Peacekeepers in Mali Strive to Build on Recent Political, Security Gains, amid Escalating COVID-19 Pandemic, Mission Head Tells Security Council

SC/14157
7 April 2020

Peacekeepers in Mali Strive to Build on Recent Political, Security Gains, amid Escalating COVID-19 Pandemic, Mission Head Tells Security Council

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali is striving to carry out its mandate and build on a series of recent positive developments, despite persistent terrorist acts and mounting cases of COVID-19, the Organization’s senior official in the country told the Security Council in a videoconference meeting* on 7 April.

Mahamat Saleh Annandif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Mali and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), briefed the 15‑member Council on the contents of the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2020/223), as well as changes to the Mission’s working methods resulting from the expanding COVID-19 pandemic.  To date, he said, Mali has recorded 56 positive cases — including 2 among MINUSMA personnel — and 5 deaths.

“Despite these exceptional conditions, MINUSMA continues to fulfil the mission entrusted to it by your Council,” he said.  Per resolution 2480 (2019), the Mission has two main priorities — the implementation of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali and supporting the political framework for managing the crisis in the centre of the country.

Outlining recent developments, he spotlighted the redeployment of the first reconstituted units of the Malian Defence and Security Forces in the north, and Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga’s visit to that area which demonstrated trust-building among the signatory parties to the peace accord.  He expressed hope for concrete action to fight impunity, as the number of displaced persons — 218,000 people at present — is increasing.

Meanwhile, he continued, the first round of the legislative elections was conducted peacefully despite the kidnapping of the opposition leader days before voting began.  As part of MINUSMA’s efforts to respond to early warning signs in the centre of the country, a telephone hotline was established in Mopti to serve the civilian population, and “Operation Buffalo” to help protect civilians is ongoing.  With MINUSMA support, the Malian authorities are continuing initiatives related to the reconciliation agreement and the national inclusive dialogue held in December.  The Mission also continues to provide logistical support to the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) joint force and construction of the latter’s headquarters in Bamako began during the period under review.

Turning to the fight against COVID-19, he said that commercial flights to Mali were suspended on 19 March, gatherings are prohibited, and a curfew is in place.  The Mission is complying with those Government decisions and devised a set of revised working methods, in which some staff members will work from their respective residences while others return to their home countries on a voluntary basis.  Recalling the Secretary-General’s decision to suspend the rotation of uniformed contingents until 30 June, he said exceptions may be possible on a case‑by‑case basis if they respect isolation periods and other guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  “We face many challenges, including the safety and well-being of the whole United Nations family in Mali, but we also have real hopes through the capacity and resilience of the Malian people,” he concluded.

As Council members delivered statements, several echoed the Secretary‑General’s 23 March appeal for an “immediate ceasefire, everywhere in the world” in the context of COVID-19, warning that the virus is likely to worsen Mali’s already precarious humanitarian situation and overwhelm its fragile health infrastructure.  Others praised MINUSMA’s work and spotlighted its upcoming mandate renewal — slated to take place in June — while asking the Special Representative to ensure that contingency plans are being drawn up to help the Mission cope with the inevitable implications of the pandemic.

The representative of Niger, also speaking on behalf of South Africa, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcomed tangible progress in advancing Mali’s peace process despite persistent violence by armed groups.  “The organization of legislative elections on 29 March amid the increasing threat of the coronavirus and the threat of terrorism, clearly demonstrates to the world the commitment of the Malian people to democracy and the return of peace and stability,” he said.  Noting that MINUSMA and international troops continue to be the targets of terrorist attacks, he said the current situation requires a more robust MINUSMA mandate with bolstered capabilities.  Adequate, sustainable and predictable support is also needed for the G5 Sahel joint force, whose recent operations have neutralized several terrorists.

Viet Nam’s representative described the redeployment of reconstituted armed units in Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu as an essential step towards restoring State authority in the north.  However, he joined other speakers in voicing concern about the instability and deteriorating security situation, which — when coupled with the threat posed by COVID-19 — endangers the safety and livelihood of the Malian people.  He said all parties should heed the Secretary‑General’s call for a permanent ceasefire and allow adequate preparation and humanitarian access to combat the pandemic.

The representative of the United Kingdom said that, while last three months have seen welcome progress on implementing the peace agreement, “it does not go far enough” and the parties must redouble their efforts.  He voiced concern about the spread of terrorist activity in Mali’s Mopti and Segou regions, as well as increased violence against women and children, and rising asymmetric threats against MINUSMA itself.  He warned that COVID-19 could have a “potentially catastrophic” impact, with the peak of the outbreak likely to hit in the middle of Mali’s lean season.  That could significantly increase the number of people at risk from food security, which is currently estimated at 13.8 million, he said.

China’s representative agreed that the relevant parties in Mali must step up dialogue and invest more energy into implementing the peace agreement.  A holistic approach is needed, with the international community helping the Government to achieve sustainable development and building its capacity to combat terrorism.  He noted MINUSMA’s role in the peace process and encouraged the United Nations to give the Mission more resources and support.  Turning to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said that a first batch of 100,000 masks, 1,000 gowns and face shields, and 20,000 testing kits arrived in Mali from China on 27 March and that his country will continue to extend necessary support.

The representative of Estonia joined others in expressing concern about Mali’s deteriorating security situation, as well as the threat posed to the country’s fragile health‑care and governance systems by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The growing number of violent attacks against both civilians and military outposts in the centre and north remains a serious concern, he said, calling for effective State presence and full ownership by Mali and neighbouring States of counter-terrorism activities.  Welcoming the positive developments outlined by the Special Representative, he added that it is essential to address the root causes of the conflict and engage local communities.

France’s representative spotlighted the constructive dynamic created by the Pau Summit in January, during which France and Sahel region leaders reaffirmed their determination to combat terrorism and re-establish peace, security and development.  The newly created Coalition for the Sahel is aimed at better integrating the fight against terrorism, strengthening national capacities and supporting the return of State institutions and humanitarian and development programmes.  Voicing concern that terrorist groups in the region have demonstrated their ability to adjust, he called for more support for the G5 Sahel joint force and noted that the success of MINUSMA’s adaptation plan — outlined in the Secretary-General’s report — depends on the allocation of appropriate resources.

The representative of Belgium joined other speakers in welcoming the favourable developments cited by the Special Representative and applauding the Mission’s work, noting:  “It is probably safe to say that, without MINUSMA, this positive evolution might not have happened.”  However, the overall situation remains very fragile.  Outlining a path forward, he called for efforts to consolidate Mali’s democracy by strengthening the legitimacy of the State and providing public services, while improving the rule of law, bolstering respect for human rights and fighting impunity.  He voiced support for MINUSMA’s adaptation plan, adding that Belgium is currently assessing if and how it can contribute.

The representative of Germany emphasized that recent positive trends must continue in order to achieve the benchmarks laid out by the Council in 2019.  Condemning recent attacks on Malian security forces, he said that international support is vital to bring safety and security to Mali and the Sahel region.  Concrete European Union support will be strengthened through the renewal of the mandate of the bloc’s training mission until May 2024.  Underlining Germany’s support for peacekeepers in Mali, he nevertheless stated:  “There is a limit to what MINUSMA can do.”  Giving the Mission more tasks will backfire if it lacks the right number of personnel and resources, he stressed.

Indonesia’s representative agreed that the international community must continue to lend its support in anticipation of further achievements, including in the areas of decentralization, the functioning of local authorities and creating a northern development zone.  Given the continued dire security situation, he welcomed the African Union’s consideration of a joint multinational task force and commended MINUSMA for implementing its mandate.  As the humanitarian situation worsens alongside the risk of COVID-19 spreading, he called for safe and unhindered access to humanitarian workers and aid.

The representative of the Russian Federation described the situation in Mali as a “mixed picture” characterized by gradual stabilization and progress in implementing the peace agreement, as well as a security situation that is not improving.  Citing recent large-scale terrorist attacks, inter-ethnic tensions and delays in restoring State authority across the country, he also voiced grave concern that the number of food insecure people in Mali continues to grow from one year to the next.  Against that backdrop — and in light of new threats posed by COVID-19 — he said MINUSMA requires comprehensive support.  “It is obvious that, at the current stage, it is premature to consider its reduction,” he said.

The representative of the United States said that, despite recent progress, gross human rights abuses against civilians continue and Mali’s peace agreement is far from being fully implemented.  As the Council nears MINUSMA’s mandate renewal in June, it should reflect on why the situation has continued to deteriorate and what changes could more effectively achieve its objectives, including compelling the Government and signatory armed groups to implement the peace agreement with a view towards MINUSMA’s eventual exit.  The Mission must determine what it can realistically accomplish in the face of a growing, asymmetric and kinetic terrorist threat, she stressed.

Meanwhile, the representative of the Dominican Republic, Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, describing progress in Mali’s political arena as encouraging.  He commended the holding of a high-level workshop on women’s participation in the peace process and broader political system, while noting that the number of female candidates in the recent legislative elections — 426 out of a total of 1,417 — could be higher.  He joined other speakers in expressing concern about ongoing communal violence, urging the Government to do more to restore public order.

Addressing the Council’s concerns, Tiébilé Drame, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali, said his Government has been working to secure the release of the opposition leader, Soumaila Cisse, and members of his delegation since they were taken hostage prior to elections on 25 March.  It also established a special fund for the development of Mali’s northern region, aimed at bolstering security and basic service delivery.  Expressing concern about reported human rights violations, he said investigations into them are under way, and the Government is working to disarm and dismantle all militias in the centre of the country.  Turning to the fight against COVID-19 — which, along with terrorism and intercommunal violence, poses a major threat — he called on the Council to ensure that the first battalions of Malian troops deployed in the north “won’t be confined to their barracks”.  The Council should also make sure that former rebel forces are successfully disarmed in line with the provisions of the peace agreement, he said.

_________

* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.

For information media. Not an official record.