will implement resolution 2518 (2020) on the safety of peacekeepers and ensure that necessary security supplies are in place.
Indonesia’s representative welcomed recent progress in Mali, all of which is taking place against the backdrop of the coronavirus. Calling for continued support, he said efforts should focus on convening a constitutional referendum, transferring competencies to local authorities, implementing pilot projects for the Northern Development Zone and advancing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Condemning attacks on peacekeepers, he also voiced concern about ongoing clashes between militias and intercommunal violence. He voiced support for MINUSMA’s adaptation plan, while calling for adequate funding, and noting that Indonesia has deployed more than 1,600 peacekeepers to missions across Africa. All countries must fulfil their contributions and ensure reliability and predictability in the broader United Nations peacekeeping budget. He also stressed that peace and stability in Mali must be achieved through a comprehensive approach, including the provision of basic services, reducing community violence, dismantling militias and creating opportunities for young people.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines joined other speakers in commending progress in Mali. “The increased number of women elected to the legislature […] signals both symbolic and qualitative shifts in terms of engagement with women,” she said, spotlighting the imminent appointment of six females to the Agreement Monitoring Committee. She praised Mali’s response to COVID-19, as well as MINUSMA’s support, which included cooperation with public, private and international actors. The Mission’s support for reconciliation committees in central Mali is also noteworthy, given intercommunal clashes. Condemning terrorist attacks and voicing concern about displacement and food insecurity, she called for greater support to the G5 Sahel joint force and the recent request to place the latter under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations. “This would be advisable, given MINUSMA’s limited ability and mandate to provide support outside of Mali, and as armed terrorist groups are well networked across borders in the region,” she said.
Viet Nam’s representative expressed concern about terrorism and intercommunal violence in Mali, as well as the withdrawal of the State in certain areas. He urged parties to speed the reforms envisaged by the peace agreement, pressing the Government, regional and international organizations to enhance their cooperation in tackling the causes of terrorism. The Government and others also must respect international humanitarian law and protect women and children in northern and central Mali, he said, calling more broadly for an integrated approach to security, humanitarian, climate change and development challenges. In addition, recommendations made during the high-level workshop on enhancing women’s participation should be fully implemented, he said, expressing support for the renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate for 12 months based on Mali’s needs and in line with Council resolutions.
Also participating were senior officials and representatives of Germany, Mali, Russian Federation, Tunisia and the United States.
* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.