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As Mali faces major security, human rights obstacles, stronger response needed to end terrorism, violent extremism in Sahel, Peacekeeping Chief tells Security Council

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SC/14487

Permanent Representative Highlights Transitional Government Measures to Expedite Implementation of Peace Agreement, Hold Free, Transparent Elections

As Mali continues to face major political, security, human rights and humanitarian obstacles, it is of “utmost importance” that the international community ensure that national stakeholders live up to their commitments, the United Nations peacekeeping chief told the Security Council today, as he updated on efforts to advance the political transition and implement the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, called in particular for a strengthened response on the issue of terrorism and violent extremism in the Sahel region. Swift implementation of recommendations from the 2020 Pau and 2021 N’Djamena summits will be required, he said.

His appeals follow a 2 April terrorist attack against a United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) camp in Aguelhok, northern Kidal, which injured 26 peacekeepers from Chad and killed four others. Their heroic defense inflicted a very serious setback for the attackers, Mr. Lacroix said, illustrating the determination to support the people of Mali.

Expressing concern about militias operating along ethnic lines in Mali’s centre, he called for a comprehensive approach to improve security conditions, alongside efforts to protect civilians and restore both State authority and basic social services. The approach should also ensure that militias and armed groups lay down their arms and join the dialogue process.

On the political front, he said that seven months into a political transition scheduled to last 18 months, the main institutions responsible for this process have started to function. In February, the Government issued its agenda for the period ahead, which the transitional parliament swiftly voted to approve during its first session.

“It is crucial that the pace of these reforms be urgently accelerated while ensuring that the largest number of actors join the process,” he stressed. The success of the transition will depend on the commitment of the Malian stakeholders to ensure that the process — and the reforms underpinning it — remains inclusive, transparent and credible.

Among the priorities is the completion of political and institutional reforms, he said, including territorial redistricting, electoral reforms and reform of the Constitution. He welcomed the 31 March presidential decree establishing the Comité d’orientation stratégique. Comprised of 50 members from all major stakeholders — political parties, civil society groups and traditional leaders among them — it is tasked with defining the scope of improvements to be enacted. He encouraged Malians to seize this opportunity to find common ground.

As for election preparations, he said discussions have yet to yield agreement on the important issue of poll management. As a result, an official electoral calendar has not been issued. As the elections represent a “litmus test” for the transition, he said boosting their credibility will be essential to preventing this landmark democratic process from triggering further political instability.

While efforts to carry out the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali have been slow, a new sense of trust among the Malian parties has emerged, he said, alongside measures taken to improve Mali’s ownership of the Agreement. He pointed to a 31 March meeting of the Agreement Monitoring Committee in the southern region of Kayes less than one month after a meeting was held in Kidal, in the north, marking the second such meeting to take place outside Bamako since the signing of the Agreement in 2015. Both gatherings are of major symbolic significance for improving the Agreement’s ownership among Malian stakeholders.

With that, he urged Malian parties to accelerate the redeployment of the reconstituted army units in the north, the operationalization of the Northern Region Development Zone and the establishment of the territorial police. Six months after representatives of the signatory movements joined the Government — a first since the signing of the 2015 Peace Agreement — now is the time to translate commitments made into progress on the ground.

On that point, the representative of Mali expressed the determination of transition authorities to expedite implementation of the peace agreement. The strategic orientation committee, created by the 31 March presidential decree, will bring together 50 people from the political class, civil society, private sector, trade unions, academia, as well as leaders from traditional and religious communities. Other priorities will focus on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants in the northern and central regions, the dissolution of militias and redeployment of security forces throughout the territory.

As well, the Government has initiated reforms for the holding of free and transparent elections, he said, noting that the Prime Minister is in dialogue with forces throughout the country trying to reach consensus on a timeline.

He described the meeting of the Agreement Monitoring Committee in Kidal as a major development and a sign of trust. The Committee’s second session, on 29 March, demonstrated a greater national ownership of the peace accord. These two meetings aimed to expedite decisions on defence and security, deploy the third joint operational company in Kidal and start new disarmament, demobilization and reintegration phases.

As for women’s participation, he said the Government is committed to increase the number of women in the Agreement Monitoring Committee from 9 to 12 and ensure their participation in its subcommittees. Bamako is also implementing the adaptation plan and promoting dialogue among communities, which among other things led to the lifting of a blockade in Farabougou, in the Ségou region.

On the human rights front, he assured the Council of the Government’s determination to investigate all documented cases and take disciplinary actions against perpetrators. Hearings of the Court of Assisi and the military tribunal in Mopti have resulted in convictions of those involved in intercommunal violence and of Malian soldiers in connection with abuses committed during anti-terrorism operations. “We will only win the war if we protect our own people,” he said, asking the Council for a robust and adapted mandate for MINUSMA, strengthened by predictable and long-term funding.

Throughout the meeting, delegates commended Mali’s transitional Government for working to maintain political momentum, pressing authorities to set a timeline for the holding of free and fair elections and calling on all parties to accelerate implementation of the 2015 Peace Agreement.

The representative of France said that it is crucial for all stakeholders to seize the opportunity created by the pre-election period. Implementation of the 2015 Peace Agreement is crucial, but commitments must be turned into action. She underscored the need to expedite the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, decentralization and development in the north, and increase participation of women in the peace process. Political reforms must be completed before the elections are held. Welcoming the road map agreed at the Ndjamena summit on 15‑16 February, she called for increased support for the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force and urged the United Nations and the European Union to step up its use of contractors – a provision that the Council proposed 10 months ago but which has yet to be implemented. Security efforts must be accompanied by a robust political commitment from the Malian authorities to increase public services, particularly in the north. She went on to welcome the Malian authorities’ efforts to halt violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and urged them to go further to bring an end to impunity.

The representative of the United States said that each time the Council meets to discuss the situation in Mali, national or international security forces are reeling from a deadly attack. The safety and security of peacekeepers is a priority for the United States, which shall continue to extend training and equipment assistance through its Global Peace Operations Initiative. She emphasized that the Malian authorities and regional security actors must put a stop to human rights abuses, including gender-based violence. Such abuses, including those involving the Malian security forces, must be thoroughly investigated, as unjustifiable killings and abuses will only exacerbate the situation. She added that free and fair elections, administered transparently by the competent authorities, must take place on time. Reopening the peace accord will only impede its implementation. She went on to stress the need for women to participate in decision-making at every discussion table and at every level.

The representative of Niger, speaking also for Kenya, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — informally known as the “A3+1” — recalled that Mali is one year away from its transition, and thus, at a crossroads for its long-awaited stabilization, combating impunity in the centre of the country. “All Malian stakeholders must listen to one another,” he said, and agree on constitutional, electoral and other reforms. The participation of women and young people should be encouraged in those efforts and he welcomed the launch of consultations on what citizens expect for the new constitution. MINUSMA must continue to provide political, logistical and financial support, he said, urging the Government to address intercommunal violence and reprimand those disrupting implementation of the peace accord.

Stressing that “peace feeds off development,” he encouraged Mali’s partners to restart assistance and pressed the Peacebuilding Commission to play a more important role in stabilization efforts, notably by encouraging the return of national armed forces and administration throughout the country. The use of reconstituted army units in north and the establishment of territorial police is crucial to success, he said, expressing serious concern about the presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, a topic his delegation looks forward to discussing later this month. MINUSMA, meanwhile, needs the capacity to fulfill its mandate, in line with resolution 2531 (2020). It therefore must be stronger and more robust, given the incidence of terrorist attacks. He called for operationalizing the new battalion and readjusting MINUSMA’s mandate so it supports the political transition and the withdrawal of support tasks from the Joint Force, which would allow that team to better focus on its strategic priorities. For its part, the Council must request that the Secretary-General provide information by the end of May on the modalities for setting up a support office for the Joint Force — an entity that would be more appropriate than a tripartite technical arrangement. In June, his delegation will present a draft resolution establishing such a support office, he added.

The representative of Estonia spotlighted progress in Mali’s political transition while encouraging the authorities to fully honour their commitments to the Malian people. Describing the reform agenda for the transition period as ambitious, he called on the authorities to identify and implement its most acute priorities. “It is of utmost importance to take concrete, transparent and credible steps already now to make the elections in March 2022 a reality,” he stressed, calling for a detailed and operational electoral calendar and underlining the need for women’s full participation. Welcoming the positive role and engagement of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in supporting Mali’s political transition, he nevertheless described the country’s security situation as extremely concerning. Heinous attacks such as last week’s targeting of a MINUSMA camp in Kidal must be condemned in the strongest terms, he said, pledging to continue contributing to the fight against terrorism in Mali by participating in international operations and training missions. Noting that a military approach to those challenges will not suffice, he went on to express concern about Mali’s continued negative humanitarian and human rights trends and urged the Malian authorities to follow through with all relevant investigations and legal proceedings.

The representative of India, expressing serious concern about the upsurge in violence by terrorist groups in Mali, said that the Joint Force needs more robust support from the Council and the international community. “There is an urgent need for a comprehensive approach to address the security challenges arising out of these increasing asymmetric attacks,” he said, adding that the transitional authorities in Mali must take urgent measures to redeploy and expand State administrative, police and social services in the centre and north of the country. Taking note of steps towards elections and a constitutional referendum, he said that the transitional Government must continue engaging the political parties on the transition process to ensure that the process is inclusive. At the same time, the Special Representative should keep working closely with ECOWAS and the African Union in extending all possible assistance to the transitional Government.

The representative of the United Kingdom stressed the need for an inclusive political process based on consultation and dialogue, to foster a sense of ownership among all parties to the 2015 Peace Agreement. He hoped to see accelerated progress and concrete achievements in line with the Transitional Roadmap agreed in December. Expressing concern about impunity for human rights abuses and violations, he urged the Malian authorities to ensure transparency and accountability for such acts, as justice is necessary to achieve sustainable peace and help build trust between the State and its people. He added that attacks on peacekeepers should not go unpunished and that their perpetrators should be aware that their actions my constitute war crimes.

The representative of Mexico welcomed the action plan presented by Mali’s Prime Minister in February, which, along with the road map for implementing the 2015 Peace Agreement, can establish the basis for progress towards a democratic transition. The Council must provide the support needed for the Government to implement the commitments it has made. Malian authorities, in turn, should open the spaces needed for political forces to help implement the peace plan. He agreed on the exit strategy for MINUSMA, stressing that the success of transition depends on the holding of free, fair and peaceful elections in a timely manner. It is essential for Malian authorities and the National Transition Council to give priority to adopting the necessary legal framework, with legislative measures taken to ensure women’s full and equal participation. He reiterated the call to punish attacks on civilians, “no matter who the perpetrators may be”, and to guarantee unrestricted access to assistance. He also called for implementing the national action plan to eliminate small arms and light weapons in greater cooperation with neighbouring countries, stressing that support from regional and subregional organizations is crucial for bringing such efforts into step with the regional dynamic.

The representative of China said the international community should continue to provide support to Mali, underscoring the importance of maintaining momentum on the political transition and promoting development in a manner that will bring benefits to all Malians. He called for consolidating results, coupled with progress on the deployment of armed forces, the northern development zone and implementation of the 2015 Peace Agreement. Further, policies to improve the security situation must be implemented, as terrorist activities are rampant in the north. Efforts to fight terrorism meanwhile must be accompanied by those to address the root causes of such violence, he said, expressing support for Government measures in that regard. Stressing that foreign counter-terrorism operations must respect Mali’s sovereignty and abide by international law, he also called for mounting an effective response to COVID-19, notably by ensuring timely and full access to a vaccine. The safety of peacekeepers must also be maintained, with recent attacks investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.

The representative of Norway said that MINUSMA is still needed and that it is wise to keep the Transitional Roadmap focused on the transition for now. Decisions on an exit are best left for later. “Military force alone can never solve problems in the long term,” she said, adding that lasting security depends on inclusive and sustainable development, good governance, and on respect for the rights of all Malians, who deserve to see the Algiers Agreement become a reality. She emphasized that the fight against impunity must be stepped up and called for a follow-up to the recommendations of the International Commission of Inquiry for Mali. She went on to say that MINUSMA, alongside various actors on the ground, has a role to play to promote mediation and dialogue at the local level. In that regard, Norway stands ready to expand its engagement in peace and reconciliation efforts.

The representative of the Russian Federation, recalling that extremists continue to terrorize local populations, Malian military units, peacekeepers and international forces alike, also expressed concern over the situation in the tri-border area and pressed Mali’s authorities to act “even more decisively” to eliminate such a scourge from their lands. Nonetheless, the National Transition Council has started working, and both the action plan and road map for elections have been approved. She expressed hope that all would be implemented within 18 months of the transition period.

Welcoming the outcome from the Agreement Monitoring Committee meetings in February and March, she expected that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts will be accelerated and that units will be deployed in the north. She likewise expressed concern over the humanitarian situation, citing a 50 per cent increase in the number of internally displaced persons as evidence that stability in Mali is key for peace in the region. She called for the continuation of Malian forces in G5 Sahel Joint Force operations, expressing hope that decisions taken by West African countries in 2020 and 2021 on fighting terrorism will be implemented. The idea to deploy African Standby Forces in the region must also be carefully examined, she said, calling for coordination between Bamako and MINSUMA in that regard and reiterating that the main responsibility to protect civilians rests with Malians themselves.

The representative of Ireland, acknowledging that transitional authorities demonstrated great ambition in adopting the action plan in February, said the main priority now is to return to constitutional order and ensure that a democratic Government is in charge. Malian authorities must ensure that the political and institutional reform process is transparent and inclusive, with the transitional Government setting a timetable for elections and establishing an independent electoral authority that includes women. There is also a need to encourage women to vote and support them as candidates, she added, echoing the call to address education as a pre-requisite for lasting peace. Other priorities include the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, deployment of reconstituted army units and implementation of projects in the northern development zone. Impunity for human rights violations must end and perpetrators must be brought to justice without delay. Underscoring MINUSMA’s essential role in fostering respect for human rights, she said such work is critical to broader efforts to promote accountability. She called for continued focus on the protection of civilians in the Mission’s mandate, as attacks against humanitarian personnel and peacekeepers continue to be a grave concern. MINUSMA also must have the resources needed to fulfil its mandate, she emphasized.

The representative of Viet Nam, Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, describing political progress in Mali as modest and calling for more efforts to implement the 2015 Peace Agreement. Underlining the need for the transitional Government and concerned parties to build trust, resolve differences and work together in the spirit of reconciliation, he added that the international community should continue to provide support. “For the past six months, the region and Mali itself have not witnessed any significant security improvement,” he said, spotlighting the grave risks posed by terrorism, extremism, violence and intercommunal conflicts. Condemning recent attacks against civilians, security forces and peacekeepers, he called on the authorities to spare no effort in identifying the perpetrators and calling for a cessation of hostilities to help Mali overcome its current challenges. He also commended MINUSMA's unwavering efforts to promote peace and reconciliation and called on the Council to ensure that the Mission has adequate equipment and resources to carry out its mandate while defending itself.

For information media. Not an official record.