Foreign Minister Outlines Challenges, Including Fragile Security in Central Region
Despite progress since the 2015 signing of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, significant challenges — such as the accelerated activities of terrorists and the transnational networks funding them — continued to require international support, including possible changes to the United Nations operation there, the Organization’s new peacekeeping chief told the Security Council today.
Delivering his first briefing as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix called for enhanced efforts to combat transnational organized crime, and welcomed the decision by the “Group of 5” (G5) Sahel countries to establish a regional force to combat such activities. The Council could also consider adjusting the mandate of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), or imposing sanctions on “spoilers”, he said.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2017/271), he provided an update on the situation in Mali, recent positive developments, among them. They included the recent appointment of transitional authority officials in Mali’s northern region and the successful conclusion of the Conference of National Understanding, all of which had proceeded in spite of the dastardly attack against the Operational Coordination Mechanism camp in Gao, northern Mali, in January. Emphasizing the critical importance of international efforts in maintaining that momentum, he cited, among other challenges, the convergence of various armed factions under the Al-Qaida banner.
As Council members took the floor, many voiced support for those options, with France’s representative emphasizing the prospect of sanctions as an indispensable option in efforts to remove impediments to the peace process. A sanctions regime would target those involved in drug trafficking or in hindering implementation of the Peace Agreement, he noted.
Other speakers disagreed, with the Russian Federation’s representative emphasizing instead the need for a development strategy in northern Mali. The north remained a major source of terrorist activity, with new groups and leaders constantly emerging, he said, underlining the need to combat extremist ideologies and improve the Sahel region’s socioeconomic conditions. Pointing out that radicals had only appeared in the region after the destabilization of Libya, he stressed that Mali’s stability could not be achieved without first resolving the situation in that neighbouring country.
Mali’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and African Integration reinforced that point, saying that the threats arising from insecurity in Libya persisted. As the current President of the “G5 Sahel” (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso) Mali was working to put a regional counter-terrorism force together as soon as possible, he said. Calling for speedy approval of its deployment, with United Nations support, he said the goal was not to become embroiled in an endless war but to create an environment more conducive to the successful execution of MINUSMA’s mandate.
Other speakers offered differing visions of that mandate, with some expressing support for MINUSMA’s unique counter-terrorism efforts and others voicing concern that those endeavours deviated from established peacekeeping principles. Uruguay’s representative pointed out that the current mandate overstepped the Council’s original intention. Although Uruguay had voted in favour of establishing MINUSMA in light of Mali’s unique situation, such an action should not be replicated in future peacekeeping mandates.
Speakers also called for greater urgency, citing the forthcoming 2018 elections and the rapidly approaching end of the Peace Agreement’s interim period. In that regard, Senegal’s representative said that with the end of the interim period approaching, the presence of MINUSMA and France’s Barkhane operation was reassuring and must be reinforced by the national army, he said, urging better training and equipment for the troops.
Japan’s representative emphasized that the Council must correctly assess the severity of the situation in Mali as MINUSMA’s mandate entered its final months, declaring: “The picture is not good.” In considering the mandate, the Council must also study closely how the proposed joint force would interact with MINUSMA, he said.
Members conveyed condolences to France and Mali, both of which had lost a number of peacekeepers in attacks or military operations during the past week.
Also speaking today were representatives of Sweden, China, Italy, Ethiopia, Egypt, United Kingdom, Bolivia, Kazakhstan and the United States.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:58 a.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, addressed the Council for the first time in that capacity, paying tribute to his predecessor, Hervé Ladsous. Recalling his visit to Mali two weeks ago and his meetings with various Government officials and others on the ground, he cited the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2017/271), which states that progress in Mali continued during the period under review, despite the dastardly attack against the Operational Coordination Mechanism camp in Gao on 18 January. The committee charged with implementing the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali had appointed a number of transitional authorities, signalling a gradual stabilization of the situation in the north. However, the importance of providing actors with sufficient resources to sustain that momentum on the ground was critical, he emphasized.
Noting that the recently concluded Conference of National Understanding had provided a unique opportunity to bring together Malians from various regions and parties, he went on to stress the need to preserve such gains, with the 2018 elections looming. However, a number of challenges remained, including the fact that the criteria for integrating combatants from the various armed groups had not yet been agreed. “We must look to the future of the reconstituted national army,” he said, underlining the alarming security situation as armed factions continued to attack. A new alliance bringing such groups together had recently been created under the Al-Qaida banner, while Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was gradually gaining ground in the country. “The Peace Agreement needs to be reflected in tangible results on the ground,” he stressed in that regard.
Outlining a number of additional challenges, he said transnational organized crime also continued in the region, with profits often financing terrorist operations. In that regard, he welcomed efforts by the “Group of 5” (G5) Sahel countries to put a regional force in place to combat those activities, while emphasizing that all such efforts must be carried out within the framework of the Peace Agreement. For its part, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) would continue to support national forces while playing its role as one of the main providers of security in northern and central Mali. Noting that he was exploring new partnership options for the Mission, he said that although some 2,049 troops and 480 police authorized by Council resolution 2295 (2016) had not yet been deployed, efforts to do so were under way. He concluded by underscoring three main challenges: strongly encouraging the parties to redouble efforts to accelerate implementation of the Peace Agreement and clarify the next steps once the interim period expired in June; addressing transnational organized crime, including through the possible imposition of sanctions on spoilers; and adjusting MINUSMA’s priorities and posture in accordance with the prevailing political and security situation on the ground.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), noting that Mali still faced threats from terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida in the Sahel, urged stakeholders at the political level to implement the Peace Agreement, including by establishing interim authorities in the north. Progress in that regard remained fragile, he said, noting that people in the north had not seen any noticeable improvement in their living conditions. The fight against impunity remained inadequate, as did the reintegration of former combatants. The prospect of sanctions was indispensable to lifting impediments to the peace process, he emphasized, adding such a regime would target those involved in drug trafficking or in hindering implementation of the Peace Agreement.
Turning to the security front, he said time lost by the signatories had been gained by terrorist groups, while inversely, the redeployment of a State presence in the north would provide hope. MINUSMA must be provided with the troops and equipment authorized by the Council in resolution 2295 (2016), he stressed, calling for the engagement of new troop-contributing countries in Mali, while pointing out that his country’s Barkhane operation, launched in 2014, had extended support to MINUSMA. Welcoming the G5 Sahel initiative to create a joint force to address the regional terrorist threat, he recalled that a French soldier had died in Mali on 5 April, the nineteenth in the Sahel since 2013. “We are determined to help countries in the Sahel to strengthen their capacity to fight the terrorist threat,” he said.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said mutual trust among signatories was the only way to ensure lasting peace, calling the Conference of National Understanding a step in that direction. With the end of the interim period approaching, progress in Gao and elsewhere was welcome, he said, noting that joint patrols were needed for security, and that Kidal and Timbuktu must follow Gao’s example, which already had one. Equally important was constitutional reform, which would facilitate restructuring of the armed forces. The presence of MINUSMA and the French Barkhane presence was reassuring and must be reinforced by the republican army, he said, urging better training and equipment for the troops.
On deployment of the proposed rapid intervention force, he said that would be carried out as soon as possible, adding that his country was taking appropriate measures in that direction. In two weeks’ time, a reconnaissance mission would be conducted to determine how Senegal’s helicopters could be brought to bear on the situation. Pointing out that MINUSMA clearly could not be considered a classic peacekeeping operation because of its multidimensional character, he emphasized the need to provide the Mission with substantial equipment, pointing out that his country had deployed a reserve battalion.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) welcomed the establishment of interim authorities and the launch of mixed patrols, emphasizing that progress on implementing the Peace Agreement was all the more pressing with only three months of its interim period remaining. He encouraged the Government to redouble efforts to deliver on the December benchmarks and on the peace accord, pressing all actors to acknowledge that time would be needed beyond the interim period to consolidate progress, not least in relation to the interim authorities. Encouraging the Government also to ensure inclusive consultations between citizens and the State during the constitutional review, he emphasized the urgent need to address the dire security situation in the central regions, a factor that should be considered in the next MINUSMA mandate, which in turn should strengthen use of the United Nations good offices function. More broadly, the Organization must invest the right resources to ensure adequate support for political solutions, he said, adding that Sweden encouraged context-sensitive conflict and political analysis from the Secretariat before mandate renewals. He concluded by describing the G5 Sahel joint force as a positive step in addressing the regional dimension of the challenges in Mali.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) emphasized that the Council must correctly assess the severity of the situation in Mali as MINUSMA’s mandate entered its final months. “The picture is not good,” he said, citing slow implementation of the Peace Agreement, lack of inclusiveness, lack of centralization and the state of the interim authorities in the north, and the minimal progress made on security-sector reform. As the Council considered the mandate, it must ask how the United Nations could better support the overriding goal of implementing all 20 chapters of the Peace Agreement, complete with annexes. Its mutually reinforcing elements must be implemented in a balanced manner, he said, reiterating the need for movement on security-sector reform. Progress was also needed on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; and cantonment and redeployment of Mali’s defence and security forces, which was crucial for building confidence in the country’s north and centre. The Council must also closely study how the G5 Sahel joint force would interact with MINUSMA, he said.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) welcomed the positive trends in the implementation of the Peace Agreement but nevertheless voiced concerned about Mali’s remaining security challenges, including attacks by jihadists on MINUSMA peacekeepers, as well as local civilians. Warning against imposing sanctions, he emphasized instead the need for a development strategy in the north, pointing out that the region remained a major source of terrorist activity, with new groups and leaders constantly emerging. The security situation was also negatively influenced by borders that were open to drug smuggling and other forms of transnational crime, he noted. Recalling that radicals had only appeared in the region after the destabilization of Libya, he emphasized that Mali’s stability could not be achieved without first resolving the situation in the neighbouring country. “Simply using military measures will not be enough,” he added, underlining the need to combat extremist ideologies and improve the region’s socioeconomic situation. The Russian Federation was concerned that MINSUMA still had fewer military forces troops than mandated, he said, emphasizing the need to complete the Mission’s deployment and to ensure that it was properly resourced.
LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) expressed concern that very little of the Council’s previous closed-session discussions had been conveyed to the parties in Mali, emphasizing that the main responsibility for security and order in the country lay with the national authorities. Urging Member States to continue to support Mali as a sovereign nation, he stressed the need to establish a set of priorities for building institutional stability. “The entire Malian population must feel like it is part of a single State,” he said, explaining that any territory abandoned by the State would become fertile ground for terrorist groups. Voicing concern about reported human rights violations committed by Malian security forces, he underlined that troops musts act in strict accordance with international norms. Concerning the possibility of imposing sanctions, he encouraged the Council to examine the genuine impact of such measures and to take the Government’s position into account. Pointing out that MINUSMA’s current mandate overstepped the Council’s intention by undertaking counter-terrorism measures, he said that although his delegation had voted in favour, given the unique situation in Mali, that type of action should not be replicated in future peacekeeping mandates.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) expressed extreme concern over the deteriorating security situation in Mali, noting that the scale of terrorist attacks in the country’s centre and north had reached an unprecedented level. Emphasizing the need for the parties to uphold their security commitments, he welcomed the launch of mixed patrols in Gao as a positive step forward and encouraged both the Government and signatory armed groups to expedite the launch of similar patrols in Kidal and Timbuktu. Ukraine also supported the G5 Sahel initiative to establish a regional force. On the political process, he said it had been limited and urged the parties to redouble their efforts to complete the installation of an interim administration in the north and engage in inclusive national consultations to resolve differences. “The ultimate goal of these efforts should be the comprehensive reform of national institutions.” He urged a focus on enhancing the safety and security of MINUSMA personnel and on addressing the Mission’s capability gaps, he said, adding that as a troop- and police-contributing country, notably in Africa, Ukraine was exploring ways in which to do its part to that end.
WU HAITAO (China) welcomed the launch of joint patrols and the convening of the Conference of National Understanding. Urging international support for the peace and reconciliation process, he also welcomed the pledge by the Peace Agreement signatories to promote the peace process, urging them to advance an inclusive political dialogue covering all regions and ethnic groups. The Council’s actions should be conducive to maintaining the outcome of the peace process, he said, welcoming the mediation team’s efforts to foster the peace talks. Urging international support for Mali’s security forces so that the Government could strengthen its presence in the northern and central regions, he called upon all parties to provide assistance, particularly in the areas of intelligence, military training and weapons management. Noting that counter-terrorism efforts required an integrated approach based on regional cooperation, he welcomed the G5 Sahel joint force initiative. He concluded by underlining that MINUSMA must strengthen its communications with troop-contributing countries in order to assure the resources and mandate it needed to carry out its work, noting that 400 Chinese peacekeepers were deployed with the Mission.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said that the deteriorating the security situation and growing terrorist threat in Mali meant the Council must do more, and faster, to improve the situation on the ground. “The stability of the Sahel depends, to a large extent, on the security of Mali,” he pointed out, echoing concerns about transnational crime networks and trafficking, which continued to undermine the peace process. Pledging to continue Italy’s bilateral assistance for combating those threats and to help the Council explore its options, he emphasized the importance of combating the destruction of cultural heritage. Strong international cooperation remained critical, as illustrated by the G5 Sahel’s decision to establish a counter-terrorism force and the European Union’s training support for Malian personnel. While MINUSMA continued to face major challenges, and had already paid a high human price in lost human lives, the Mission was demonstrating leadership and should be supported, he said.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) welcomed efforts to address the root causes of the conflict in Mali, noting that the National Charter for Peace, Unity and Reconciliation had injected momentum into the Peace Agreement’s implementation and must be supported. However, Mali continued to confront enormous peace and security challenges with only three months left before the end of the interim period, he said. Insecurity in the north had prevented the effective deployment of State officials, while terrorism, violent extremism and transnational organized crime remained major obstacles to implementation of the Peace Agreement. Mali’s efforts to combat violent extremism and organized crime, alongside those of the G5 Sahel, deserved support, as did MINUSMA, he said.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) pointed out that the situation in Mali had major repercussions for the region and had spilled over into Europe, while achievements on the ground so far fell short of the Malian people’s expectations. Urging the various parties on the ground to unite against the common terrorist threat, he said the national army bore the primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security. While there was a consensus on such issues among international partners, the path towards providing full support was not yet agreed. The Council, in particular, shouldered responsibility for dealing with the situation in Mali in a realistic and practical manner, based on previous lessons learned. Any attempt to exceed established peacekeeping principles would not be in the interest of the Malian people, he cautioned, urging Member States to offer their clear support to the G5 Sahel as the partner best able to deal with the challenges facing the region.
PETER WILSON (United Kingdom) said the establishment of interim authorities in three of five regions, the launch of joint patrols and the Conference of National Understanding reconciliation conference had been successful. However, he expressed concern about the lack of political will among signatories to implement the Algiers peace accord, describing progress as “slow” and “slender”. The human rights situation also merited close attention, amid reports of summary executions and enforced disappearances perpetrated by Malian security forces, the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad and another group. “Addressing impunity is an essential component of reconciliation and of peace,” he emphasized, noting the danger of a reversal of security gains posed by criminal gangs exploiting the country’s ungoverned spaces. Alongside Al-Qaida affiliates, there was a new threat from groups aligned with ISIL/Da’esh, he said, adding that the representatives of France and Italy had set out the strategic context of that threat, which could be grave for the region if left unchecked. He also noted the threat posed to United Nations personnel by spoilers, saying the task of MINUSMA and the Barkhane operation had become more difficult due to the shortfall in troop numbers and equipment. There was a particular need for armoured personnel carriers, he stressed, urging countries to follow up on their offers in that regard. It was unacceptable for MINUSMA to work so hard to maintain stability if the parties did not deliver on their promises, he said.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY (Bolivia) said MINUSMA’s mandate had shifted because of the activities of affiliates of such extremist groups as Al-Qaida and ISIL/Da’esh. Their unabated violence had weakened the efforts of the Government, United Nations partner countries and regional organizations that had pledged to support peace in Mali. Condemning attacks by rogue groups on Malian security and defence forces, and on MINUSMA peacekeepers, he rejected the use of landmines and similar weapons that imperilled civilians. Rogue groups had also perpetrated the sexual abuse of women and minors, as well as summary executions and enforced disappearances. Calling on them to demobilize, he also urged sectarian interests of any nature to ensure that the dialogue was fruitful. Spotlighting Mali’s efforts to achieve harmony, he called on MINUSMA to work in greater coordination with the Government so as to ensure the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Meanwhile, the international community must find adequate means to ensure the success of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed groups through political initiatives.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) emphasized the importance of engaging armed groups in the peace process and integrating them into State structures. The presence of Malian forces in Gao could gradually be extended, but attempts by armed groups to derail the process must be diverted through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. He recalled that his country had agreed with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations and the European Union that placing the Peace Agreement within the framework of the Algiers process was the only path to peace. As such, Kazakhstan reiterated its support for efforts by the African Union, ECOWAS and countries of the Sahara and Sahel to strengthen border security and cooperation, he said, encouraging the G5 Sahel countries to proceed with the creation of a regional force to tackle terrorism. Pointing out that the emergence of five jihadist entities had increased the terrorist threat in Mali and the region, he said that as Chair of the Security Council’s 1267 Committee, Kazakhstan strongly urged the Malian armed forces to upgrade their anti-terrorist capabilities. The grievances of different communities, especially at-risk youth who had not benefited from the Peace Agreement and remained vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups, presented another urgent challenge, he said.
NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, saying that the Council would hold a meeting on United Nations peacekeeping this afternoon. “We need to give peacekeeping missions a mandate that they can actually achieve,” she said, adding that MINUSMA — the most dangerous mission in the world — currently faced a number of critical challenges. In many parts of Mali there was no peace for the Mission to keep, while implementation of the Peace Agreement faced “delay after delay”. Government forces were absent from many parts of the country, while terrorists were deepening their mutual cooperation and becoming more sophisticated, she noted. Describing MINUSMA’s equipment as “simply not up to standard”, she emphasized: “We can and we must do better.” Calling upon the Government to extend State authority and shoulder its responsibility to end violence, she said countries contributing troops to the Mission must provide their personnel with the appropriate training, adding that her country would be taking a closer look at MINUSMA’s mandate in the coming months.
ABDOULAYE DIOP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and African Integration of Mali, described the substantial progress in the political, security, human rights and development arenas, as well as in restoring State authority throughout the national territory, most of which was outlined in the Secretary-General’s report. Warning that progress was still fragile, he said many challenges remained, with the security situation in central Mali a source of particular concern. Noting that an integrated security plan would require substantial support from all of Mali’s partners, he expressed regret that, 10 months after the signing of the Algiers accord, difficulties in implementing the agreement remained, due in part to MINUSMA’s lack of resources.
Turning to the threats posed by the re-emergence of terrorist attacks and continuing drug trafficking in the region — the major challenges to implementation of the Peace Agreement — he said the problem was global in scope and nature. The threats arising from Libya’s insecurity persisted, but Mali, as the current President of the G5 Sahel, was working to bring a regional counter-terrorism force together as soon as possible. Calling upon the Council for speedy approval of deployment for that force, with United Nations support, he said the goal was not to become embroiled in an endless war but to create an environment more conducive to the successful execution of MINUSMA’s mandate. On human rights questions, he said that alleged violations attributed to Government troops had occurred in areas without investigative and judiciary authorities due to insecurity, but vowed nevertheless to investigate such reports and hold the perpetrators accountable.