Amid Endless Violence, Stabilization Mission in Mali Essential for Region’s Stability, Special Representative Tells Security Council
Some Speakers Oppose Renewal, Criticize Accuracy of Human Rights Reporting
Amid a worrying security situation, especially endless violence against civilians unleashed by Da’esh in the north-east of Mali, the renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate ‑ which expires on 30 June — is essential for the region’s stability, the Organization’s senior official in that country told the Security Council today, as he highlighted the significance of the coming referendum for advancing the political transition.
El-Ghassim Wane, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), presenting the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2023/402), said the constitutional referendum — which will be held on 18 June — will mark the first stage of the process leading to the restoration of constitutional order. He highlighted MINUSMA’s support for the ongoing transition process; the role it played within the framework of the international mediation led by Algeria to facilitate the relaunch of the peace process; and the action it took to maintain the ceasefire. He also noted the Mission’s stabilizing action in urban areas and the efforts directed towards the protection of civilians.
He recalled that on 28 March, the Coalition of Azawad Movements, the Platform and part of the Inclusivity Movements, grouped within the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development, issued a communiqué in which they indicated that they did not recognize themselves in the draft constitution. MINUSMA and Algeria have sought to help the parties overcome their differences on the draft constitution and facilitate a common understanding of the link between this latest text and the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. In the 11 June communiqué, the international mediation outlined the elements on the basis of which the peace process could restart.
In the ensuing discussion, numerous Council members paid tribute to the peacekeepers who have lost their lives in service of MINUSMA and underscored that the Mission remains crucial to peace, stability and sustainable development in Mali. However, some speakers opposed the renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate, underlining that its human rights reports should be based on verified facts.
The representative of France, noting the crucial importance of MINUSMA’s mandate renewal for Mali’s stability, said the peace agreement must be implemented and progress on the ground must materialize with the support of international mediation, including Algeria’s role. The second priority is the completion of the political transition, he said, adding that despite MINUSMA’s ongoing dialogue with Malian authorities, the Mission has been impeded in its movements. These restrictions have only increased since the arrival of the Wagner Group in Mali, he pointed out.
Mozambique’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Ghana, expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in Mali resulting from terrorist activities, which have led to an estimated 8.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Other aggravating factors — including food insecurity and the adverse impact of climate change — continue to linger, he said, calling on donor partners to scale up humanitarian support to help meet the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan target of $751.5 million.
Disappointed by the Mali transitional Government’s obstructionist behaviour during the reporting period, the representative of the United States said that MINUSMA’s movements have been restricted, including through the denial of 175 flight authorization requests in the last three months alone. In addition, the transitional Government has denied four out of five requests for human rights abuses investigations. He further stressed that work on human rights and the protection of civilians has been hindered by the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation drew attention to the security vacuum created by French and European Union forces’ withdrawal from Mali. The Malian authorities are carrying out significant efforts to return Mali to constitutional order and continue to demonstrate its commitment to the Algiers peace agreement, he observed, noting their dissatisfaction with the Mission. Any proposals for MINUSMA’s mandate revisions should be based on the host country’s opinion, he asserted.
Rounding out the discussion, Mali’s delegate noted the failure of MINUSMA’s mandate and asked for its withdrawal, without delay. The transitional Government has taken robust measures to create a peaceful and secure constitutional order, he said, attributing the tragedy Mali and the Sahel region have been living through to the 2011 international intervention in Libya. Also, he rejected the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) “fictional” report, which states that the country’s defence and security forces are targeting the civilians they are there to protect. His country stands ready to cooperate with all parties that respect its sovereignty, he said.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:02 p.m.
EL-GHASSIM WANE, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), presenting the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2023/402), which depicts some progress in the transition process, said the constitutional referendum will mark the first stage of the process leading to the restoration of constitutional order. The draft constitution — subject of the referendum — followed the National Reform Conference held in December 2021 and has been welcomed by local actors, including civil society and religious groups. In accordance with its mandate, MINUSMA and the United Nations country team have provided multifaceted support to this process. This includes training of the members of the Independent Election Management Authority, the deployment of 182 agents to assist the Authority in the field and the mobilization of technical expertise. Also, the Mission supported the Constitutional Court in the exercise of its responsibilities.
On 28 March, the Coalition of Azawad Movements, the Platform and part of the Inclusivity Movements, grouped within the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development, issued a communiqué in which they indicated that they did not recognize themselves in the draft constitution. Other accord signatories have taken opposing positions, calling for a yes vote on the referendum. MINUSMA and Algeria have sought to help the parties overcome their differences on the draft constitution and facilitate a common understanding of the link between this latest text and the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. It concluded that nothing in the draft constitution opposes the implementation of the Agreement, including the adoption of legislative and regulatory provisions relating to the institutional framework and territorial reorganization. The international mediation, after consultations with the parties led by Algeria and MINUSMA, issued a press release on 11 June, outlining the elements on the basis of which the peace process could restart. They asked the signatory movements to facilitate the early vote — on 11 June — of members of the Defence and Security Forces in the affected areas of the north of the country. Regrettably, the call for the vote of the members of the Malian Defence and Security Forces in the Kidal region was not heard, he said, encouraging the parties to seek consensus on the issues that divide them, based on the 11 June mediation communiqué.
He emphasized that the resumption of the normal course of the peace process will enable to tackle the worrying security situation, especially the pressure and endless violence against the civilians created by Da’esh in the north-east of Mali, in the regions of Gao and Menaka. Terrorist groups and community self-defence militias continue to be active, he said, spotlighting the complex attack perpetrated on 22 April in Sevare against the base of the Malian armed forces. MINUSMA has also been the target of attacks, the most recent occurring on 9 June near the town of Ber. Since January 2023, five peacekeepers have been killed and 31 injured in hostile acts.
Malian civilians are paying a heavy price for insecurity, he said, warning against the impact of improvised explosive devices — one of the preferred weapons of terrorist groups. The Mission conducts several activities to raise public awareness of the danger posed by improvised explosive devices. The persistence of insecurity negatively affects the humanitarian situation — as of May 2023, the number of internally displaced persons stood at 375,539 people, 55 per cent in the centre regions and 40 per cent in Gao, Kidal, Ménaka and Timbuktu. He further reported that in 2023, 8.8 million people will need humanitarian assistance across the country. The Mission continues to investigate allegations of human rights violations, he said, highlighting the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the Moura incident, the conclusions of which provoked a strong reaction from the Malian authorities which announced the opening of an investigation.
Against the backdrop of MINUSMA’s mandate renewal negotiations, he underscored that despite the complex environment in which it operates and the multiple constraints it faces — including restrictions on freedom of movement — the Mission has endeavoured to implement its mandate in the most efficient way. In particular, he highlighted MINUSMA’s support for the ongoing transition process; the role it played within the framework of the international mediation led by Algeria to facilitate the relaunch of the peace process; and the action taken in support of the parties to maintain the ceasefire. He also noted the Mission’s stabilizing action in urban areas and the efforts directed towards the protection of civilian populations; the multiple projects carried out for the benefit of civilian populations; and infrastructure development. MINUSMA aims to create the conditions for its departure by helping Mali ensure the security of its population and its territory.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said MINUSMA’s mandate expires on 30 June and its renewal is important for Mali and the region’s stability. He recognized the work of the blue helmets for the past 10 years. The political processes MINUSMA is mandated to support must be fully implemented. The first priority is implementing the Peace Agreement, and progress on the ground must materialize with the support of international mediation, including Algeria’s role. The second priority is the completion of the political transition. The Secretary-General notes in his latest report that despite MINUSMA’s ongoing dialogue with Malian authorities, the Mission has been impeded in its movements. Since the arrival of the Wagner Group in Mali, these restrictions have only increased, as well as serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. MINUSMA troops need full support and freedom of movement under the status-of-forces agreement. The international community must build on several of the Secretary-General’s recommendations to adapt MINUSMA’s deployment to these realities and make regular assessments.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO (Mozambique), also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Ghana, highlighted positive signs in the political situation in Mali, including the announcement of the date for the referendum. He also acknowledged the accelerated progress towards the restoration of constitutional order, the resumption of cooperation between Mali and neighbouring countries and the diplomatic efforts of the Local Follow-up Committee comprising the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and MINUSMA. Expressing concern about the deteriorating security situation, he commended the Malian authorities for the efforts made in developing a new security strategy, as well as the huge investment in the capacity-building of the military. Acknowledging MINUSMA’s proactiveness in maximizing its limited resources following the withdrawal of some troop-contributing countries, he also highlighted logistical challenges hampering the Mission’s effectiveness.
On the political front, he commended the Malian authorities for their efforts in setting a date for the referendum and encouraged them to sustain the dialogue with all the stakeholders to restore constitutional order. The ultimate goal is to ensure the implementation of the Peace Agreement, which is at the heart of achieving lasting peace in Mali, he asserted. On the humanitarian front, he voiced concern over heightened insecurity resulting from terrorist activities, which have led to an estimated 8.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, representing a 17 per cent increase over 2022. Other aggravating factors — including food insecurity and the adverse impact of climate change — continue to linger, he said, noting that it is essential for donor partners to scale up humanitarian support to help meet the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan target of $751.5 million.
JEFFREY DELAURENTIS (United States) said he was pleased to see the Secretary-General’s continued efforts to monitor the transitional Government’s progress to fully comply with the four benchmarks, which are clearly defined and fully attainable. They aim to ensure Malian authorities uphold their obligations, including the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation, signed with Algeria, and the timetable agreed with ECOWAS for the political transition. His delegation is disappointed that the Mali transitional Government has shown obstructionist behaviour during the reporting period, and he expressed frustration that MINUSMA’s movements have been restricted. He pointed to the denial of 175 flight authorization requests in the last three months alone. The transitional Government has also denied four out of five requests for investigations of human rights abuses. He commended the use of remote forensic tools on other investigations. He said work on human rights and the protection of civilians has been hindered by the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group. He reiterated support for the 18 June constitutional referendum and supported the transition process towards elections in March 2024. He encouraged the transition authorities and armed groups to show support.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) said her delegation supports a future for MINUSMA in which the Mission continues to work with Mali’s people. The constitutional referendum is a step in the right direction and her delegation firmly believes a secured return to democratic and constitutional order, including presidential elections, is key. She urges all parties to create a conducive environment for women’s rights and their protection. Women’s equal, safe and meaningful participation in the political transition, electoral and peace processes must be ensured. She welcomed efforts to counter hate speech and violence against women peacebuilders and human rights defenders. Her delegation calls for neutral engagement with tangible outcomes that fully respect the peace agreement and the issues of self-determination, deeper decentralization and local governance. The socioeconomic development of the country’s northern region remains crucial. “Dissipating any existing frictions between signatory parties is a necessity,” she added. In addition, there is an urgent need to address the ongoing security, humanitarian and human rights situation. She called on all parties to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance and end ongoing human rights violations and abuses.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) said that MINUSMA remains crucial to peace, stability and sustainable development in Mali. However, its ability to carry out its mandate effectively and predictably is hampered. A complex operational context combined with the vast perimeter of the intervention zone and the lack of personnel make this mission particularly difficult. Accordingly, he stressed the need to reconcile the Mission’s tasks with current realities, while allowing it the flexibility to use the resources at its disposal. MINUSMA’s effectiveness will also depend on better cooperation with the Malian authorities and their progress on the parameters identified by the Secretary-General last January, including freedom of movement. Further, he strongly condemned violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law throughout Mali, adding that they must be investigated and prosecuted. “Impunity is an obstacle to lasting peace and continues to fuel cycles of violence in Mali,” he asserted. The Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation remains as crucial as ever, he said, welcoming the holding of the constitutional referendum scheduled for 18 June.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) said, “No one can deny the scale of the challenges facing the Malian people,” pointing to security and humanitarian threats, political instability and a deeply fragile Peace Agreement. Through MINUSMA, huge investments have been made in pursuit of the stable, prosperous, democratic society the Malian people deserve. For the Mission to function properly, certain parameters must be met, he stressed, urging progress on a timely and peaceful transition to constitutional order by March 2024. He called for the full participation of civil society in the 18 June constitutional referendum and in the February 2024 presidential elections. Further, urgent efforts are needed to revive dialogue between the signatories to Mali’s faltering Peace Agreement, building on the international mediation proposals. He also underscored that restrictions on MINUSMA’s freedom of movement must be lifted. Turning to the massacre in Moura of over 500 people by Malian forces and the Wagner Group, he emphasized that MINUSMA must be allowed to fulfil its human rights mandate without fear of reprisals. “Let’s be clear: the Wagner Group — whether operating autonomously or under direct control from Moscow — is not the answer,” he asserted.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said the security situation in Mali remains unstable and continues to take a heavy toll on MINUSMA and civilians. To protect the most vulnerable, the movement of the Mission’s peacekeepers must be ensured. He regretted that no solution for the resumption of unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights had been reached yet, even though the Mission adopted measures agreed to by the Malian transitional Government. The safety and security of peacekeepers should be a top priority. His delegation believes it is crucial to ensure that MINUSMA is duly equipped to support the peace agreement’s implementation and the political transition, as well as protect civilians and support the restoration of the Malian State authority across the country. Regional cooperation is key to help the country pave the way towards a successful transition process.
ZHANG JUN (China) welcomed progress achieved by Mali in drafting a constitution and building electoral institutions. All parties there must resolve their differences through dialogue to create favourable conditions for the referendum which, he emphasized, is an internal affair of Mali, and the international community should respect that country’s sovereignty and ownership. MINUSMA should be available to provide Mali with logistical and technical support on the ground, he said, adding that China is determined to play a constructive role in supporting Mali’s political transition. He commended the Mali Government’s counter-terrorism efforts. In the past 10 months, the number of civilian casualties caused by terrorist attacks has dropped significantly. Mali — being at the forefront of combating terrorism in the Sahel and West Africa — has made considerable efforts to curb the spread of terrorism. The international community should give full recognition to these efforts and increase efforts in intelligence, funding and logistics. Rejecting the politicization of human rights issues, he underscored that MINUSMA’s human rights reports should be based on facts, and any allegations should be verified against facts.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), stressing that long-term stability cannot be achieved without a return to constitutional order, underscored the key role of MINUSMA in supporting the electoral process. Welcoming the constitutional referendum to be held on 18 June and commending the efforts made by the Malian transitional authorities, he called on all stakeholders to take advantage of this important step in the transition timetable. The Peace Agreement is the only existing framework to achieve durable peace and reconciliation, he said, calling for strengthened dialogue and steady implementation of the Agreement. Expressing concern about the security and humanitarian situation, he noted that terror attacks continue unabated, as do human rights violations, including conflict-related sexual violence and crimes against children. Military efforts to tackle insecurity, whether by Malian defence forces or foreign security forces, must respect human rights, he said, calling on the Malian authorities to further cooperate with MINUSMA.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) said the overall security situation in Mali is precarious and this affects the region. Civilians are being displaced. Terrorism continues to gain ground and combating it should be a priority, especially as terrorists jeopardize the Mission and its ability to protect civilians. His delegation hopes the transitional Government will accept the recommendation for an independent investigation of human rights abuses. Appealing for the lifting of movement restrictions on MINUSMA, he said the Mission needs security and greater cooperation in order to protect civilians. This work is undermined when many of the Mission’s requests are denied. The deadlock in the negotiation process is worrisome and he commended the work of Algerian officials. He supported the reactivation of the monitoring mechanism that has been dormant since October 2022. The Mali Government’s return to regional groups will help stabilize the region. He said he hopes work will continue on the electoral process and backs the training of women and civil society members to increase their involvement in the peace process. The worsening humanitarian situation, including food security, calls for protection for humanitarian workers.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), commending the dedication of MINUSMA peacekeepers and personnel, noted that civilians in Mali are bearing the brunt of increased violence and the dire humanitarian situation. The political transition is at a crucial juncture, she noted, welcoming the progress made in finalizing the draft constitution. Expressing hope that this weekend’s referendum is conducted in a peaceful manner, she voiced regret that the views of some stakeholders and civil society have not been considered in the draft constitution. The Transitional authorities must demonstrate the political will to implement the peace agreement, she said, also highlighting the escalating tensions between terrorist groups in Goa and Menaka regions. It is imperative that counter-terrorism operations comply with international obligations. Noting the continuous restrictions placed on MINUSMA’s freedom of movement, she added that the Mission has a crucial role to play in documenting human rights and international law violations. The restrictions imposed on it leave the Council with critical decisions regarding the mandate’s renewal, she observed.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the terrorist threat in Mali has further degraded that country’s humanitarian situation. According to the United Nations, nearly 9 million people need some form of humanitarian assistance. He called on Bamako’s international partners to stop politicizing the issue of donor assistance. Despite difficult circumstances, the Malian authorities are carrying out significant efforts to return Mali to constitutional order, in accordance with ECOWAS modalities. For example, a road map for the transition period is being implemented, and a single independent body for election management has been formed. The Malian leadership also continues to demonstrate its commitment to the Algiers peace agreement. He noted the security vacuum created by French and European Union forces’ withdrawal from Mali. The Malian Government is legitimately cooperating with international partners and can contribute to the security and protection of its population. The OHCHR report published in May is another politically motivated attempt to discredit Bamako’s efforts to fight extremism. He noted that the Malian Government is dissatisfied with MINUSMA, and any proposals for revisions of its mandate should be based on the host country’s opinion. The role of stabilizing the country remains with the Mali Government.
LANA NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), Council President for June, speaking in her national capacity, stressed the need to maintain a resolute focus on a sustainable political transition in Mali and to implement the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation. The myriad security threats facing the country have clearly intensified, including terrorist attacks, she said, noting that Burkina Faso and Mali accounted for 73 per cent of terrorism-related deaths in the Sahel in 2022 and 52 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. This escalation in violence is meanwhile spreading to neighbouring countries. This year thus far, 8.8 million Malians need humanitarian assistance and protection across the country — a 17 per cent increase over 2022. As always, women and girls are hardest hit, she said, adding that women-headed households are twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity. In May, the overall displaced population was nearing 400,000 people, she said, expressing concern about levels of insecurity in central Mali, Gao and Menaka, where the most intense fighting is occurring and numbers of those internally displaced continue to grow. Amidst this increasingly challenging security and humanitarian environment, climate change is acting as a risk multiplier. Against this backdrop, she emphasized that MINUSMA’s work on the ground remains essential to creating and maintaining a stabilizing environment in Mali.
ABDOULAYE DIOP, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali, said the transitional Government has taken robust measures to create a peaceful and secure constitutional order. The Government is striving to move towards the 18 June constitutional referendum and create an electoral campaign. Regarding the country’s security situation, he said that since the international intervention in Libya in 2011, Mali and the Sahel region have been living through a tragedy and waiting for an international response. There has been a devastating impact on the region’s humanitarian situation. The Mission has shown its limitations since its arrival in 2013, when the country’s security situation was much better. He noted the failure of the Mission’s mandate and said it cannot meet the security challenges. The Government is intent on protecting its people and the State. The Government has given appropriate support to its military so it can fight terrorists and protect the country’s population. Since 2021, this has led to criticism. He wondered where these critics were in areas of Mali, such as Moura, when they were besieged by terrorism. The Malian armed forces have worked to end the population’s suffering.
He rejected the biased report of OHCHR. Some States want to punish Mali for its sovereign choices. He cannot believe a report that says the country’s defence and security forces are targeting the civilians they are there to protect. Photos taken without the Government’s approval represent espionage. “No one loves Malians more than Mali,” he said, calling the material in these reports “fictional”. Many local organizations have rejected the accusations included in these reports. He opposed any attempts to politicize human rights issues. On the peace agreement, he reaffirmed the Government’s position to implement it. The Government is open to dialogue, and he pointed to the 12 May visit to Kidal by the country’s Minister of Reconciliation, Peace and National Unity, Ismael Vague.
Turning to MINUSMA, he noted the Council’s talks on the renewal of the Mission. He paid tribute to all the peacekeepers. He noted the reasons leading to the Mission’s establishment in 2013 to stabilize threats in the north of the country. He said security had worsened in other areas, such as the country’s centre. The Mission has not achieved its main work. Civilians are happy to see the country’s armed forces carry out its work independently and provide security, whether at local markets or to secure the borders. The Government is well aware that the fight against terrorism is not part of the peacekeeping doctrine. Mali has cooperated in good faith with the United Nations and engaged with the Secretariat in its internal review of MINUSMA. He regretted that the options proposed by the Secretary-General in the internal review do not meet the Government’s concerns. The draft resolution shows that the Government of France, as penholder, is hostile to the Mali Government. The Mission has become a part of the problem and is creating distrust among civilians. He asked for the withdrawal, without delay, of MINUSMA, and he is ready to work with the United Nations in this regard. His delegation stands ready to cooperate with all parties that respects its sovereignty. The country remains open to all people.