Bamako’s Representative Outlines Civilian Protection
Efforts, Pledges Government Will Present Electoral Timetable to Regional Body
Amid intensifying insecurity and a worsening humanitarian situation in Mali, profound political and governance reforms are crucial to creating the conditions for credible elections and enduring stability, the senior United Nations official in that country 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) described as “extremely challenging” the situation unfolding in the country, which has been grappling with a slow transition to democracy since the military coup d’état of 24 May.
Political uncertainty has persisted since, with Mali’s northern, central and southern regions experiencing heightened insecurity, he continued. Humanitarian needs have increased and 4.7 million people are in need of assistance, he noted, adding that some 400,000 others are internally displaced. Moreover, there have been unrelenting attacks targeting Malian and international forces, including MINUSMA peacekeepers.
Against that backdrop, expectations of MINUSMA remain very high on the part of both the Government and the defence and security forces, he stated. The Mission has endeavoured to adapt to the complex and ever-evolving threat environment within existing resources, although its budget is overstretched, he said. Noting that significant gaps remain in capabilities that are critical to ensuring mobility and flexibility, he urged countries in a position to do so to help mobilize the resources required to make the Mission fit for purpose.
Turning to the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, he said, “progress has been frustratingly slow on the key provisions as they relate to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, institutional reforms and development in the north”. However, there was encouraging progress, emblematized by the integration of 13,000 former combatants of the signatory movements by the end of 2021, he acknowledged, adding: “This is, in our view, a significant step forward in a process which has largely been at a standstill for the past six years.”
Council members then shared observations and concerns following their visit to Bamako the previous week, emphasizing the responsibility of the transitional authorities — on the heels of two coups d’état — to take concrete steps towards holding free and fair elections by February 2022. Others stressed the urgent need to ensure the protection of civilians and expressed support for the mediation efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Niger’s representative, speaking for the group of countries known informally as the “A3+1” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), said the Council’s visit threw into relief the kinds of constraints under which the “Blue Helmets” operate. Moreover, it allowed a view into measures by the transition authorities to stabilize widespread insecurity and address the social and political situation. However, stabilization must occur through credible and transparent elections, he emphasized.
The representative of the United States was among many delegates expressing concern about the deteriorating security situation, borne out by the “audacity, frequency and severity of attacks against civilians, international forces and MINUSMA”. He emphasized the need for the transition authorities to prioritize the protection of civilians, take credible steps against impunity, and provide a political channel for civilians to share their grievances.
The United Kingdom’s representative noted the commitment of civil society leaders and Mali’s neighbours to national dialogue and peacebuilding, and to working together for stability in the Sahel. “We received some worrying messages from the authorities about their commitment to the transition and on regional cooperation,” he said, echoing the calls for the transitional authorities to publish an election timetable without delay.
However, the Russian Federation’s representative said that in light of continued attacks by extremist groups against Mali’s forces and United Nations peacekeepers, it is irresponsible to reduce military aid and leave the country to its own devices, declaring the “stakes are too high”. The Malians have every right to reach out to partners who are ready to help them strengthen security, she added. Decisions about the Mission, including troop strength, should consider the opinion of Bamako, she said, emphasizing that any settlement must respect the principle of “African solutions to African problems”.
Mali’s representative affirmed the commitment of the transitional authorities to protecting civilians against barbaric and indiscriminate attacks, and their focus on recruiting, training, equipping and strengthening the operational capacities of the defence and security forces. He said that despite the challenging security situation, which has sparked a humanitarian crisis, the transitional Government is determined to lay the foundations for reforms that can guarantee inclusive, transparent and credible elections. The authorities are already working hard to prepare for the upcoming polls and will present an electoral calendar to ECOWAS, he added.
Also speaking today were representatives of Ireland, Estonia, India, China and Norway.
The meeting began at 11:14 a.m. and ended at 12:30 p.m.
EL-GHASSIM WANE, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), presented the latest report of the Secretary‑General on that country (document S/2021/844), saying the situation remains extremely challenging, with increased insecurity in northern, central and now southern Mali. The humanitarian situation is also worrying, with 4.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and some 400,000 internally displaced persons, half of whom have been displaced in the Central region, he added. Further, attacks targeting both Malian and international forces, including MINUSMA peacekeepers, have continued unabated, he noted, adding that political uncertainty persists as Mali grapples to complete its democratic transition.
Against that backdrop, he highlighted the need of average Malians for the deteriorating security situation to stabilize, for basic services to be delivered, and for profound political and governance reforms to create the conditions for credible elections and lasting stability. Emphasizing that MINUSMA remains crucial given the context, he said it is using all means necessary to implement its mandate, in coordination with the Malian authorities and international partners. The Mission has adapted to the evolving and highly complex threat environment in order to protect civilians. He went on to detail operational changes, including the deployment of tailored units comprising explosive ordinance teams and long-range reconnaissance patrols. They undertake daily patrols in Douentza, Centre region, to prevent attacks by terrorist armed groups against villagers and to deter attacks on infrastructure.
A temporary operating base in Ogassagou has helped to prevent further violence between communities, leading 12 villages to sign a peace agreement a few weeks ago, he continued, saying that allowed the free movement of people and the return of social services. Between May and October alone, MINUSMA has responded to numerous requests for support from both the Government and the defence and security forces, he reported, stressing that such activities are undertaken within existing resources, which are overstretched. He called upon countries in a position to do so to help mobilize the resources needed to make MINUSMA fit for purpose. Significant gaps remain in capabilities that are critical to ensuring greater mobility and flexibility of the existing MINUSMA force, he said. “It is in this context that the Secretary‑General recommended an augmentation to our operation, including additional assets such as attack and utility helicopters, and it is up to the Council to decide on the way forward taking into consideration the concerns of our Malian hosts.”
Turning to stabilization of the Centre region, he said the Government is finalizing a strategy to focus on fighting radical groups and prioritizing reconciliation, as was done in Ogassagou, while enabling the restoration of State authority. On the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, which resulted from the Algiers process, he said “progress has been frustratingly slow on the key provisions as they relate to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, institutional reforms and development in the north”. Nonetheless, there has been encouraging progress, represented by the integration of 13,000 combatants of the signatory movements by the end of 2021, he reported. “This is, in our view, a significant step forward in a process which has largely been at a standstill for the past six years.” He went on to underline that “all is not lost” despite the deepening crisis and deteriorating security situation. A shared vision based on the current realities on the ground and the roles and responsibilities of the respective parties can facilitate a strategy to restore stability, promote inclusive dialogue, complete the Transition, and implement the peace agreement, he affirmed.
MOUSSA MAMAN SANI (Niger), speaking on behalf of the A3+1 (Kenya, Niger Tunisia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), asserted that the visit demonstrated support for the efforts of Mali’s people to move towards peace and stabilization and showed the kinds of constraints under which the “Blue Helmets” operate. For that reason, the upcoming ministerial conference in Seoul will be an excellent opportunity to come up with commitments to ensure that the Mission is fully equipped, he said. MINUSMA also allows a view into measures by the transition authorities to stem insecurity in the north and centre as well as the social and political situation, he noted, encouraging the authorities to continue efforts to meet the people’s legitimate hopes and aspirations for peace and prosperity. Nonetheless, stabilization must occur through credible and transparent elections, he said, emphasizing that the stakeholders have a historic responsibility in that regard. Furthermore, they must implement recent agreements on decentralization and development in the north. He went on to underline the difficulty of understanding how the G5 Sahel can be reproached for lacking capacity while at the same it is denied the means to address the challenges confronting it. In that regard, he asked the Security Council to demonstrate greater flexibility in implementing the options proposed.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said completing the political transition and returning to constitutional order remains imperative. Noting that the electoral calendar is in doubt, she expressed disappointment that the necessary preparatory steps for the elections have not been taken. Good governance depends on the political transition and the return to constitutional order, she said, emphasizing the need to work closely with the African Union and ECOWAS to that end. Renewed commitment to the peace accord is essential, she added, urging all actors to respect their responsibilities and obligations. She went on to underline that the participation of women creates, strengthens and sustains peace, noting in that regard that the Independent Observatory of Women will be an important tool to ensure that they are fully engaged in political and peace processes.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) said he is concerned about the “audacity, frequency and severity of attacks against civilians, international forces and MINUSMA”, and emphasized the need for the transition Government to prioritize the protection of civilians. He called upon the authorities to take credible steps against impunity, including by providing a political channel for civilians to share their grievances. Expressing support for the stance of ECOWAS, he called upon the transition Government to adhere strictly to the deadline for holding presidential elections, 27 February 2022, release an election calendar, and make concrete progress on organizing elections. While reforms on governance and tackling corruption are welcome, he said, they must be completed within the agreed time frame or turned over to an elected government. He went on to emphasize the need for free, fair and inclusive elections, ensuring the meaningful participation of women, and for the presence of domestic observer groups. Concerning the G5 Sahel joint force, he expressed his doubt that the United Nations, “regardless of mechanism”, is the most effective vehicle to support it, and called for exploring non‑United Nations, bilateral and multilateral support options in that regard.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) emphasized the importance of continuing preparations for credible, inclusive and transparent elections, as well as the transition to civilian rule and return to constitutional order, according to the agreed transition roadmap. Expressing regret that the representation of women in the transitional government remains at 21.4 per cent, which is below the 30 per cent legal requirement, he called upon the authorities to commit fully to realizing that goal, including by restoring and maintaining an effective State presence. He went on to emphasize the need to address the appalling human rights and humanitarian situation, citing accountability and fighting impunity as the central elements in that regard.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) described observations made in his visit last week to Mali, noting the commitment of civil society leaders to national dialogue and peacebuilding, as well as that of Mali’s neighbours to working together to stabilize the Sahel. However, he said, “we received some worrying messages from the authorities about their commitment to the transition, and on regional cooperation.” He shared concerns over the lack of progress made by the officials in preparing for elections, endorsing the call of ECOWAS for the transitional authorities to publish an election timetable without delay. While reforms are necessary, he pointed out that they are the job of a democratically elected Government. He went on to express deep concern about increasing violence against civilians, restrictions on humanitarian access and continued allegations of human rights violations and abuses, including against children. “There must be an end to impunity for such acts,” he stressed.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) said the developments in recent months indicate that the transition process may go beyond February 2022 — a commitment made by the transition authorities to ECOWAS. In that regard, it is important that the authorities are constantly encouraged to undertake political and institutional reforms and hold elections in line with its agreement with ECOWAS. Noting the vital mediation and good offices role of regional and subregional organizations in Africa in resolving the armed conflict and political impasse, he urged the authorities to cooperate with ECOWAS. The transitional authorities and signatory parties need to work together in good faith to implement the provision of the peace agreement, he said, welcoming the active engagement with Algeria.
Noting the worsening security situation in Mali and increase in attacks by terrorist groups, he stressed that a strong counter‑terrorist response is needed. The solution does not lie in providing MINUSMA a more robust mandate, but in strengthening the national and regional security forces and providing them with adequate capacity‑building and financial and technical assistance. He called for greater United Nations support for the G5 Sahel joint force, including by providing the necessary financial support through United Nations assessed contributions. On the peacekeeping front, he urged upgrading the security infrastructure of camps and bringing to justice the perpetrators of attacks against MINUSMA peacekeepers.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said the Malian leadership is interested in stabilizing the situation in the country and the goal is to conduct State reforms, including in the security sector. Stressing that the electoral timetable should stay the course, she said that without restoring stability, the poll results will not be credible. Given continued attacks by extremist groups on Mali’s forces and United Nations peacekeepers, it is irresponsible to reduce military aid and leave the country to its own devices. The “stakes are too high”, she said, adding that the Malians have every right to reach out to partners who are ready to cooperate with them in strengthening security. Criticizing such cooperation is hypocritical and disrespectful towards a sovereign State. Decisions on the modalities of MINUSMA, including troop strength, should consider the opinions of Bamako. The settlement in Mali must respect the principle of “African solutions to African problems”. The Russian Federation supports the mediation efforts of ECOWAS and the African Union on the principle of non‑interference in internal affairs. Expressing hope for implementation of the decisions of the West African countries reached in 2020 and 2021 to step up the fight against terrorism, she said the idea put forward by the African Union Commission on the deployment of African standby forces in the Sahel deserves consideration.
ZHANG JUN (China) commended the recent visit to Mali by Council members, noting that in‑depth discussions undertaken during the trip will enable the provision of more targeted help. He underscored the need to maintain political stability, and for the constitutional order to be established in an orderly manner. He welcomed recent steps taken to enhance the inclusiveness of the Government, and pointed out that timelines for elections should be realistic. Noting the deteriorating security situation, he underlined the need to restore State authority, reduce poverty and address the root causes of the conflict, including through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes. Further, he pointed out that relevant countries must enhance their communication and coordination with authorities on a drawdown, to avoid creating a security vacuum. He deplored the uptick in attacks faced by MINUSMA and deplored the “distressing” death of an Egyptian peacekeeper in September.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said the transition process must be kept on track to maintain the foundations for peace, pointing out that after two coups, the transitional leaders have a huge responsibility towards Mali’s people. “Their political decisions will also be consequential for the security situation of the broader region,” she stressed. She highlighted two issues: a democratic transition and the protection of civilians. On the democratic transition, she strongly advised Mali’s transitional authorities to ensure legitimacy for key political reform, by putting forth a “credible plan for how and when elections will take place”. She called on all parties to “step up and scale up” implementation of the Algiers Agreement across the country. Turning to the protection of civilians, she expressed alarm at increasing attacks against civilians — and by human rights violations and abuses, adding that the number of internally displaced people in Mali has also quadrupled in two years. Moreover, she underscored the need to address the rights of children to education, noting that close to half a million children in Mali alone are affected by almost 1,600 schools remaining closed. “Without schools, children are more vulnerable to abuse, and to recruitment and use by armed groups,” she said. Commending Mali for signing the Safe Schools Declaration, she said Norway is ready to support further efforts on the issue.
ISSA KONFOUROU (Mali) said the security situation in his country is deteriorating daily despite national efforts and the significant international military presence since 2013. Noting the people’s need for security and their demand that the Government protect them against barbaric and indiscriminate attacks, he emphasized that the transitional authorities remain committed to recruiting, training, equipping and strengthening the operational capacities of the defence and security forces. He went on to stress that, whereas the people’s exasperation is directed at partners, including MINUSMA, the French Operation Barkhane and others, it is not a sentiment against international forces, but a demand that all parties work together to help Mali restore State authority throughout the national territory — an essential condition for Malians to live in security and dignity.
Recounting the disastrous consequences of the deteriorating security situation, he said hundreds of thousands of Malians have been forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries or to be internally displaced. Furthermore, the destruction or occupation of education infrastructure has led to the closure of 1,300 schools in the northern and central regions, with several thousand children out of school and more than 9,000 teachers out of work, he noted. Basic social services are no longer functioning and the security situation is aggravating the humanitarian crisis. However, the transitional authorities remain determined to lay the foundations for reforms that can guarantee inclusive, transparent and credible elections, and an electoral calendar will be presented to ECOWAS, he said, adding that he said the Government is already working hard to prepare for the upcoming polls.
Turning to implementation of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, he said 1,840 ex‑combatants have already been integrated into the national reconstituted army and the Government intends to integrate the remaining 1,160 ex‑combatants. It has also taken steps to increase the true representation of women in mechanisms for the agreement monitoring committee, he added. To date, nine women already sit on the Comité de Suivi de l’Accord and three more are expected to join them to raise the number of women on that body to 12. Regarding the situation in the Centre region, he said the Government is finalizing an integrated crisis management strategy entailing political and security measures to isolate extremist groups. He noted that although Mali has become an overmilitarized country, it is, paradoxically, very vulnerable to terrorism and other forms of organized crime.
He went on to request in‑depth consultations in order to better understand the initiative to raise MINUSMA’s troop ceiling so that its mandate can be adapted to the country’s real security needs. As for the situation in the Sahel and full operationalization of the G5 Sahel joint force, he called for granting the latter a robust mandate and for predictable and sustainable funding, including through the United Nations. Mali supports the proposal to create a United Nations Support Office for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, he affirmed, while expressing the appreciation and gratitude of the country’s people and Government for the enormous contribution of the Security Council to the stabilization efforts under way in Mali and the Sahel.