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  • Jeffrey D. Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefs the Security Council on the situation in Mali. On his right is Eugène-Richard Gasana, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Rwanda to the UN and President of the Security Council for the month of April.
Security Council discusses situation in Mali. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Security Council briefing on the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Mali, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

Mr. President,
Members of the Security Council,
I thank the Security Council for this opportunity to introduce the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Mali, as well as to update you on some of the important political and security developments in the country. Ensuring that the United Nations does its utmost to help Mali resolve the complex crisis it faces today is one of the highest priorities for the Secretary-General. That commitment is reflected it the important work already underway on the ground in Mali -- whether political, humanitarian, or in support of the security process -- as well as in the options presented in the present report.
Mr. President,
The most significant development in the political process remains the adoption of a Roadmap for the Transition in January, which highlights two priority tasks for the transitional Government: the restoration of territorial integrity and the organization of free and fair elections. The Roadmap also provides for reform of the armed forces and dialogue with groups who renounce terrorism and adhere to the unitary nature of Mali and its constitution.
Furthermore, the Transitional Government has established the National Commission for Dialogue and Reconciliation. On 30 March, interim President Dioncounda Traoré appointed Mohamed Salia Sokana, a former Minister of Defence, as president of the Commission and Ms. Traoré Umou Touré and Mr. Meti Ag Mohamed Rhissa as its two vice-presidents. The appointment of a women and a Tuareg as vice-presidents of this Commission is consistent with the transitional authorities’ repeated assurances that inclusiveness and plurality will be foundation blocks of the political process moving forward. The United Nations will provide all the assistance we possibly can to the Commission and will continue to support the mediation efforts by ECOWAS. In this regard, the United Nations Office in Mali (UNOM) is providing good offices aimed at facilitating contacts between the Government and those groups that wish to take part in the search for a political solution to the crisis, while UNOWA continues to coordinate closely with and support regional efforts spearheaded by ECOWAS. In my own conversation with Malian Foreign Minister Coulibaly two days ago, I underscored the Secretary-General’s commitment to provide appropriate support to the political process and to the National Commission in particular, which the Foreign Minister welcomed.
Strengthening the capacity and legitimacy of the State and the political system at all levels remains a key priority for the UN and for political leaders in Mali. The coup d’état of 22 March 2012 and the crisis in northern Mali are, in large measure, manifestations of a crisis of governance that encompasses endemic corruption, weak State capacity to provide basic services and the low level of legitimacy of State institutions and the political system. We hope that a broad and inclusive Malian-led political process can begin to address these long-term challenges that must be overcome for Mali to achieve long-term political stability and economic prosperity.
Mr. President,
While humanitarian access has improved in some parts of the country, the situation remains highly volatile, particularly in Timbuktu and Gao. Currently, more than 470,000 people are estimated to have fled and sought refuge either in Malian host communities or in neighbouring countries. More than 290,000 people are internally displaced and about 177,000 are refugees in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. 750,000 people are in need of immediate food assistance and 660,000 children are at risk of malnutrition in 2013, including 210,000 at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Access to basic social services is limited in particular in the north – in the regions of Timbuktu and Gao for example, only 50,000 out of 200,000 pupils have access to education.
The UN is monitoring the human rights situation, in particular reports of serious violations in northern Mali, including summary executions and illegal arrests, destruction and looting of property. Although arbitrary acts of violence against Tuaregs and Arabs have recently decreased, there is still a risk of reprisal against members of these communities, who are alleged to be associated with the armed groups. Worryingly, it appears from reports that new patterns of human rights violations have emerged, including retaliatory attacks based on ethnicity. The Human Rights Council appointed a Special Rapporteur on Mali earlier this month, and UNOM’s Human rights team is rapidly expanding, with a view to deploying mobile teams to Mopti, Gao and Timbuktu as soon as security conditions permit. In meetings and conversations with UN officials, authorities in Bamako have repeatedly stated their commitment to international human rights standards and practices.
As outlined in the report, there have been significant security improvements in Mali as a result of the French and African military operations alongside the Malian army in northern areas. I want to repeat here the appreciation of the Secretary-General for the rapid and decisive action taken by the French, African, and Malian forces. Already by the end of January, State control had been restored in most major northern towns thanks to the efforts of Malians and other African forces with critical support from French troops. Re-deployment of civilian authorities has started in Timbuktu and Gao.
Despite the real and significant gains on the ground stemming from the efforts of French, African, and Malian forces, the security situation remains challenging. Combat continues with armed groups in the Adrar des Ifoghas Mountains and in the periphery of some urban centers (Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal). More fighting occurred in Timbuktu this weekend. Humanitarian partners are reporting an increase in criminality around Timbuktu. Armed groups are proving mobile in the combat areas, and there have been reported cases of infiltration in urban zones, including Bamako. The continued planting of mines is hampering humanitarian activities, while endangering civilians.
In the interplay between political and security priorities, it is of critical importance to ensure the security imperative does not detract from the primacy of politics in Mali, in both the short and long term. In addition to national dialogue, multiple dialogues need to take place between and within communities and between various actors, including the Malian armed forces. Dialogue and reconciliation efforts must also be linked to justice measures to ensure that there is no impunity for the human rights violations that have been perpetrated
The Head of UNOM, Mr. David Gressly, accompanied by a small team, visited Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and Tessalit from 29 to 31 March. He met with a wide spectrum of people, the majority of whom expressed a strong desire for constructive dialogue and reconciliation, as well as the demand for accountability for the crimes and abuses committed during the current crisis.
Mr. Gressly learned about the return of the Governors of Timbuktu and Gao, whom he met. This is an important first step in the restoration of State authority to those regions. According to Malian authorities, this will be followed by the re-establishment of justice and security services, as well as other organs of civil administration at the regional and local levels. We are encouraging the Malian authorities to implement a more rapid deployment of civilian authorities, including of the gendarmerie and civilian police.
As Council Members are aware, President Traoré has indicated the transitional Government’s intention to hold elections by 31 July 2013. We are encouraged by President Traoré’s commitment to move rapidly toward elections, a fundamental benchmark in restoring the constitutional order in Mali. In our view, the declarations by leaders of the transitional government not to stand in these elections further demonstrate the authorities’ commitment to free and fair elections. Mindful of how much work is required to meet the July deadline set by President Traoré, the UN has offered its support for the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible polls in keeping with international standards. We encourage all of those committed to an inclusive and fair electoral process to help address some of the conditions required for successful voting. Areas of concern include, on the security side, the still-volatile security conditions in northern Mali and, on the political side, the absence so far of reconciliation, which limits space for constructive political debate. We hope that ongoing security operations as well as the appointment of the National Commission will help overcome these difficulties and help create the essential conditions for credible elections. We agree fully with the Malian authorities that a legitimate government reflecting the will of Mali’s diverse population needs to be in place by the end of 2013, and we encourage continued consultations among Malian actors to achieve that goal. The Secretary-General is firmly committed to the UN doing its part to support that objective.
Mr. President,
The United Nations has strengthened its support for the planning and preparations for the deployment and operations of AFISMA. United Nations military planners have provided planning support to AFISMA, helped in establishing coordination mechanisms, assisted AFISMA and the Malian armed forces in identifying priority needs and supported the development of key documents for AFISMA, including operational directives, guidelines for the protection of civilians, rules of engagement and a code of conduct. Planning support is also being provided to AFISMA’s police component. The United Nations works in close cooperation with the African Union and ECOWAS and other partners in supporting AFISMA, including through coordination mechanisms in both Bamako and Addis Ababa. Support has also been provided to ECOWAS meetings of Chiefs of Defence Staff, aimed at ensuring the eventual smooth transition from AFISMA to a potential UN stabilization mission.
As Council Members are aware, the Secretary-General deployed an multi-disciplinary Exploratory Mission to Mali from 10 to 16 March to develop recommendations on options for establishing a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Mali. I will highlight the key observations and recommendations that the Secretary-General has made in his report.
One is that the serious and inter-linked challenges that confront Mali require concerted and broad-based efforts by the Malian authorities and its people, together with significant international support. They go beyond addressing security threats and require tackling the deep-rooted political, governance, development and humanitarian challenges that are not susceptible to any easy solution.
With respect to the security challenges, the report says that a key question is the extent to which the United Nations can or should assume responsibility for security and stabilization which, ultimately, will need to serve as an incentive to engage in a viable political process. It notes that humanitarian actors have raised increasing concerns about the possible deployment of a United Nations force in Mali and the need to retain a clear distinction between the humanitarian and political/security agendas to ensure the impartiality of humanitarian action, avoid threatening the safety of aid workers and to guarantee humanitarian access to all those in need.
The Secretary-General has proposed two options for UN engagement in Mali. Under either option the UN would maintain a strong focus on the political aspects linked to the creation of suitable conditions for elections and reconciliation. Under Option 1, a UN multidimensional integrated political presence would operate alongside AFISMA. The UN would continue its political and human rights activities under a strengthened political mission. The strategic areas of focus would include: (a) good offices, support for mediation and national and community dialogues; (b) assistance to the electoral process; (c) promotion of respect for human rights, including with respect to women and children; and (d) support for AFISMA.
Under the first option, AFISMA would be responsible for security, together with bilateral military efforts, in support of the Malian defence and security forces. AFISMA would also have an offensive combat and stabilization mandate focusing on extremist armed groups.
The UN, in conjunction with other partners, would help build the operational capability of AFISMA, through the UN Trust Fund for AFISMA and possibly through a Security Council authorized logistics support package funded through assessed contributions. In parallel, the European Union would continue to train the Malian armed forces. Support could also be provided to the Malian defence and security forces through the Trust Fund for Peace and Security in Mali. This option would provide the flexibility for the re-hatting of AFISMA to a UN peacekeeping operation, when the Council decides the conditions are right.
The second option involves the establishment of a UN multidimensional integrated stabilization mission under a Chapter VII mandate alongside a parallel force. In addition to a political mandate, the Mission would carry out security-related stabilization tasks, protect civilians and create the conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance. The Mission would operate under robust rules of engagement with a mandate to use all necessary means to address threats to the implementation of its mandate. This could include conducting of operations independently of or in cooperation with the Malian def ence and security forces.
Under this second option, the bulk of AFISMA would be re-hatted under this UN stabilization mission. Most of the military, police and civilian components would operate in the North, with a light presence in Bamako.
Given the anticipated level and nature of the residual threat, there would be a fundamental requirement for a parallel force to operate in Mali alongside the UN stabilisation mission to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations and provide specialist support beyond the scope of the UN mandate and capability.
The two options can be viewed as phases in the gradual process of transition from the current situation to a UN stabilisation mission deployed alongside a parallel force. They take into account the fact that the UN is operating in a new geopolitical context and faces threats that have not been encountered before in a peacekeeping context. The situation on the ground remains fluid, and extremists and criminal elements continue to pose a significant threat to the safety and security of civilians and UN personnel in Mali.
The Secretary-General observes that it will be of critical importance that a clear distinction is maintained between the core peacekeeping tasks of an envisaged UN stabilisation mission and the peace enforcement and counter-terrorism activities of a parallel force. Any blurring of the distinction would place severe constraints on the ability of UN humanitarian, development, human rights and other personnel to safely do their work.
In the same vein, given that the crisis in Mali is part of serious wider regional challenges, it will be essential to coordinate support to Mali within a broader regional strategy that incorporates Mali’s neighbours and key partners in the process. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative to West Africa, Said Djinnit, continues to work with the ECOWAS countries on a shared approach toward the security and political challenges in Mali and beyond. In addition, the regional strategy that the UN is leading in developing for the Sahel should be viewed as a complementary and indispensable process. The Secretary-General met with his Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, on April 4, on the UN’s overall approach to the region, with a focus on what the international community can do to support the people of the Sahel.
In closing, let me note again the Secretary-General’s satisfaction with the progress made so far in securing Mali’s territorial integrity and his commitment to using the tools of the United Nations to promoting, through a Malian-led process including elections, the long-term political stability and economic growth in Mali.
Thank you, Mr. President.