UN Political Head Tells Security Council Concerted, Broad-based Measures Needed to Tackle Mali’s Deep-rooted Challenges, Outlines Options for Future UN Involvement

3 April 2013

UN Political Head Tells Security Council Concerted, Broad-based Measures Needed to Tackle Mali’s Deep-rooted Challenges, Outlines Options for Future UN Involvement

3 April 2013
Security Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6944th Meeting (AM)

UN Political Head Tells Security Council Concerted, Broad-based Measures Needed to

Tackle Mali’s Deep-rooted Challenges, Outlines Options for Future UN Involvement

Highlights Importance of Transition Road Map, Which Includes July Elections;

Council Also Hears from Mali; C ôte d’Ivoire, speaking for West African States

While welcoming the announcement by Mali’s interim Government that it would organize presidential elections by the end of July 2013, the United Nations top political official told the Security Council today that nearly one year after a military coup threw the country into turmoil, “concerted, broad-based” measures were needed to tackle its serious and closely linked challenges.

“[Those challenges] go beyond addressing security threats and require tackling the deep-rooted political, governance, development and humanitarian challenges that are not susceptible to any easy solution,” said Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who briefed Council members on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Mali (document S/2013/189), and outlined options for a possible United Nations stabilization mission in the country.

“In the interplay between political and security priorities, it is of critical importance to ensure the security imperative does not detract from the primacy of politics in Mali, in both the short and long term,” he said.  Also, in addition to a national dialogue, multiple dialogues need to take place between and within communities and between various actors, including the Malian armed forces.  Dialogue and reconciliation efforts must also be linked to justice measures to ensure that there was no impunity for the human rights violations that had been perpetrated.

Noting interim President Dioncounda Traoré’s indication that the transitional Government intended to hold elections by 31 July 2013, he said that the Secretariat had been encouraged by the Malian authority’s commitment to move rapidly towards the polls, “a fundamental benchmark in restoring the constitutional order”.  In addition, declarations by leaders of the transitional Government not to stand in those elections further demonstrated the authorities’ commitment to free and fair elections.

Mindful of how much work would be required to meet the July deadline, the United Nations had offered its support for their free, fair and credible conduct in keeping with international standards.  While encouraging the Malian authorities to ensure the entire process was as inclusive as possible, he said that areas of concern included, on the security side, the still-volatile conditions in northern Mali and, on the political side, the absence so far of reconciliation, which limited space for constructive political debate.

“We hope that ongoing security operations, as well as the appointment of the National Commission [for Dialogue and Reconciliation], will help overcome these difficulties and help create the essential conditions for credible elections,” he said, agreeing with Malian authorities that a legitimate Government reflecting the will of Mali’s diverse population needed to be in place by the end of 2013.

To that end, he told Council members that the adoption of a road map for the transition in January remained a vital political achievement, and that it had highlighted two priority tasks for the transitional Government:  the restoration of territorial integrity and the organization of free and fair elections.  The road map also provided for reform of the armed forces and dialogue with groups to renounce terrorism and adhere to the unitary nature of Mali and its Constitution.

Among other measures, the transitional Government had established the National Commission, and on 30 March, the interim President had appointed Mohamed Salia Sokana, a former Defence Minister, as President of that body, as well as Traore Uomu Toure and Meti Ag Mohamed Rhissa as its two Vice-Presidents, he said.

“The appointment of a woman and a Tuareg as Vice-Presidents of this Commission is consistent with the transitional authorities’ repeated assurances that inclusiveness and plurality will be foundation blocks of the political process moving forward,” he said, stressing that the United Nations would provide the Commission “all the assistance we possibly can”, as well as support to the mediation process being carried out through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

In that regard, the United Nations Office in Mali was providing good offices aimed at facilitating contacts between the Government and those groups that wished to take part in the search for political solutions to the crisis, while the United Nations Office in West Africa continued to closely coordinate with and support regional efforts.

He went on to say that strengthening the capacity and legitimacy of the State and political system at all levels remained a priority for the United Nations and Malian political leaders.  “The coup d’état of 22 March 2012 and the crisis in northern Mali are, in large measure, manifestations of a crisis of governance that encompasses endemic corruption, weak State capacity to provide basic services and the low level of legitimacy of State institutions and the political system,” he explained.  As such, the United Nations hoped that a broad and inclusive Malian-led political process could begin to address the abiding challenges that must be overcome for Mali to achieve long-term political stability and economic prosperity.

Turning to specifics highlighted in the report, he said that while humanitarian access had improved in some parts of Mali, the situation remained “highly volatile”, particularly in Timbuktu and Gao.  Currently, more than 470,000 people were estimated to have fled and sought refuge either in Malian host communities or in neighbouring countries.

Mr. Feltman said that more than 290,000 people were internally displaced and about 177,000 were refugees in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.  He said that some 750,000 people were in need of immediate food assistance and 660,000 children were at risk of malnutrition in 2013, including 210,000 at risk of severe acute malnutrition.  Further, he said that access to basic social services was limited, in particular in the north — in the regions of Timbuktu and Gao, for example, only 50,000 out of 200,000 pupils had access to education.

The United Nations was also monitoring the human rights situation, in particular reports of serious violations in northern Mali, including summary executions and illegal arrests, as well as destruction and looting of property.  “Although arbitrary acts of violence against Tuaregs and Arabs have recently decreased, there is still a risk of reprisal against members of these communities, who are alleged to be associated with the armed groups,” he said, adding that worryingly, there were now reports that new patterns of human rights violations were emerging, including retaliatory attacks based on ethnicity.

He recalled that the Human Rights Council had appointed a Special Rapporteur on Mali earlier this month, and that the United Nations Office in Mali’s human rights team was rapidly expanding, with a view to deploying mobile teams to Mopti, Gao and Timbuktu as soon as security conditions permitted.  In meetings and conversations with United Nations officials, authorities in Bamako have repeatedly stated their commitment to international human rights standards and practices, he added.

Continuing to highlight elements of the Secretary-General’s report, he said there had been significant security improvements in Mali as a result of the French and African military operations alongside the Malian army in northern areas.  Already by the end of January, State control had been restored in most major northern towns thanks to the efforts of Malians and other African forces, with critical support from French troops.  Re-deployment of civilian authorities has started in Timbuktu and Gao.

Nevertheless, despite the real and significant gains on the ground stemming from the efforts of French, African and Malian forces, he said, the security situation “remains challenging”.  Combat continued with armed groups in the Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains and in the periphery of some urban centres — Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.  More fighting had occurred in Timbuktu this weekend, with humanitarian partners reporting a parallel increase in criminality around Timbuktu.  “Armed groups are proving mobile in the combat areas, and there have been reported cases of infiltration in urban zones, including Bamako,” he said, adding that the continued planting of mines was hampering humanitarian activities and endangering civilians.

On the work of the United Nations Office in Mali, he said that office’s Chief, David Gressly, had visited Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and Tessalit from 29 to 31 March.  In his discussions, Mr. Gressly had learned about the return of the Governors of Timbuktu and Gao, whom he met.  “This is an important first step in the restoration of State authority to those regions,” Mr. Feltman said, adding that, according to Malian authorities, that would be followed by reestablishment of justice and security services, as well as other organs of civil administration at the regional and local levels.

As for the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), he said that United Nations had strengthened its support for the planning and preparations for the deployment and operations of that Mission.  United Nations military planners had, among other tasks, helped in establishing coordination mechanisms, assisted AFISMA and the Malian armed forces in identifying priority needs and supported development of key documents, including operational directives, guidelines for the protection of civilians, rules of engagement and a code of conduct.  The United Nations works in close cooperation with the African Union and ECOWAS and other partners in supporting AFISMA, he added.

He went on to note that the Secretary-General had deployed a multi-disciplinary exploratory mission to Mali from 10 to 16 March to develop recommendations on options for establishing a United Nations peacekeeping operation in the country.  Highlighting the key observations and recommendations that the Secretary-General has made in his report, Mr. Feltman said that the serious and inter-linked challenges that confront Mali required concerted and broad-based efforts by the Malian authorities and people, together with significant international support.

With respect to the security challenges, the report stated that a key question was the extent to which the United Nations could or should assume responsibility for security and stabilization, which, ultimately, would need to serve as an incentive to engage in a viable political process.  It noted that humanitarian actors had raised increasing concerns about the possible deployment of a United Nations force in Mali and the need to retain a clear distinction between the humanitarian and political/security agendas to ensure the impartiality of humanitarian action, avoid threatening the safety of aid workers and to guarantee humanitarian access to all those in need.

He said that Secretary-General Ban had proposed two options for the Organization’s engagement in Mali.  “Under either option, the UN would maintain a strong focus on the political aspects linked to the creation of suitable conditions for elections and reconciliation,” he said.  Under the first option, a United Nations multidimensional integrated political presence would operate alongside AFISMA.  The United Nations would continue its political and human rights activities under a strengthened political mission.

In this scenario, the strategic areas of focus would include:  good offices; support for mediation and national and community dialogues; assistance to the electoral process; promotion of respect for human rights, including with respect to women and children; and support for AFISMA.  Further, AFISMA would be responsible for security, together with bilateral military efforts, in support of the Malian defence and security forces.  “AFISMA would also have an offensive combat and stabilization mandate focusing on extremist armed groups,” he added.

As for the second option, he said that scenario involved the establishment of a multidimensional integrated stabilization mission under a Chapter VII mandate, alongside a parallel force.  In addition to a political mandate, the Mission would carry out security-related stabilization tasks, protect civilians and create the conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance.  The Mission would operate under robust rules of engagement with a mandate to use all necessary means to address threats to the implementation of its mandate, possibly including conducting operations independently of or in cooperation with the Malian defence and security forces

Under this option, he said, the bulk of AFISMA would be re-hatted under a United Nations stabilization mission.  Most of the military, police and civilian components would operate in the north, with a light presence in Bamako.  “Given the anticipated level and nature of the residual threat, there would be a fundamental requirement for a parallel force to operate in Mali alongside the UN stabilization mission to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations and provide specialist support beyond the scope of the UN mandate and capability,” he said.

He explained that the two options could be viewed as phases in the gradual process of transition from the current situation to a United Nations stabilization mission deployed alongside a parallel force.  They took into account the fact that the United Nations was operating in a “new geopolitical context and faces threats that have not been encountered before in a peacekeeping context”.  The situation on the ground remained fluid, and extremists and criminal elements continued to pose a significant threat to the safety and security of civilians and United Nations personnel in Mali.

Mr. Feltman said the Secretary-General observed that it would be of critical importance that a clear distinction is maintained between the core peacekeeping tasks of an envisaged stabilization mission and the peace enforcement and counter-terrorism activities of a parallel force.  “Any blurring of that distinction would place severe constraints on the ability of United Nations humanitarian, development, human rights and other personnel to safely do their work,” he said.

In the same vein, he said that, given that the crisis in Mali was part of serious wider regional challenges, it would be essential to coordinate support to Mali within a broader regional strategy that incorporated Mali’s neighbours and key partners in the process.

On that front, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to West Africa, Said Djinnit, continued to work with ECOWAS countries on a shared approach towards the security and political challenges in Mali and beyond.  In addition, the regional strategy that the United Nations was leading in developing for the Sahel should be viewed as a complementary and indispensable process.  Further, the Secretary-General had met with his Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, on 1 April, on the Organization’s overall approach to the region, with a focus on what the international community could do to support the people of the Sahel.

Following that presentation, Oumar Daou of Mali then told the Council that his Government welcomed the Secretary-General’s report, which largely covered its concerns regarding the efforts under way to arrive at a lasting solution to the serious crisis that currently gripped the country.  The President had recently underscored that the international presence in Mali must be configured to provide the utmost support to restoring peace, territorial integrity and State authority throughout the country.

Yet, today, recent incidents in the north of Mali indicated that such peace stability and total liberation of national territory had not been achieved.  Indeed, the Secretary-General had highlighted that armed extremists were resorting to new, asymmetric tactics, such as guerrilla ambushes, suicide attacks, car bombings and the laying of anti-personnel land mines.  Worse, those same armed groups were melting into the local population to commit further crimes.  He said while Malian, French and African troops had been able to repel the actions of those extremists in some areas, terrorist targets, such as Kidal, Tessalit, Gao, Timbuktu and other urban centres, must be secured.  Areas attacked in recent months must be secured.

Highlighting deadly attacks by extremists that had been taking place sporadically since February, he said that while he could go “on and on” listing the violent activities of narco-jihadist groups and their secessionist allies, he would simply stress for Council members that the “deadly and recurrent bursts of violence fanned” by terrorist groups were serious obstacles to rebuilding the Malian State, as well as to the return of internally displaced persons and refugees living in other countries.  Such violence also imperilled efforts to create a calm environment in which free and fair elections could be held.  It was also a threat to peace and security in the entire region, he said

Mali must regain control of all its territory, he declared, stressing the need to disarm all terrorist groups, including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad.  Moreover, Mali’s army and security forces must be strengthened so that they could effectively carry out their duties.  He paid tribute to French and African troops and all those that had responded to Mali’s calls for assistances and who had made significant sacrifices to protect and restore the honour and dignity of the Malian people and give them renewed hope.

Turning next to the Secretary-General’s proposals for transforming AFISMA, he said that the Malian Government preferred the second option, which included the deployment of a multi-dimensional United Nations integrated stabilization mission under Chapter VII, as a complement to a parallel force “whose objective will be to carry out large-scale anti-terrorist and combat operations”.  The Malian Government was convinced that following such a path would help stabilize the country and create conditions for national reconciliation.

On the establishment of the Commission for national reconciliation, he said the Government’s commitment to that body and its successful operation clearly showed that “no stone would be left unturned” by the highest authorities in the country to ensure peace and stability.  As for the 2013 elections, he said that, despite the challenges and complexities that process would entail, there were grounds for hope that Mali, with the assistance of the international community, would meet the challenges it faced and turn a new page in the country’s history.

Taking the floor next, Youssoufou Bamba of Côte d’Ivoire, speaking on behalf of ECOWAS, agreed that there had been solid developments in Mali, especially in the combat being waged by allied forces against jihadist groups and their strongholds in the north.  In light of such progress, ECOWAS had stressed that it was essential to strengthen AFISMA “with all necessary financial and material resources as soon as possible”, so that it could effectively take over operations from French forces in the near future.

He said that ECOWAS looked forward to the transformation of AFISMA into a United Nations stabilization mission with a Chapter VII mandate.  Estimates had shown that such a mission would require some 11,200 military troops and 1,400 police officers, and “urgent measures” must be taken now to ensure their effective deployment.  To this end, he informed the Council that Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo, Nigeria, Chad, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia were among the countries that had stepped forward to express interest in providing infantry battalions to the re-shaped mission.

He noted that AFISMA now stood at only 84 per cent of its approved deployment level, and as such, efforts must be taken to scale up force generation, especially in time for the mission to be transformed into a United Nations-backed peacekeeping operation with a robust mandate.  That was the desire of the Malian Government, and ECOWAS supported that call.  He said that ECOWAS also supported Mali’s call for the creation of a parallel force that would be tasked with rapidly repelling terrorist elements from the country.

It was an “incontrovertible fact” that AFISMA must be transformed, because Mali urgently needed multi-dimensional assistance that encompassed activities in the security and humanitarian assistance spheres, as well as human rights and support for the political dialogue and electoral processes.  “These are things that only a United Nations peace operation can achieve,” he said.  Such a formula, ECOWAS believed, was the surest route to stabilizing the country and ensuring an environment for speedy implementation of the transitional road map, particularly towards holding presidential elections.  ECOWAS also called for strengthened efforts to disarm and address the status of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and adjourned at 10:53 a.m.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.