Security Council calls for review of UN peacekeeping mandate in Mali

Mission was deployed in 2013 to help stabilise and assist West African country's return to constitutional order

A Minusma soldier stands guard near a UN vehicle that drove over an explosive device in northern Mali in June last year. AFP
Powered by automated translation

UN Security Council members called on Wednesday for the review of the peacekeeping operation in Mali (Minusma), as tension grows between the world body and the West African country’s military rulers over the use of soldiers from Russia's Wagner Group.

Barbara Woodward, the UK's ambassador to the UN, warned the council that it cannot be “business as usual” when it comes to Minusma.

“We should be ready to adapt and refocus the mission, reviewing any support that carries risks to the UN’s credibility and reputation,” said Ms Woodward.

The warning came as the UN Security Council is considering three options proposed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the peacekeeping mission’s future: increase its size, reduce its footprint, or withdraw troops and police and turn it into a political mission.

Mali has been battling a security and political crisis since Islamist extremist and separatist insurgencies began carrying out attacks in the north in 2012.

The UN stabilisation mission, Minusma — comprising about 15,000 soldiers — was deployed in the Sahel country the following year to help assist in the country’s return to constitutional order.

Mali’s military overthrew the government in August 2020 after popular protests against its failure to stop the insurgents.

Minusma is one of the most dangerous peace operations for “blue helmets”, according to the UN. Since its establishment, 168 peacekeepers have lost their lives in hostile acts.

Echoing sentiments expressed by Secretary General Antonio Guterres in his review of Minusma, US diplomat Jeffery DeLaurentis said the mission’s success “hinges” on the full co-operation of Malian authorities.

“It would be irresponsible of the Security Council to continue to deploy peacekeepers in conditions where they cannot succeed,” he said.

A Minusma policeman on patrol in front on the Great Mosque in Timbuktu. AFP

Alex Vines, Africa expert at the UK's Chatham House, told The National that mission, which will mark its 10th anniversary this month, should be “drawn down” after June.

“It has increasingly failed to deliver on its mandate and the Malian junta increasingly uses it as a scapegoat to blame for its own failures,” said Mr Vines.

Nicolas de Riviere, France's UN ambassador, underscored the peacekeeping force's role and noted that “necessary decisions” should be made so that Minusma can fulfil its mission.

“As with all peacekeeping operations, Minusma has a human rights mandate and must be able to carry out its tasks without hindrance,” he said.

“In this regard, it is not normal that we are still not informed about the Moura massacre, committed more than a year ago with, as we know, the involvement of the Wagner Group. Those responsible must be prosecuted.”

The Wagner Group — a network providing fighters for hire that was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — has been operating in Mali, despite evidence gathered by the UN pointing to its involvement in widespread human rights abuses.

A screen with a Wagner Group advertisement is displayed in Moscow, Russia.  A slogan on the screen reads: 'Join the team of victors!' Reuters

Human Rights Watch said Malian soldiers and foreign fighters executed 300 civilians in March last year in Moura.

Malian forces were operating in tandem with foreign soldiers, Human Rights Watch said. The fighters were believed to be Russian because witness accounts refer to them as non-French-speaking.

In January, UN human rights experts called for an investigation into the Wagner Group's activities in Mali.

France, the UK and Germany ended their three-year Minusma deployments in Mali because of tension with transitional authorities and the country's decision to join forces with Russian mercenaries.

Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said in a statement on Wednesday that his country remains “committed to the region”.

Updated: April 13, 2023, 1:09 AM