As United Nations Closes Mali Operation, Many Delegates in Security Council Urge Transitional Government to Guarantee Mission’s Safe, Unhindered Withdrawal
Closing a mission built over a decade within a period of six months is “a complex and ambitious endeavour”, especially amid a host of other constraints linked to security, logistics, geography and infrastructure, the top UN official in Mali told the Security Council today.
El-Ghassim Wane, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said the Mission must complete by its deadline of 31 December 2023, the repatriation of 12,947 uniformed personnel, the relocation of a load of approximately 5,500 sea containers of contingent and UN-owned equipment and almost 4,000 vehicles and the closure and the handover of 12 camps.
Difficulties have already emerged during the first phase of the withdrawal plan with convoys targeted by improvised explosive devices and attacked by unidentified armed elements. The second phase of the withdrawal process will be “incredibly difficult”, he warned.
Additionally, parties in Mali have adopted diverging positions regarding the fate of camps. Transitional authorities have signaled that they intend to retake the Mission’s camps following MINUSMA’s withdrawal while the signatory movements object to the deployment of the Malian armed forces in areas they control, he said.
Beatrice Abouya, Acting Regional Director of Search for Common Ground, also briefing the 15-member organ, said that the UN and the international community must ensure that basic services and development resources continue to be available to Mali. As the international community “enters a new era in international cooperation on security in Mali”, she underlined the need for ongoing support for the country’s people.
“Decisions taken within this international body in the coming days will have a direct impact on the population of Mali,” she observed, urging those present to “keep in mind the reason we are meeting here today — to help the Malian people lead safe, prosperous lives”.
In the ensuing discussion, several Council members called on the Malian transitional authorities to guarantee MINUSMA’s safe withdrawal, without restrictions on its movements or supplies. They further expressed deep concern over the clashes that occurred at Ber camp and urged all parties to avoid any further escalation.
France’s delegate, calling on Malian parties to resume discussions, said that the UN must remain fully engaged in support of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. Echoing concerns of several delegates, she stressed the need to closely observe the impact the Mission’s withdrawal will have on daily life in Mali and people’s access to humanitarian assistance.
“Long-term UN engagement in Mali is essential,” stressed Japan’s representative, warning that the capacities of the UN to deliver humanitarian aid and support the protection of civilians will be “severely” impacted by the Mission’s speedy withdrawal.
Ghana’s delegate, also speaking for Gabon and Mozambique, welcomed the phased implementation of MINUSMA’s drawdown, adding that a withdrawal by 31 December “is still possible”. Noting growing tensions between various parties, he urged transitional authorities to renew their engagement with the signatory movements to preserve the ceasefire agreement.
The representative of the United States, Council President for August, speaking in her national capacity, said that “as many feared” the transitional Government’s decision to close MINUSMA has triggered renewed violence on the ground. The Mission’s withdrawal limits the international community’s ability to protect civilians from predation by the Wagner Group, whose activities contribute to greater insecurity in the country.
The representative of the Russian Federation, noting the growing cooperation between his country and Mali, pledged to continue provide that country and other interested African partners with comprehensive assistance. Unfortunately, cooperation with countries of the global South “on an equal and respectful footing” is something that Western countries are incapable of, he added.
Mali’s representative said that his delegation was surprised to hear “factually unfounded” assertions leveled at his country in the Secretary-General’s report. Malian armed security forces are dedicated to their mission of defending national territory and protecting the people of Mali. Mali’s Government is committed to peace and reconciliation, as well as upholding human rights. The Government, however, does not envisage extending the deadline for the Mission’s departure beyond 31 December. “After more than 10 years of crisis, with particularly disastrous consequences for our populations, the people of Mali want to put an end to this conflict,” he went on to say. The Government is skeptical of external recommendations, he also added.
THE SITUATION IN MALI
EL-GHASSIM WANE, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), speaking via videoconference, briefed the Security Council on progress made regarding the withdrawal of MINUSMA from Mali by 31 December 2023. “Closing a mission built over a decade within a period of six months is a complex and ambitious endeavour,” he stressed. That entails the repatriation of 12,947 uniformed personnel, the separation of 1,786 civilian staff, the repatriation and/or relocation of a load of approximately 5,500 sea containers of contingent and United Nations-owned equipment and almost 4,000 vehicles, as well as the closure and the handover of 12 camps and one temporary operating base to Malian civilian authorities. “The task is made even more challenging by a host of other constraints linked to geography, climate, logistics and infrastructure,” he added.
The first phase began on 17 July, focusing on the closure of the smallest and furthest outposts from “super camps in Timbuktu, Gao and Mopti and shrinking its footprint by 25 per cent”, he said. Difficulties have emerged in the implementation of this phase of the withdrawal plan. Convoys have been targeted by improvised explosive devices and attacked by unidentified armed elements. The second phase of the drawdown and withdrawal process will focus on the closure of six bases. The personnel equipment and material concerned will be redeployed before being repatriated to their respective countries. “This phase will be incredibly difficult indeed,” he said. At least 1,050 lorries will be required to transport all equipment. “We must also consider the fact that the terrain is difficult, and insecurity is an ever-present threat,” he added.
The situation in Niger is having an impact on MINUSMA’s withdrawal plan as well, he emphasized. Moreover, the Mission’s withdrawal is occurring in a context marked by the paralysis of bodies responsible for monitoring the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. Furthermore, parties have adopted diverging positions regarding the fate of camps to be left by the Mission. The transitional authorities have signaled to MINUSMA that they intend to retake the Mission’s camps following the withdrawal. On the other hand, the signatory movements, and in particular, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad invoked the security arrangements of 2014 to object to the deployment of the Malian armed forces in the areas they control and insist on the need to operate under the peace agreement.
MINUSMA continues to encourage all parties to reach an agreement to avoid “unnecessary incidents whose consequences could be considerable”, he said. The Malian Government representatives have reaffirmed that they would shoulder their responsibilities. “There is a need to maintain an environment which will enable the United Nations long term engagement in Mali,” he continued. However, difficulties will remain given the tight timeframe for the Mission’s withdrawal, as well as given the immediate cessation of its substantive mandate in accordance with Council resolution 2690 (2023). MINUSMA is leaving Mali but the UN through its agencies, funds and programmes will remain in the country and “their work has never been as vital as it is today”, he said.
BEATRICE ABOUYA, Acting Regional Director of Search for Common Ground, noting that her organization was established around 40 years ago to support peacebuilding efforts and social cohesion, said that MINUSMA’s withdrawal provides an “opportunity to reshape approaches and responses”. The United Nations — and the States that comprise it — must utilize careful planning and coordination to protect human lives and dignity, as well as to create conditions for lasting peace. To do this, any action taken must ensure that MINUSMA’s withdrawal does not endanger efforts made by the Mission and the Government to ensure peace and security. Further, the UN and the international community must demonstrate creativity and flexibility in financing to ensure that basic services and development resources continue to be available.
She also stressed that MINUSMA’s financing for civilian and stabilization products must be maintained — through mechanisms such as the Peacebuilding Fund — so that interventions can continue in support of local communities. Additionally, the UN and the international community should explore how to reinvest these funds to continue support for building strong institutions that can ensure the rule of law. Civilian mediation and conflict-resolution efforts must be strengthened to establish frank dialogue — especially within local communities — she added.
As the international community “enters a new era in international cooperation on security in Mali”, she underlined the need for ongoing support for the Malian people. “Decisions taken within this international body in the coming days will have a direct impact on the population of Mali,” she observed, urging those present to “keep in mind the reason we are meeting here today — to help the Malian people lead safe, prosperous lives”. Calling on Council members to keep such people’s requests and wishes at the heart of their discussions, she expressed hope that decisions taken today will lead to peace and stability in Mali.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said it is fundamental that the Malian transitional authorities guarantee MINUSMA’s safe withdrawal, without restrictions on its movements or supplies. Expressing concern about the peace agreement, she called the clashes that occurred in Ber, with the participation of Wagner’s mercenaries, “a serious violation of the ceasefire”. Accordingly, she called on the parties to avoid any escalation and resume discussions under the aegis of international mediation, adding that the UN must remain fully engaged in support of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. Further, full support must be given to the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) so that the political transition is completed within the agreed timeframe. Highlighting the concern of the countries of the region vis-à-vis MINUSMA’s withdrawal, she stressed the need to remain attentive to its impact on the daily life of the Malian population, access to humanitarian assistance and the protection of human rights.
SHINO MITSUKO (Japan) said her delegation is deeply disturbed by attacks on withdrawing MINUSMA convoys and the restrictions imposed on the Mission, including freedom of movement and access to their imports and exports. She called on the Malian transitional Government to cooperate fully with the UN and respect all provisions of the status-of-forces agreement until the final element of MINUSMA departs Mali. “Long-term UN engagement in Mali is essential,” she added, urging Malian authorities, the Mission, the UN country team and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) stakeholders to collaborate further in the coming months. The capacities of the UN to deliver humanitarian aid and support the protection of civilians will be severely impacted by the Mission’s rapid withdrawal, she warned, further underscoring the obligation of the Malian authorities and foreign security personnel to comply with international law and international human rights law.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking for Gabon and Mozambique, welcomed the phased implementation of MINUSMA’s drawdown and stated that — despite challenges in the theatre — a withdrawal by 31 December “is still possible”. However, noting growing tensions, he urged the transitional authorities to renew their engagement with the signatory movements to preserve the ceasefire agreement and commitment to the peace process. Further, in light of the gaps that the Mission’s withdrawal will create, he underlined the need for an “early solution” regarding mechanisms to monitor the ceasefire and report on human rights. While noting concerns regarding the continuation of Council measures for listing individuals who impair the peace process in Mali, he said that — in the present challenging security and political situation — “the measures provide a necessary safeguard for the peace agreement”.
He went on to note the challenges MINUSMA’s withdrawal may pose for the protection of civilians, echoing the Secretary-General’s appeal for flexibility in the transfer of residual funds — along with increased donor funding — to better support the authorities and UN agencies in containing the multidimensional challenges Mali faces. As well, measures to sustain momentum in tackling the root causes of the crisis — including governance and development deficits — must be prioritized. In this vein, he urged enhanced support for the Peacebuilding Commission’s work, including funding to enable it to empower “critical agents of change” — such as women and young people — to contribute to national decision-making. He also encouraged full cooperation by the Malian transitional authorities in authorizing and facilitating ground and air transport, as well as customs clearance, for the Mission’s smooth, timely withdrawal.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) said the complexity of MINUSMA’s withdrawal is unprecedented and takes place amid a deteriorating context of terrorist violence and human rights violations and abuses, including an upward trend in conflict-related sexual violence. The Council mandated MINUSMA to conduct a safe and orderly withdrawal, with the objective of completing this process by 31 December 2023. He emphasized that the Council should stand ready to revise the timeline if needed, as “a rushed withdrawal that imperils the 2015 Algiers agreement and puts peacekeepers’ lives at risk will have security implications for the whole region”. The recent ceasefire violations in Ber demonstrate the pressing need for meaningful dialogue between all parties to the peace agreement prior to the handover of MINUSMA sites, in particular in Kidal region. The Russian Federation’s mercenary group Wagner is directly linked to human rights atrocities in Mali, including the systematic use of conflict-related sexual violence. As demonstrated by recent events in the Russian Federation, “they are part of the problem, not the solution in Mali and beyond”.
DAI BING (China) said that the international community must respect Mali’s sovereignty and ownership and provide constructive support based on that country’s needs. MINUSMA and the UN Secretariat should strictly implement the mandate given to them by this Council, strengthen communication with the Malian Government, and refine their plans for the handover of camps, withdrawal of personnel and liquidation of assets. Ensuring the safety and security of peacekeepers and human assets is a top priority, he continued. Further, commending the active counter-terrorism efforts of the Malian authorities, he said that, after the Mission’s withdrawal, the international community “should not stand aside and do nothing”. The international community should assist Mali and countries in the region to counter and fight terrorism. There is a need to continue to support the countries of West Africa and the Sahel region in maintaining the momentum of counter-terrorism security cooperation, he reiterated.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), underscoring that the transitional Government’s “unwavering cooperation” is required to facilitate MINUSMA’s withdrawal by 31 December, stressed the need for coordinated mechanisms for the handover of tasks and sites. Further, as the Mission’s departure will create many gaps, the transitional Government must focus on advancing the political transition and the return to constitutional order. She also called on the transitional Government to abide by its international obligations to protect civilians and conduct security operations in accordance with international law, expressing concern over its partnership with the Wagner Group — which “will not bring any peace or stability to Mali”. Stressing that UN engagement in Mali remains critical, she called on that country’s authorities to fully cooperate with the Mission to ensure an orderly, safe withdrawal and to fully respect the status-of-forces agreement until such withdrawal is completed.
FRANCESCA GATT (Malta) voiced deep concern about the vacuum that may arise in the context of the peace agreement, in particular the impact that MINUSMA’s withdrawal will have on its implementation. She denounced the recent incident in Ber and strongly condemned all human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence and grave violations against children must be given a priority, she asserted, urging the country’s transitional Government to enhance protection for women and children, especially in central and northern Mali. In this regard, she called for the swift adoption and implementation of a joint plan to prevent all six grave violations against children. She further underlined the critical need for the Malian authorities to work together with the UN system to ensure the protection of civilians and to monitor and evaluate the human rights situation in the country.
DMITRIY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) stressed the need for strict adherence to the deadline for the Mission’s withdrawal. The Russian Federation notes that MINUSMA’s withdrawal is taking place in difficult conditions, including amid the actions of terrorist groups. He condemned the attacks carried out on peacekeepers during this period and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded personnel. He called on all Malian parties to refrain from armed provocations during this important period in their country’s history. He noted the growing cooperation between the Russian Federation and Mali. Unfortunately, such cooperation with the countries of the Global South “on an equal and respectful footing” is something that Western countries are incapable of. The Russian Federation, for its part, will continue to provide Mali and other interested African partners with comprehensive assistance on a bilateral, equal and mutually respectful basis.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said that ensuring MINUSMA’s orderly, safe withdrawal depends on continued cooperation and coordination between the Malian authorities, the UN and all other stakeholders. On this, she stressed the importance of continuing consultations between all parties regarding the smooth delivery of tasks and the removal of obstacles hindering the withdrawal process. It is also critical to address the risks posed by misinformation and disinformation by strengthening MINUSMA’s strategic communication with concerned authorities and the local population. She further noted that the Mission’s withdrawal coincides with growing humanitarian need, urging support for efforts by UN humanitarian and development teams to restructure their presence in Mali. Progress must be made in the political transition process, she added, looking forward to the role that UNOWAS will play towards this end.
ANDRÉS EFREN MONTALVO SOSA (Ecuador) said the withdrawal of MINUSMA, requested by the transitional Government, will leave a vacuum in significant areas of the work previously carried out by the Mission, especially the implementation of the peace agreement. He stressed the need to strengthen the financial support to the UN country offices and regional offices. The political and electoral transition process will fall on the shoulders of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which has to ensure its continuity. Further, MINUSMA’s many functions will have to be taken on by the transitional Government in an integrated fashion. The most relevant task is the protection of civilians, which must be undertaken in strict adherence to international law. In this regard, he called for humanitarian activities — especially demining activities — to continue. Also, the role of UNOWAS in replacing MINUSMA in terms of preventive policy work and mediation is essential for the peace agreement’s continuity.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil) deplored the recent acts of violence against MINUSMA personnel during its withdrawal from the Ber camp. “Any act committed against a peacekeeper is an act that hurts the whole United Nations and everything it stands for,” he said, stressing that perpetrators must be held accountable. He welcomed the engagement with the Malian authorities aiming to ensure that proper support continues to be provided to the country’s political transition and peace process. Voicing concern about the worsening humanitarian situation in Mali, he said that 8.8 million people are expected to need assistance in 2023. Against this backdrop, he called on those concerned to support unimpeded and safe humanitarian assistance, adding that MINUSMA’s withdrawal should not lead to diminished assistance to vulnerable groups, especially women and children. He expressed hope that the transfer of tasks by MINUSMA will be conducted in a safe manner, with full cooperation by Malian authorities.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) said the complex operational context combined with the vast perimeter of the intervention zone and the lack of security complicate MINUSMA’s withdrawal. The recent events in Ber, and other cases where MINUSMA has been directly attacked, have shown how threatened Mission personnel are. Beyond MINUSMA’s withdrawal, Switzerland is in favour of maintaining a guard unit that is adequately staffed and trained to respond to the risks that the personnel, who will be in charge of the liquidation phase, could face. Stressing that any violation of the ceasefire could hinder the resumption of the peace process, he said that — to support the international mediation’s efforts to implement the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali — the question arises of the need to set up a support mechanism. He also expressed support for the transfer of political tasks to UNOWAS, noting that certain activities previously carried out by MINUSMA cannot be transferred, which will have consequences for the protection of civilians and the supply of humanitarian aid.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), Council President for August, spoke in her national capacity to point out that — “as many feared” — the transitional Government’s decision to close MINUSMA has already triggered renewed violence on the ground. The Mission’s withdrawal limits the international community’s ability to protect civilians from predation by the Wagner Group, whose activities contribute to greater insecurity in the country. Underscoring that “the Malian people deserve peace”, she called on the transitional Government and signatory armed groups — along with the UN and the international community — to demonstrate urgent, revitalized commitment to the Algiers peace agreement. That instrument “represents the best opportunity for peace and stability in Mali”, she stressed, also calling on all signatory parties to immediately renew their cooperation with international mediation efforts. She also reminded the transitional authorities that the status-of-forces agreement remains in full effect until MINUSMA’s final elements have departed, “which will extend beyond 31 December”.
ISSA KONFOUROU (Mali) said that his Government is surprised to hear the assertions contained in the Secretary-General’s report which refer to flight restrictions and import limitations imposed on MINUSMA. “These assertions are all the more surprising given that they are factually unfounded and objectively contrary to the constructive spirit and cooperation that the Government has constantly shown towards MINUSMA,” he added. Contrary to certain passages in the report, the Government of Mali has “very calmly and seriously” assessed the withdrawal of MINUSMA and prepared the necessary measures to deal with any possible security vacuum that could be related to this. Malian armed forces are ready to deal with any situation, he emphasized.
The Malian Government regrets the incidents that marred the transfer of Ber during which armed terrorist groups took hostile action to prevent Malian security and armed forces from occupying the camp. Malian armed security forces are dedicated to their mission of defending the national territory and protecting the people of Mali. “If our forces are attacked or prevented from carrying out their missions, they will be forced to respond vigorously,” he emphasized, stressing the Government’s commitment to peace and reconciliation as well as respecting the ceasefire agreement of 2014. MINUSMA’s withdrawal in no way diminishes the determination and commitment of the Malian authorities in the area of respecting human rights.
He also added that the Government of Mali does not envisage extending the deadline for the Mission’s departure beyond 31 December 2023. Mali will remain a full-fledged member of the United Nations and as such the Government intends to pursue its cooperation with the UN system teams already present in Mali, including by continuing to ensure their security. “After more than 10 years of crisis, with particularly disastrous consequences for our populations, the people of Mali want to put an end to this conflict,” he said. This requires the Government to favour sustainable domestic solutions. The Government is skeptical that external recommendations, which sometimes are in good faith and other times with various agendas, have maintained or sustained the crisis, he added.