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Foreign Minister, Stressing Respect for Human Rights, Says Survival of State, Malians’ Safety Primary Focus

Amid a delayed return to civilian rule, the deteriorating security and the dire humanitarian and human rights situation in Mali, the mandate of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the African country should be extended for another year, speakers told the Security Council today.

“While the challenges in Mali are numerous and complex, they are far from being insurmountable,” said El-Ghassim Wane, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), expressing hope for breakthroughs.  Echoing the Secretary-General’s acknowledgement of the need for MINUSMA’s continued presence and recommendation to extend its mandate for another year, he stressed the importance for the Mission to be allowed to move freely to fulfil its mandate.

Going forward, he said that the success of the Malian-led operations will hinge on two critical factors.  First, these operations must be anchored in a comprehensive approach that addresses the institutional, governance and socioeconomic challenges which provide fertile ground for the spread of violent extremism.  Second, military operations must be undertaken with due regard for human rights and international humanitarian law.  Some of the operations conducted during the period under review were marred by allegations of human rights violations.

Sadya Touré, Director of Mali Muso, briefing the Council on behalf of civil society, said armed conflict has led to massive displacement. “Women are not safe anywhere,” and many schools have closed across the country, affecting some 450,000 children.  Teenagers in Mali have grown up in a violent environment without any prospects, and high rates of unemployment have led to insecurity and social unrest, making teenagers easy recruits for armed groups.

Addressing these issues must be a priority if the international community wants to ensure long-lasting peace and reconciliation, she said, emphasizing the need to bolster MINUSMA’s mandate to allow it to operate alongside Malian forces to combat terrorism.  She also called for the immediate lifting of sanctions and asked for support in Mali’s reform efforts to consolidate the rule of law, good governance, democracy and the holding of credible elections.

In the ensuing discussion, members broadly supported the extension of MINUSMA’s mandate, stressed the need to bolster counter-terrorism operations and expressed concern over the increasing human rights violations by the Malian Defence and Security Forces, with the involvement of foreign military elements.

France’s representative proposed to renew MINUSMA’s mandate for another year.  However, for MINUSMA to continue its mandate, the Malian transitional authorities must also take up their responsibilities and remove obstacles to the Mission’s activities and the rotation of contingents.

Ghana’s delegate, also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, said the Mission would benefit from stronger support in troop contribution, capacity-building on counter‑terrorism measures and provision of adequate logistics, including air-lift assets, pointing out the delay in the rotation of troops could have an adverse impact on the Mission’s objectives and the commitment of troop-contributing countries to the cause of peace in Mali.

Injecting a different perspective, India’s delegate, while highlighting the critical role of MINUSMA, emphasized that it is important not to burden the Mission with direct counter-terrorism-related operations.  These counter-terrorism operations need to be undertaken by the national security forces, he said, also noting the concerns raised by the Mission regarding the capacity gaps resulting from the withdrawal of international forces.

However, the representative from the United States, recalling the recent MINUSMA-Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on human rights violations against civilians by both terrorist groups and the Malian armed forces with “foreign security personnel”, known as the Kremlin‑linked Wagner Group forces, said Malian authorities are fully responsible for the actions of their security partners.  The Wagner Group will not bring peace to Mali, he said.  Instead, it will only divert natural and economic resources away from Mali’s fight against terrorism.

His counterpart from the Russian Federation said the more territory that is under State control, the more effective counter-terrorism efforts will be.  The withdrawal of the French military and the Takuba Task Force without Mali’s agreement created additional threats to internal stability.  Further, Russian‑Malian cooperation, including on the military level, has a long-standing history.  The West’s negative response to this cooperation is a manifestation of neo-colonialism and double standards.

The United Arab Emirates’ delegate spotlighted the dire humanitarian situation and food insecurity in Mali, asking the Council to pay urgent attention and seek regular updates that include forecasts of expected hunger levels and the implications for local communities, especially those most vulnerable like women and children, so that the Council can support early action.

Norway’s representative, noting the highest number of civilian casualties to date, pointed to the ethnic dimension of the violence, with most victims coming from the pastoralist Fulani groups.  MINUSMA should be given full and unrestricted access to investigate such crimes, he insisted.

Mali’s Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, said the conflict in the northern part of the country spilled into its centre, spread across the entire nation and has now reached neighbouring States.  To reverse this trend, the Government has invested massively in national defence and security forces, achieving significant results in counter-terrorism.  “We know nothing about Wagner,” he said, stressing Mali has the right to choose its partners and respects human rights, “not to please its foreign partners”, but for its own sake.

The Mission, he stressed, must define the notion of “civilian protection” in the context of an asymmetric war and clarify from what civilians are to be protected given that the overriding threat stems from terrorist groups.  On this, he questioned how MINUSMA can protect the people if it is not in a position to tackle this threat.  On restrictions placed on MINUSMA, he said that all flights requested by the Mission are authorized after the necessary coordination is done, the risks to air traffic are under control and it is determined that such flights will not interfere with ongoing military operations.  More so, the primary question, he stressed, was how to ensure the survival of the State and the safety of the people.

Also speaking today were the representatives of China, Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, United Kingdom and Albania.

The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 12:19 p.m.

Briefings

EL-GHASSIM WANE, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said that, over the past three months, the Mission has continued to implement its mandate, based on its three strategic priorities.  On political transition, MINUSMA has remained actively involved in efforts to overcome the deadlock related to the length of transition.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), at its recent summit, discussed the Malian authorities’ request for a 24-month extension.  The Community’s Heads of State and Government requested the mediator to continue dialogue to reach an agreement by its 3 July summit.  The transitional President, however, formalized a 24-month extension of transition period beginning from 26 March and established a commission for drafting a preliminary Constitution within two months.

The electoral bill is expected to be adopted this month, paving the way for the operationalization of the single independent body to manage the elections, he continued.  In the coming months, MINUSMA will continue its efforts aimed at a consensual way towards ending the crisis.  Such efforts include providing its assistance in the development of a detailed electoral timetable; establishment of a robust monitoring mechanism; and the creation of an appropriate climate to the holding of free, fair and credible elections.  The prolonged uncertainty surrounding the transitional period has made it more difficult to make progress in other areas.  Implementation of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali has been marred by the lack of trust between the signatory parties and disagreements around less important issues.  In that regard, MINUSMA, together with Algeria, as a mediator, have made sustained efforts to encourage the effective implementation of the Peace Agreement.

He went on to say that the security situation remains volatile and is of particular concern along the tri-border area and in the country’s centre.  Attacks by Islamic State in the Greater Sahara in the Menaka region have killed hundreds and displaced thousands of civilians.  Noting a possible attack on the town of Menaka, where 5,000 internally displaced persons have sheltered, he emphasized that should this come to pass, the MINUSMA base is likely to be perceived as the last haven for civilians fleeing violence.  Since MINUSMA’s ability to mount an effective response is limited, the Mission is making contingency plans to temporarily enhance its presence through the relocation of additional troops and capabilities, as well as redistributing tasks to increase situational awareness and better protect civilians.  Insecurity continues to be driven by a combination of intercommunal conflicts, long-standing governance issues and activity by violent extremists targeting civilians and their livelihoods, as well as attacks against the Malian defence and security forces and MINUSMA.

Going forward, the success of the Malian-led operations will hinge on two critical factors, he said.  First, these operations must be anchored in a comprehensive approach that addresses the institutional, governance and socioeconomic challenges which provide fertile ground for the spread of violent extremism.  In this respect, progress has been made towards developing a politically led strategy.  MINUSMA is providing a multifaceted support to this process, while pursuing its efforts to foster local reconciliation, facilitate the extension of State authority and the delivery of basic services.  Second, military operations must be undertaken with due regard for human rights and international humanitarian law.  Some of the operations conducted during the period under review were marred by allegations of human rights violations.  The prevailing security environment has compounded the humanitarian situation in the country, he noted, adding that, in 2022, 7.5 million persons will require humanitarian assistance, compared to 5.9 million in 2021.

In view of these challenges, he echoed the Secretary-General’s acknowledgement of the need for MINUSMA’s continued presence and recommendation on the extension of its mandate for another year.  Noting the envisaged review of MINUSMA and cooperation between the authorities and the Mission, he stressed the importance of freedom of movement to achieve the desired level of efficacy.  “While the challenges in Mali are numerous and complex, they are far from being insurmountable,” he said.

SADYA TOURÉ, Director of Mali Muso, briefing the Council on behalf of civil society, expressed concern over worsening diplomatic relations between Mali and its international partners.  “Our country should not be a battlefield between major Powers,” she stressed, underlining that it is the people who suffer as a result.  Over recent months, the democratic space has been limited, the use of intimidation has increased and the security situation continues to worsen in the country’s central and northern regions as parties to the conflict — including terrorist groups — commit serious violations against civilians.  Further, highlighting that armed conflict has led to massive displacement, she stressed that “women are not safe anywhere” and many schools have closed across the country, affecting some 450,000 children.

She went on to note that teenagers in Mali have grown up in a violent environment without any prospects, and that high rates of unemployment have led to insecurity and social unrest, making teenagers easy recruits for armed groups.  Addressing these issues must be a priority if the international community wants to ensure long-lasting peace and reconciliation.  She also welcomed the successes of the Malian armed forces but emphasized that the defence budget will impact other sectors, such as health and access to water, electricity and education.  It is often the lack of access to these basic social services that causes conflict, she added.

Pointing out that the opinion among Mali’s population is that the decisions and resolutions stemming from the Council’s meetings on the country are not reflected on the ground, she emphasized the need to bolster MINUSMA’s mandate so that the Mission can operate alongside Malian forces to combat terrorism.  She also called for the immediate lifting of sanctions, urging the international community not to turn its back on the Malian people and to support Mali in implementing reforms to consolidate the rule of law, good governance, democracy and the holding of credible elections.

Statements

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), citing the dire humanitarian situation, the continued terrorist attacks and an unprecedented level of violence against civilians, proposed to renew MINUSMA’s mandate for another year.  For MINUSMA to continue its mandate, the transitional authorities must also take up their responsibilities, he said, calling for a removal of obstacles to the Mission’s activities and the rotation of contingents.  Mali should also pursue dialogue with ECOWAS and come up with a mutually acceptable timetable for the transition.  Calling for an end to human rights violations, those responsible must be brought to justice.  MINUSMA must better protect civilians, he said, adding that France will continue to offer aircraft to support the Mission.  In addition, in northern Mali, MINUSMA’s presence is made possible by French support.  Regarding Barkhane’s departure from Mali, he said that his country remains ready to provide support from outside within a clear legal framework accepted by Mali.  The African States must fight against terrorism together, as the security, governance and development issues must be addressed jointly, he said, drawing attention to the work of the Coalition for the Sahel.  He also said that his delegation will circulate a draft resolution on the Mission’s mandate renewal after this meeting and asked for support.

HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, expressed concern over the political situation in Mali, particularly regarding the slow implementation of the Peace Agreement and the absence of an agreed transitional calendar to constitutional rule.  On MINUSMA, he said that the Mission would benefit from stronger support in troop contribution, capacity-building on counter‑terrorism measures and provision of adequate logistics, including air-lift assets.  Further underscoring that an appropriate mandate from the Council without cooperation from the host authorities will not yield positive results, he emphasized the importance of renewed cooperation between transitional authorities and the Mission.

He went on to note that the delay in the rotation of troops that have spent more than one year with MINUSMA following the non-granting of flight permits — which affects discipline, control and operational effectiveness — could have an adverse impact on the Mission’s objectives and the commitment of troop‑contributing countries to the cause of peace in Mali.  He therefore requested the Secretary‑General to resolve this matter as early as possible with the transitional authorities.  Expressing regret over Mali’s decision to withdraw from the G5 Sahel joint force, he emphasized that regional arrangements and mechanisms provide the best opportunity to address the security situation in the Sahel region, including Mali.  He added concern over the spill-over effects of the protracted crisis in Libya on the Sahel, urging coordinated regional action to address this matter.

ZHANG JUN (China), observing that Mali’s situation is complex, said that the international community must enhance its strategic awareness, sort out deliverables and set priorities so that it can support the country in a targeted manner.  Countries in the Sahel represent an indivisible security community and therefore should build a barrier against terrorism together, he said, highlighting the importance of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) as a counter‑terrorism mechanism.  The strategic assessment for the Sahel jointly conducted by the African Union and the United Nations should promote unity and solidarity.  On human rights, he said counter-terrorism operations must respect human rights, rejecting double standards and politicization of the human rights issues.  Regarding the transitional period, he encouraged Mail to continue dialogue with ECOWAS so that the sanctions against Mali can be lifted and Bamako can return to the Community.  Further, the Mission’s original mandate focuses on its support for the implementation of the 2015 Peace Agreement and for the restoration of State authority in the country’s north.  These tasks should remain the top priorities and the benchmark for the United Nations review of the Mission’s performance.

JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) expressed support for the Malian armed forces’ efforts to fight terrorism and improve communication with local populations in order to ensure support for military operations.  However, he called on the transitional authorities to resume effective cooperation with the G5 Sahel joint force and to refrain from acts that may impose restrictions on MINUSMA’s work, particularly regarding freedom of movement and the rotation of contingents.  He also called on Malian political forces to remain engaged in dialogue, urging cooperation with regional organizations so that sanctions can be lifted and Mali’s relationship with its neighbours normalized.  Expressing concern over reports of human-rights violations — especially those allegedly perpetrated by the Malian armed forces and foreign combatants — he called for the transparent, prompt investigation of such reports.

RICHARD MILLS, JR. (United States) condemned all attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, as well as the misinformation and disinformation campaigns that threaten the safety and security of peacekeepers.  The success of any peacekeeping mission hinges on the commitment of the parties to advance and pursue sustainable political solutions.  The Malian authorities must demonstrate their commitment to implement the Peace Agreement.  It is equally urgent that the Malian authorities restore constitutional rule by holding timely elections.  Describing the recent MINUSMA-Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report as disturbing, he said it documented a dramatic increase in human rights violations and abuses against civilians by both terrorist groups and the Malian armed forces with “foreign security personnel”, known as the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group forces.  Malian authorities are fully responsible for the actions of their security partners.  Last March, reports emerged about the horrific massacre and mass graves in Moura.  Malian authorities still have refused to allow MINUSMA access to the site to conduct an independent investigation.  This is unacceptable.  The Wagner Group will not bring peace to Mali.  Instead, it will only divert natural and economic resources away from Mali’s fight against terrorism.  Mali must allow MINUSMA to do its job and must respect the Status of Forces Agreement.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico), acknowledging the Malian authorities’ decision to complete the transition in a 24-month period, urged the transitional Government to increase contact with ECOWAS and reach agreement on holding inclusive, just and credible elections at the end of that period.  Such contact is also essential to facilitating the gradual lifting of sanctions that are affecting Mali’s people and the country’s prospects for economic recovery.  Noting that violence by armed groups remains the main threat to the civilian population, he stressed that an effective military response alone will not be enough to eradicate this menace; the delivery of basic social services is essential, as is regional cooperation.  On that point, he called on the African Union and ECOWAS to support measures aimed at keeping Mali from becoming a platform for the flow of weapons between northern Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.

AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said tackling security issues in Mali will require a two-pronged approach, focusing on ensuring the implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, alongside MINUSMA’s stabilization efforts.  In this regard, she said she looked forward to learning more from the Secretary-General’s upcoming analysis and recommendations on how to ensure MINUSMA’s mandate is fit for purpose in its current operating environment.  She also voiced support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation to renew MINUSMA’s mandate for another year.  Continued commitment to the key tenets of the 2015 Peace Agreement is essential to support stability and recovery in Mali.  The humanitarian situation and food insecurity in Mali is another issue requiring the Council’s urgent attention.  Regular updates to the Council need to include forecasts of expected hunger levels and the implications for local communities, especially those most vulnerable like women and children, so that the Council can support early action.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) expressed concern about the significant surge in human rights abuses and violations in Mali, spotlighted those attributed to the Malian Defence and Security Forces, which has occurred since the recent establishment of partnerships with foreign security personnel, including, reportedly, with the Wagner Group.  The Mission has recorded a threefold increase in the number of civilians killed in the first quarter of 2022.  That amounted to be 543 lives, of which 249 were killed by the Malian armed forces, the very people meant to protect them.  Calling for investigations on all allegations of civilian murders, human rights abuses and violations, she also pointed out that 1 in 4 Malian people are food insecure in the country, a number set to rise.  Political stability is necessary to address the humanitarian and security crises, as well as the human rights crises faced by Mali, she said, calling for a timeline to return to the constitutional order, and for the holding of elections.  Reiterating the importance of regional cooperation, she expressed regret about the exit of Mali from the G5 Sahel.  The slow progress in the implementation of the 2015 Peace Agreement, including a complete lack of progress on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, threatens hard-won gains, she said.

ODD INGE KVALHEIM (Norway), paying tribute to MINUSMA personnel who were recently killed in the line of duty, expressed deep concern about increased human rights violations and abuses reportedly committed, including by Malian armed forces and the Wagner Group.  Noting that the highest number of civilian casualties to date were recorded in Mali — also due to terrorist and armed group attacks — he pointed to the ethnic dimension of the violence, with most victims coming from the pastoralists Fulani groups.  MINUSMA should be given full and unrestricted access to investigate such crimes.  Taking note of Mali’s announced 24-month extension of the transition period, he called for an agreement to be reached with ECOWAS to ensure a return to constitutional order and for progress made on the Peace Agreement.  As well, State presence and basic services must be ensured, including in the north.  He also suggested that the United Nations and African Union Joint Strategic Assessment on Security in the Sahel should establish clear recommendations quickly in the renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate.  That should include a thorough discussion on the need for a robust, regionally led, cross-border, counter-terrorism force to address the increasing challenge from terrorism in Mali and the wider region.

T.S. TIRUMURTI (India), offering his condolences for the MINUSMA peacekeepers who lost their lives earlier this month, stressed that the transitional road map is sine qua non for securing peace in Mali.  The continuous attack on Mission peacekeepers, civilians and security forces in Mali demonstrates the grave security threat posed by terrorist groups.  The tri-border region of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso has become a hotspot of terrorist activities due to the security vacuum created by the departure of international forces, he added, stressing that the challenge of terrorism in Mali needs to be accorded high priority.  Underlining the importance of political stability in order to address the long-standing shortcomings in administrative, constitutional and security sectors, he also stressed that lasting solution for the crisis can be achieved only through a Mali-owned and Mali-led process which is inclusive and representative.  Highlighting the critical role of MINUSMA in helping Mali to achieve stability and addressing the safety and security issues concerning UN peacekeeper, he emphasized that it is important not to burden the Mission with direct counter-terrorism-related operations.  These counter-terrorism operations need to be undertaken by the national security forces, he said, also noting the concerns raised by the Mission regarding the capacity gaps resulting from the withdrawal of international forces.

JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) pointed out that the Mission continues to be denied access to investigate the reported massacre in Moura more than two months after it occurred.  Such instances of restrictions imposed by the Malian authorities on MINUSMA, especially on aerial movements, was of concern.  In addition to the escalation of terrorist violence and abuses against civilians, he also voiced concern about a significant increase in human rights violations by the Malian Defence and Security Forces, with the involvement of so-called “foreign military elements”, which he referred to as the Russian-backed Wagner Group.  Further, counter-terrorism operations must be conducted in full compliance with international human rights standards and international humanitarian law, he stressed.  Calling for efforts to address the root causes of conflict and insecurity in Mali, he emphasized that an inclusive political transition is key.  Highlighting Mali’s worsening humanitarian crisis, which continues to disproportionately affect women and girls, he also pointed to increased violence in Menaka, which is causing mass displacement, a spike in humanitarian needs and severe risks to civilians.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) emphasized that Mali will only be able to surmount current challenges if internal political stability and security is ensured.  The more territory that is under State control, the more effective counter-terrorism efforts will be.  The withdrawal of the French military and the Takuba Task Force without Mali’s agreement has created additional threats to internal stability.  In that context, the Government’s desire to seek military technical support from other sources — such as the Russian Federation — is understandable.  Russian-Malian cooperation — including on the military level — has a long-standing history, and she stressed that the Russian Federation has not received any complaints from its African partners.  The West’s negative response to this cooperation is a manifestation of neo-colonialism and double standards, she said, spotlighting the multitude of private military companies operating in Africa.  She added that many African States have contracted with such companies because they have the sovereign right to do so.

ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), Council President for June, speaking in her national capacity, strongly condemned the recent attacks perpetrated against MINUSMA and the Red Cross team, causing the death of three Egyptian and Jordanian peacekeepers and two aid workers.  Noting the decision of the Malian authorities to delay the return to civilian rule by 24 months, she commended the efforts of ECOWAS to engage with the Malian authorities to find a mutually agreed timeline.  A swift solution to the political stalemate between Bamako and ECOWAS must be found without further delay, with a view to discussing lifting ECOWAS sanctions at the Community’s upcoming July summit.  Citing a sharp increase in alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, she said the upward trend has been observed since the Wagner Group was deployed to conduct joint operations with the Malian armed forces. She called on the Malian authorities to allow full, unrestricted and unhindered access to MINUSMA to fully implement its mandate, welcoming the Secretary-General’s intent to conduct a thorough analysis on how the Mission can best continue to deliver on its priorities to facilitate stability in Mali.

ABDOULAYE DIOP, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali, underscored that his country — currently waging war against terrorism — faces a multidimensional crisis following the intervention in Libya that caused it to lose two thirds of its territory.  The security situation has only worsened since 2013.  The conflict in the northern part of the country spilled into its centre, spread across the entire country and has now reached neighbouring States.  To reverse this trend, the Government has invested massively in national defence and security forces, and as a result, the Malian armed forces have achieved significant results on the ground in the area of counter-terrorism.  Recalling that security cooperation between Mali and the Russian Federation is aimed at building the operational capacity of the Malian defence and security forces, he stressed that “we know nothing about Wagner”.  The primary question is how to ensure the survival of the State and the safety of the people.  In this, Mali has the right to choose its partners.

He went on to say that Mali respects human rights, “not to please its foreign partners”, but for its own sake.  Turning to the renewal of MINUSMA’s mandate, he stressed that the Mission must focus on the protection of civilians and the restoration of State authority throughout the nation.  Further, it must define the notion of “civilian protection” in the context of an asymmetric war and clarify from what civilians are to be protected given that the overriding threat stems from terrorist groups.  On this, he questioned how MINUSMA can protect the people if it is not in a position to tackle this threat.  On restrictions placed on MINUSMA, he said that all flights requested by the Mission are authorized after the necessary coordination is done, the risks to air traffic are under control and it is determined that such flights will not interfere with ongoing military operations.  Also noting that some Council members expressed regret over Mali’s withdrawal from the G5 Sahel, he said that this sovereign decision was made in response to violations of the organization’s founding treaties.

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