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SC/14549
14 June 2021
8794th Meeting (AM)

Amid Mali’s Worsening Humanitarian Situation, Delegates in Security Council Call Upon Authorities to Protect Civilians, Underline Need for Credible Elections

In the wake of the second military takeover in nine months, strong international support is needed to ameliorate the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Mali, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, amid calls for the transitional Government to facilitate free, fair elections by February 2022 so that Malians can assume responsibility for national stability.

El-Ghassim Wane, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), recounted recent developments there since the military coup d’état on 24 May, which saw the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union condemn the takeover and subsequently suspend the country’s membership in both organizations.  While the transitional President and Prime Minister have committed to holding elections by February 2022 and working to implement the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, the security and humanitarian situation there is worsening.  More Malians are currently displaced than at the height of the crisis in June 2013, and almost half of the schools in central Mali are closed due to the threat of violence.

Against this backdrop, expectations for MINUSMA are high and, while political engagement in Bamako will remain essential, “the Mission’s efforts need to be field focused”.  People living in areas with little or no State presence look to the Mission as the only provider of security and basic services but, while MINUSMA “makes a tangible impact often overlooked”, it cannot meet all of these expectations.  Detailing what the Mission can and will do in central Mali — where citizens are most at risk — he said MINUSMA is committed to fostering an approach centred on people and focused on action, observing:  “Ultimately, we will be judged by the impact we have on the lives of people who suffer most.”

Many of those people, said Fatima Maiga, President of the Coalition des Femmes Leaders Nord, Sud et Centre du Mali, are women and girls — 2.9 million of which require emergency humanitarian assistance.  Further, in areas where armed groups exert partial control — an estimated two thirds of the country — hundreds of thousands of girls and women are deprived of access to schools, health centres, markets and fields and subjected to sexual violence, including gang rape and sexual slavery, with little access to justice.  She urged that the women, peace and security agenda must “move from being just everybody’s business to being a clearly defined responsibility”.

Many Council members then took the floor to condemn the coup, underscore the need to hold free, credible elections by February 2022 and charge MINUSMA and the Malian authorities with providing increased protection for civilians.  Others stressed the need to ensure greater participation for women in the political and peace processes and, while supporting the extension of MINUSMA’s mandate, underscored the primary role the Government must play in building lasting peace in Mali.

The representative of Niger, speaking for the group of countries known informally as the “A3+1” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), highlighted the need for the international community to support the holding of credible, inclusive and transparent elections in February 2022.  This assistance must meet the aspirations the Malians themselves, who must take ownership of the stabilization and reconciliation process in their country.  While he supported extending MINUSMA’s mandate for another year, he said this mandate must be readjusted to realities on the ground, where insecurity persists.

Detailing this insecurity was India’s representative, who recalled an attack on a MINUSMA camp in the commune of Aguelhok on 2 April and highlighted the need to ensure the safety of peacekeepers by upgrading the security infrastructure of United Nations peacekeeping camps.  The primary responsibility to fight terrorists and extremist armed groups lies with the Malian armed forces, he said, urging that peacekeepers not be burdened with duties that should rest with host States or other relevant international organizations.

Echoing this call for State responsibility was the representative of Estonia, Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, who said that authorities must not rely on regional and international support to restore security.  Malian authorities must instead take stronger ownership of restoring State presence in conflict-affected areas and resolve the fragile security situation by implementing the transitional road map with the aim of holding elections by February 2022.

The representative of the United Kingdom said that the transitional authorities must also renew their commitment to the 2015 peace agreement, as progress depends on full ownership by all signatories.  She further called on these authorities to meet conditions set by ECOWAS and prepare for elections without delay, unconditionally release detainees and base the remainder of the transition period on dialogue, consultation and compromise.

Speaking before the Council as a specially affected Member State, the representative of Mali said that the transitional Government — following the recent resignations of the President and Prime Minister amid sociopolitical tensions — is working to return to constitutional order, restore public administration, implement the 2015 peace agreement and undertake political reform.  While responsibility for the transition’s success falls on Malians, greater international support is needed and, to this end, he called for the lifting of sanctions and robust, stable financing for the G5 Sahel joint force.

Also speaking were representatives of France, China, Mexico, United States, Ireland, Norway, Russian Federation and Viet Nam.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 11:53 a.m.

Briefings

EL-GHASSIM WANE, Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s report of the situation there (document S/2021/519), which is marked by continued insecurity in northern and central Mali and the threat of terrorist attacks in other parts of the country.  Detailing events since 24 May — when the military took power — including condemnation of the coup by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union and subsequent suspension of Mali’s membership from both organizations, he stressed that “immediate action is now required to initiate critical reforms and lay the groundwork for a credible electoral process.”  The transitional President and Prime Minister have committed to holding elections by February 2022 — in which neither will run for office — and to working with armed movements to implement the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, but these commitments must be translated into urgent and concrete action.

“This is all the more necessary as the security situation in northern and central Mali remains of utmost concern,” he said, pointing out that more Malians are currently displaced than at the peak of the crisis in June 2013.  In central Mali, almost half of the schools are closed and, in some areas marked by the presence of violent extremist groups, closures are as high as 84 per cent.  Recounting his recent visit to of all of MINUSMA’s main field offices, he said that, while political engagement in Bamako will remain essential, “the Mission’s efforts need to be field focused”.  Expectations for MINUSMA are high among populations living in areas with little to no State presence, where the Mission is seen as the only provider of security and other basic services.  While MINUSMA “makes a tangible impact often overlooked”, it will not be able to meet all of these expectations and, therefore, will have to increase its strategic communication efforts.

Turning to MINUSMA’s action plan for central Mali — where citizens are most at risk — he said the Mission will launch the same on 15 June in Mopti.  The plan — called AN KA BARO KÈ (“let’s talk together”) — focuses on promoting political engagement; enhancing civilian protection; fostering community engagement, social cohesion and reconciliation; and facilitating the return of State administration and services.  Noting MINUSMA’s commitment to fostering a more people-centred and action-oriented approach, he observed:  “Ultimately, we will be judged by the impact we have on the lives of people who suffer most.”  He also stressed the importance of achieving greater representation of women in political and economic decision-making processes and countering the violent extremism in many Malian communities that violates the rights of women and seeks to remove them from the public sphere altogether.

FATIMA MAIGA, President of the Coalition des Femmes Leaders Nord, Sud et Centre du Mali (NSC), pointed out that the fifth post-coup transition in the country in its 60 years of independence — two of which have taken place under MINUSMA’s current mandate — “shows us the long way to go to stabilize Mali”.  Instability will continue, she warned, unless root causes are addressed, including the issues of inclusive, equitable governance of land and productive resources and access to justice.  “The overall situation of women’s rights in Mali remains critical,” she said, noting that 2.9 million women and girls are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance.  In areas where armed groups exert partial control — an estimated two thirds of the country — hundreds of thousands of girls and women are deprived of access to schools, health centres, markets and fields; many also suffer sexual violence, including gang rape and sexual slavery.  Access to justice for victims is low.

The Council and MINUSMA have a key role to play, she stressed, in putting the issue of gender and the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) “back at the heart of the transition’s priorities”.  Eight of the twelve months of MINUSMA’s new mandate will take place during the new phase of the transition, which has prioritized the holding of free, credible elections by February 2022; gender issues, however, were not included among the priorities in the transition’s initial road map.  Urging a break from the prevailing “wait and see” attitude regarding the women, peace and security agenda, she said that this agenda must “move from being just everybody’s business to being a clearly defined responsibility”.  To this end, she called on the Council to broaden MINUSMA’s political and operational mandate, strengthen the institutional gender mechanism and prioritize the women, peace and security agenda in the Mission’s new mandate with precise indicators.

Statements

NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France), firmly condemning the coup d’état, took note of Mali’s suspension from ECOWAS and the African Union.  The Council will continue to closely follow the situation.  The top priority must be the holding of presidential elections in February 2022.  It will watch the outcome of the upcoming 19 June ECOWAS Summit.  MINUSMA remains an essential tool, he stressed, proposing to keep its two strategic priorities — support for implementation of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali and assistance for the stabilization of the country’s central region.  The task of protecting civilians must be kept intact as intercommunal violence persists.  But these questions depend on a clear political strategy and resolution action on the part of Malian authorities.  The mandate should consider these dimensions, the full participation of women and youth, and the effects of climate change.  The Mission’s resources are limited, he pointed out, calling for increasing troop strength and resources to better protect civilians and promote intercommunal reconciliation.  On a mechanism to support the G5 Sahel joint force, he said increased and predictable support is essential and it can take the form of a United Nations support office funded by assessed contributions.  This solution does not require placing the joint force under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations.  France suspended its joint military operations with the Malian armed forces, but consultations are ongoing with Sahelian and international partners on the transformation of its military engagement under a new framework.

ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), also speaking for Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the new Government should spare no effort to pursue implementation of its transitional road map and follow the electoral calendar already published.  International support is necessary now more than ever to support the holding of credible, inclusive and transparent elections in February 2022.  The support that Mali so desperately needs now must meet the aspirations of the Malians themselves, who should take ownership of the stabilization and reconciliation process in their country.  As such, it is important to readjust the international intervention, including the role of MINUSMA.  Warning that the sanctions will further complicate the already worrying security and humanitarian situation there, he called on partner countries to reconsider their positions by reactivating their military cooperation with Mali.

Expressing support for the recommendations and decisions of the last ECOWAS Summit on Mali, he said MINUSMA’s next mandate should consider supporting the Malian transition.  The country will also need economic support from all the partners and the Bretton Woods financial institutions.  The shortcomings of the support mechanism for the joint force and the suspension of military cooperation with Mali require a more robust mandate of MINUSMA, but withdrawal of the additional task of supporting the joint force set out in resolution 2391 (2017), to allow the Mission to better focus on its strategic priorities.  The creation of a United Nations support office dedicated to this regional force is important and relevant.  Expressing support for the extension of MINUSMA’s mandate for an additional year, he said the mandate should be readjusted to the realities on the ground, where insecurity persists.

DAI BING (China) said a stable Mali is in everyone’s interest, including for the Sahel and the entire continent.  Noting that the country faces multiple challenges, he said priorities include the holding of democratic presidential elections, restoring constitutional order and implementation of the peace agreement.  Expressing support for the roles of ECOWAS and the African Union, he said African problems can be solved through African solutions.  While the international community continues to support counter-terrorism measures in the subregion, military interventions cannot solve the problem.  It is essential to restore State authority, recover the economy and address the root causes of conflict.  China supports the extension of the Mission’s mandate and the Secretary-General’s recommendation to maintain the existing troop ceiling.  Beijing also supports the joint force and welcomes efforts towards intensifying international cooperation.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico), expressing hope that the Council will more frequently include women representing civil society in its discussions, condemned the military coup — the second in less than nine months — which weakens the State and benefits extremist groups.  He called on the new Government to immediately resume the transitional process and on regional organizations such as ECOWAS to exercise as much influence as possible on the new authorities to avoid further obstacles to the transitional process.  It is essential that such authorities prioritize free, inclusive and credible elections and, to this end, they must resolve pending issues, including the conclusion of a legal framework for elections, the makeup of the electoral commission and the configuration of security provisions to allow for peaceful campaigns and elections.  Turning to MINUSMA, he called on the Mission to guarantee the protection of civilians and their human rights and on Malian authorities to combat disinformation campaigns inciting violence against the Mission in the region.

JEFFREY DELAURENTIS (United States), noting that today’s meeting follows yet another attack on United Nations peacekeepers, called on Malian authorities to transition to democratic governance on schedule.  Stating that the detention and subsequent house arrest of Mali’s former President and Prime Minister is a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and rule of law, he said that the United States will consider a range of foreign-policy options in response to any actions that impede the transition to a duly elected Government.  The elections to be held in February 2022 must be free and fair, and the transitional Government must ensure that women are both on the ballot and registered to vote.  That Government, he added, must reestablish State authority — civil, judicial and security — throughout the country and combat impunity, especially for human-rights violations.  He also said that MINUSMA’s renewed mandate must be responsive to the fragile transition process, support upcoming elections and prioritize the protection of civilians; ultimately, however, the transitional Government must take ownership as the Mission is “only one piece of sustainable peace in Mali, and cannot replace the Malian Government”.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) condemned the continued detention of Bah N’Daw and Moctar Ouane and echoed calls urging their immediate release from house arrest.  In welcoming the ongoing leadership shown by the African Union and ECOWAS in efforts to resolve the crisis, she declared:  “The Transition Charter guarantees an inclusive and democratically elected civilian Government for the citizens of Mali.  These guarantees must be upheld.”  She highlighted that inclusion must focus on the promotion of gender equity, in large part so that women can participate fully in electoral processes.  Delays to the electoral process will deepen the political crisis, she warned the Council, calling for the establishment of an electoral management entity as soon as possible.  To better implement the peace agreement, MINUSMA must work at all levels of society to increase support and understanding of the process and assist authorities in prosecuting criminals.  Ongoing human rights violations across Mali must end, she stressed, making the case for progress towards ending impunity, including for crimes against children.

ODD INGE KVALHEIM (Norway) warned the Council that the latest coup in Mali jeopardizes the hard-fought gains achieved through the implementation of the transitional process.  “We expect the recently appointed transitional Government to respect the timeline for inclusive, transparent and credible presidential elections by March 2022,” he declared, going on to identify three key issues that must be addressed to successfully implement the peace process.  First, he stressed the need to strengthen protections for civilians, especially children, including by ensuring safe and unhindered humanitarian access to protect and assist vulnerable populations.  Second, he said that protecting human rights and ensuring accountability are prerequisites for the trust-building needed to move Mali forward.  To that end, he called for a conference on impunity and fair criminal justice to help combat impunity.  Finally, he underscored the links between climate change and security, particularly the pressures placed on Mali by increasingly scarce resources.  “Security depends on inclusive and sustainable development, good governance and respect for the human rights of all Malians,” he concluded.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) stressed that resolving the existing challenges in Mali largely depends on internal political stability, taking note of the assurances given by the new authorities about the country’s transition, including the holding of presidential elections.  It also depends on continuing dialogues among interested parties and strict application of the peace agreement.  Expressing concern about the complex security situation in the country, including the areas bordering Niger and Burkina Faso, she called for greater efforts to counter terrorism.  On the humanitarian situation, she warned that the deteriorating trend is a threat to regional security.  The African Union Commission’s proposal to deploy an African standby force should deserve consideration.  The Russian Federation is ready to consider the modalities of increasing assistance to the joint force.  MINUSMA is a key factor to future stabilization of Mali, she said, noting that now is not the time to reduce military and economic assistance.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), expressing concern over the recent coup, called on the new transitional authorities to meet the conditions set by ECOWAS; namely, preparing for elections without delay, unconditionally releasing detainees and basing the remainder of the transition period on dialogue, consultation and compromise.  She also called on the new transitional authorities to build on the former Government’s political-inclusivity measures and to uphold that Government’s wider commitments, including tackling impunity for human-rights violations and abuses.  Further urging the transitional authorities to renew their commitment to the 2015 peace agreement, she said that progress depends on full ownership by all signatories, while noting the “real impact and value” of increasing women’s participation in the peace process.  Such authorities, she added, must also conduct a full, transparent investigation into the assassination of the President of the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad.

NAGARAJ NAIDU KAKANUR (India) welcomed timely action by ECOWAS and the African Union, which have helped to partly redeem the deteriorating political situation in Mali.  Underscoring the importance of implementing key provisions of the 2015 peace agreement for lasting peace in the country, he called on relevant parties to immediately agree on:  the deployment and operationalization of reconstituted army units; the launch of the next phase of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration; the creation of territorial police; and the reorganization of territories.  Recalling the 2 April attack on the MINUSMA camp in Aguelhok, he urged the Mission to ensure the safety of peacekeepers and highlighted the need to upgrade the security infrastructure of United Nations peacekeeping camps.  The primary responsibility to fight terrorists and extremist armed groups lies with the Malian armed forces, he stressed, calling for an end to the practice of burdening peacekeepers with responsibilities that should primarily lie with the host State or with other relevant international organizations.

DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation — particularly in central and northern Mali — where terrorist attacks, violent extremism and intercommunal conflicts threaten Malian lives and livelihoods.  The humanitarian situation is also dire — at least 5.9 million people need assistance and more than 1.3 million are estimated to face food insecurity in 2021, an increase of 36 per cent from November 2020.  He therefore called for a safe, smooth passageway for humanitarian aid in Mali and on the transitional Government and other stakeholders to protect civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.  Turning to MINUSMA, he noted the deaths of peacekeepers in recent months and stressed that the Mission must have the equipment and resources necessary to fulfill its mandate.  He also supported the Secretary-General’s recommendation that the Mission’s mandate be extended for one year, with currently authorized troop and police ceilings.

GERT AUVÄÄRT (Estonia), Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, urged Malian authorities to focus on resolving the fragile security situation by continuing to implement the transition road map with the aim of holding elections by February 2022.  Progress in the implementation of the peace agreement has been slow, he noted, adding that intensified efforts are needed to redeploy and effectively use reconstituted units of the army, and secure State presence and services in northern Mali.  Authorities must not come to rely on regional and international support to restore security and must instead take stronger ownership of restoring State presence in conflict affected areas.  “It is of utmost importance to prepare for the elections in an inclusive manner through a clear and transparent process,” he said, stressing that a successful democratic transition requires the strong participation of women in the political process, including in the implementation and monitoring of the peace agreement.

ISSA KONFOUROU (Mali) said that some of the requests made by Ms. Maiga are being implemented by the new Government.  Following the recent resignations of the President and Prime Minister amid sociopolitical tensions, Assimi Goïta was sworn in as transitional Head of State on 7 June, and he has begun coordination with relevant stakeholders to honestly evaluate the country’s situation towards the return to constitutional order.  Mr. Goïta nominated a civilian Prime Minster towards restoring public administration, implementing the peace agreement and undertaking political reform.  Respect for human rights is a priority of the Government, which is committed to prosecuting violators.  While success of transition is a primary responsibility of Malians themselves, it still requires greater international support.  In this regard, he asked for lifting sanctions on the already fragile country, which faces the risk of losing gains over the past few years.  Condemning the 4 June attacks in Niger, he called for robust and stable financing of the joint force by creating a dedicated United Nations support office.  He also voiced support for the extension of MINUSMA’s mandate for a year.

For information media. Not an official record.