The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has voted to terminate the decade-long peacekeeping mission in Mali after the ruling military junta, which aligns itself with Russia, asked for the removal of the peacekeepers. The decision is seen as a severe blow to the prospect of human rights and security situation in the conflict-ridden West African nation.
The French-drafted resolution was adopted by a 15-0 vote, terminating the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in Mali, although it will take six months for the final â€œblue helmetsâ€ to depart.
The withdrawal of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which comprises around 15,000 armed and civilian personnel, will commence in July and conclude by December 31. Following the withdrawal, the responsibility for protecting civilians will be assumed by the Malian transitional military government. This announcement was expected following Mali’s decision on June 16 to revoke its consent to host the mission.
UN peacekeepers have been lauded for their crucial role in safeguarding civilians against an armed insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. The peacekeeping operation was the costliest mission under the UN’s purview, amounting to $1.2 billion annually.
MINUSMA’s mandate encompassed the documentation and investigation of grave human rights violations, along with the protection of civilians from attacks. With its withdrawal, it remains uncertain who will undertake credible and independent investigations into human rights abuses in a country plagued by misconduct from both Islamist armed groups and government forces, as well as foreign fighters and militias engaged in the conflict.
Commending the peacekeeping operation and its staff, UN Secretary-General AntÃ³nio Guterres called for the â€œfull cooperation of the transitional Government for an orderly and safe withdrawal of the missionâ€™s personnel and assets in the coming monthsâ€, said Farhan Haq, his deputy spokesperson.
The UN chief also urged all the signatory parties to the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali â€œto continue honoring the ceasefire as MINUSMA withdrawsâ€, Haq added.
However, concerns have been raised by experts that the security situation may deteriorate once the mission departs, leaving Mali’s ill-equipped military to confront approximately 1,000 Wagner fighters who control vast areas in the northern and central desert regions.
Media reports have also vividly portrayed a distressing security situation. In the last ten years, Mali and the Sahel region have witnessed a significant escalation in confrontations and assaults orchestrated by armed groups and terrorist factions. According to MINUSMA, this has resulted in the loss of 303 peacekeepers.
Furthermore, the conditions have deteriorated due to climate-related disruptions and escalating tensions between communities over scarce resources. These factors have emerged as the primary catalysts for the ongoing violence, large-scale displacement of people, instability, and illicit cross-border activities.
Alioune Tine, the UN independent expert on Mali, cautioned that precautions must be taken to ensure that MINUSMA’s departure does not create gaps in terms of civilian protection, human rights monitoring, and reporting.
Several Council members, including the United Kingdomâ€™s Ambassador Barbara Woodward, cautioned that the withdrawal is occurring at a time of fragility in the Sahel region. Ambassador for the United States Jeffrey DeLaurentis said all efforts should be made to address such issues as the presence of armed actors, including the Wagner Group.
â€œAlthough we regret the decision of the transitional Government to abandon MINUSMA and the fact that this will harm the Malian population, we voted in favor of the resolution since we are satisfied with the withdrawal plan adopted,â€ he said.
The Malian military junta has vehemently opposed external scrutiny of its counterinsurgency operations, dismissing allegations of misconduct as part of a “disinformation campaign” aimed at undermining its legitimacy. These alleged violations include summary executions, sexual violence, and looting by security forces and affiliated fighters.
In early 2022, Malian authorities impeded a MINUSMA investigation into the alleged massacre of over 500 individuals by state security forces and associated foreign fighters in the town of Moura by imposing no-fly zones. The junta has also reacted strongly to UN criticism of its human rights record, expelling two senior MINUSMA officialsâ€”spokesperson Olivier Salgado and human rights chief Guillaume Ngefa.