Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Security Council briefing on the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), in New York today:
Thank you for this opportunity to brief the Council and I apologize, but at 10 a.m. I will have to be present in the opening of the General Assembly session.
The multifaceted crises in Mali and the Sahel continue to take a heavy toll on people across the subregion. Terrorist and criminal groups continue to expand their activities and exploit long-standing tensions along community lines.
I express my sincere condolences on recent killings in Central Mali, where, over the past few days, at least 100 civilians were killed in attacks in the Mopti region. And I also extend my condolences to the neighbouring Burkina Faso, where more than 80 people died in the north in separate attacks attributed to terrorist groups.
COVID-19 has added another layer of complexity to an already extremely challenging situation, with attempts by terrorist and other armed groups to capitalize on the pandemic.
Mali has not been spared by the virus, and neither has our peacekeeping mission on the ground. More than 100 United Nations personnel have been affected. While many of them have recovered, two peacekeepers lost their lives and we mourn this loss.
I am encouraged by the swift action taken by the Government to respond to the pandemic, in close cooperation with MINUSMA and other international partners. MINUSMA took also early measures, which have been further strengthened to prevent the spread of the virus, while ensuring continued mandate implementation.
It has been five years since the Peace Agreement was signed by the Malian parties in Algiers. In spite of protracted delays in its implementation, important progress has been registered over the past year.
An inclusive national dialogue was held in Mali and with Malians of the diaspora. This provided an opportunity for Malian men and women to express their concerns and discuss solutions, resulted in a number of resolutions and enabled the parties to refocus on the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
Following the integration of 1,330 former combatants of the armed movements into the national defence and security forces, more than 1,100 personnel were redeployed to Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and Menaka as part of the reconstituted units of the national armed forces. Action will resume soon to integrate 510 remaining combatants and another batch of 1,160 in order to reach the objective of 3,000 newly integrated soldiers by mid-2020.
The arrival of the first reconstituted unit in February marked the first formal presence of the national armed forces in Kidal since rebel forces took control of the main cities in northern Mali in 2012. Once fully operational, the reconstituted units will strengthen national armed forces in northern Mali.
A more robust presence of the national defence and security forces is fundamental to combat terrorism and to restore State authority. It will also pave the way for a more significant deployment of State administration and justice. It is now paramount for all redeployed units to become operational, while creating the conditions to gradually assume their mandated security responsibilities.
To this end, we need urgent measures, including continued efforts by all concerned parties to live up to their commitments, the provision of additional infrastructure, equipment, training and appropriate measures to strengthen cohesion.
An effective community-oriented police force is equally important to stabilize Mali and fight terrorism. Steps were taken to put in place the legislative framework for the creation and deployment of a territorial police force, a key aspect of the decentralization process.
The good offices of MINUSMA have been crucial to help the parties overcome mistrust and numerous problems, and to reach an agreement on the modalities for the redeployment. This is just one of many examples illustrating the pivotal role that MINUSMA continues to play to support the parties and create the space in which the peace process can unfold.
I would like to take the opportunity to commend the outstanding leadership of my Special Representative Mahamat Saleh Annadif.
Steps were also taken to operationalize the Northern Development Zone, with a view to improving daily life for the people and helping address the underlying drivers of instability, including poverty, underdevelopment and lack of opportunities for young people.
Legislative elections were held in March and April, with the support of the Mission. The number of elected women is three times higher than during the previous legislature and represents the highest percentage ever recorded, even if there is still a long way to go.
However, the low voter turnout, as in previous polls, calls for continued efforts from all political actors to enhance the population’s trust in national institutions. Furthermore, I call for the immediate release of opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, who was abducted during the electoral campaign.
The new Parliament, currently in session, is expected to play a key role in enacting institutional reforms envisaged in the Agreement, including through the holding of a Constitutional referendum.
These mostly positive developments are promising. I encourage the signatory parties to strengthen mutual trust and to work together to keep up the momentum in the peace process, which remains the only pathway to a politically stable and more secure Mali. My Special Representative stands ready to redouble the use of good offices to help create conditions for progress.
I remain very concerned about the situation in central Mali, where terrorist activity continues to fuel violence among communities, taking a heavy toll on the local population. I am encouraged by the Government’s efforts and the Prime Minister’s personal engagement, in particular the community dialogue initiatives, which have yielded some results, but where again there is an enormous way to go.
Efforts to combat impunity remain essential to stem the violence in the centre, and more needs to be done by the authorities to demonstrate their commitment in this regard. MINUSMA’s adaptation plan seeks to enable the Mission to deliver on its mandated strategic objectives, particularly its second objective concerning Mali’s central region.
I would also like to highlight the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against peacekeepers; 128 peacekeepers have been killed as a result of malicious acts, and not a single perpetrator has been held accountable.
I am appalled by allegations of summary killings and executions of at least 38 civilians by the Malian armed forces in two villages in Mopti region last weekend, in one case with the support of traditional hunters. I welcome the Government’s announcement to investigate these serious violations and I call on the authorities to do everything possible to hold the perpetrators of these heinous crimes accountable.
The humanitarian situation is equally concerning. The number of people in need of assistance is expected to increase to 5 million people in the next months. I call for swift and determined international action to cover the most urgent humanitarian needs and destabilizing effects of COVID-19.
The conclusions of the 2019 inclusive national dialogue, which have raised much hope among the Malian people, deserve diligent implementation. And the growing calls of civil society to improve governance and fight insecurity, as heard at last weekend’s demonstrations in Bamako, must be answered through this dynamic. I welcome the President's openness to dialogue in this regard.
MINUSMA and the Secretariat took important steps to enhance our presence and activities in central Mali and to better protect civilians.
The Mission’s Adaptation Plan remains a viable proposal for a more agile, mobile and flexible operation, with tailored units and enhanced capabilities, most important among them additional air mobility. I am encouraged by the pledges made during the recent MINUSMA Force Generation Conference by troop contributors in early May to deploy additional specialized capabilities to MINUSMA.
In an increasingly challenging security environment, additional air assets are urgently needed to enable the Mission to continue ensuring the implementation of its mandate. I reiterate my call upon Member States to support the plan when considering contributions and the Mission’s budget, in keeping with their commitments under the Action for Peacekeeping framework.
Fighting terrorism is a joint responsibility. I commend the Malian army, the joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) and the French forces for stepping up their operations and improving their coordination in the Liptako-Gourma region, with the aim of defeating terrorist groups operating in this essential area.
A military-only solution does not exist. Security responses must go hand in hand with the restoration of State authority and sustainable development. Respect for human rights in the conduct of operations is also essential.
Success in the fight against terrorism in Mali and the Sahel region will depend on the ability of the international community to remain united and to adhere to a comprehensive and joint approach.
In this regard, I am encouraged by the continued commitment of our key partners. I commend France, Germany and the European Union for spearheading the Sahel Coalition established at the Pau summit in January. The Coalition provides a broader framework to coordinate security, development and governance initiatives in the region.
Support to the G5 Sahel remains vital and I reiterate my call for a comprehensive support package, funded by assessed contributions, to allow for predictable and sustainable support to the joint force. I also call on the international community to continue to support regional initiatives, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.
Building a politically stable and more secure Mali requires our collective and sustained commitment and MINUSMA’s continued support. We owe this to the people of Mali and the Sahel region, who deserve a better future.