Despite political and security crises, UN expert remains upbeat on Mali — Global Issues

According to reports, the Malian Armed Forces, accompanied by foreign military personnel, allegedly committed killings and other serious violations during a military operation.

A new Alexandre Carrette and spoke with Alioune Tine, the UN’s independent expert on Mali, after an official visit to the country last month.

cancerous impunity

Alexander Carette: Ten months after the military coup that ousted President Boubacar Keit, the situation in Mali remains precarious. The country is facing political and security crises that have been exacerbated by drought, COVID-19, and violent extremism, triggering multiple abuses in almost every region.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has denounced extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances and sexual violence and Mali is under international sanctions, in particular from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

He recently told the Human Rights Council that the violence there has spread so rapidly that it is endangering the survival of Malian civilians. What does this mean, concretely?

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in a village in the Mopti area of ​​Mali.

MINUSMA / Marco Dormino

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in a village in the Mopti area of ​​Mali.

Alioune Tine: The security situation is extremely worrying. It is starting to be difficult for Mali to control. Although we felt that the situation was improving from July to December 2021, every day now I hear about jihadist attacks, especially from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), in central Mali, in Gao. And it is, above all, civilians who are trapped by armed groups, extremists, jihadists and the Malian army.

There are many serious violations, French citizens tortured and disappeared. Y impunity is a big problem, including for certain Malian soldiers facing serious accusations of assault. Even if we did open investigations, the structural problems within the military justice system would only make the process more difficult. If the criminal prosecutor can take charge of the matter, he cannot go very far, because the offices of the investigating judges, who must continue with the judicial processes, are not yet ready. For this reason, we call on Mali to give instructions so that the judicial processes can have a concrete result, because impunity is a true cancer for institutions and society. It risks discrediting and undermining the credibility of the military, can potentially create a situation of continued violence, and is bad for national cohesion. So, on this topic, we really insist that the Malian authorities must take practical and concrete measures.

Prioritize civilians

Alexander Carette: May I know who these rampant extremist armed groups are in Mali and if they exist in the wider Sahel region?

Alioune Tine: They are groups that loot, rape and force children to do military service. It is the cancer that not only threatens Mali today, but also coastal countries, such as Benin, northern Togo, Ghana and Senegal. The big problems today are the result of us not being able to beat these groups since 2012.. Despite international efforts that have required enormous military means and financial support, civil society and especially civilian populations continue to pay the price. We need to reconsider our global strategy, which also involves African institutions like ECOWAS, African Union (AU).

The highest priority is to protect civilians, who are invariably the main victims.

The highest priority is to protect civilians, who are invariably the main victims.

Prevention of an apocalypse

Alexander Carette: You mentioned that the international community has invested significantly in security. At the request of the Malian authorities, France has announced the withdrawal of Operation Barkhane. What impact might that have on human rights and civil abuses?

Alioune Tine: With almost 6,000 men with equipment and intelligence etc., Barkhane was a major operation whose absence can only accentuate Mali’s vulnerability. We constantly advise dialogue between France and Mali, who are old friends, and we recommend that security cooperation with Malian partners be carried out on a broad basis, while respecting human rights. This is extremely important for all international human rights obligations. When my team and I had discussions with European diplomats in Mali, I saw a ray of hope. We ask the international community not to abandon the country, whose needs have never been greater. The collapse of Mali means the fall of East Africa, a kind of apocalypse. So one more time we appeal to the international community and call on the Malian authorities to promote dialogue so that everyone can find their place to work for stability, security and peace in Mali.

ensure safety

Alexander Carette: It seems that Mali has asked for help from mercenaries of the Wagner paramilitary group. Many delegations have criticized their activities and abuses. Were you able to investigate these allegations?

Alioune Tine: Nobody can confirm that Wagner is there. But the correct question is why Wagner would be there. I believe that Africans must build their own geopolitics to guarantee their own security, also to guarantee their own interest and to do so in dialogue with the entire planet and especially with the West. However, we must be very careful that there are no negative impacts on Mali from the geopolitical changes that we are witnessing today.

People living in the Timbuktu area are among the most vulnerable in the country, Mali.  (proceedings)

OCHA/Eve Sabbagh

People living in the Timbuktu area are among the most vulnerable in the country, Mali. (proceedings)

Elections

Alexander Carette: Today, there is a governance problem in the Sahel region. There have been coups in Burkina Faso and Mali. Can the elections be a first step towards normalizing the situation?

Alioune Tine: Elections must be seriously considered before any action is taken. Mali is a country experiencing a major security emergency and a huge political crisis with geopolitical changes. From my perspective, with the help of ECOWAS, solutions can be found through discussion, if care is taken not to make the situation worse. We have to continue the dialogue, without saying to ourselves, ‘Well, elections are the solution.’ They must be well prepared so that their results do not trigger another crisis, because in reality the blow came from the disputed legislative elections in Mali.

Looking to the future

Alexander Carette: What can the UN and the international community do to help Mali get back on its feet? What are the priorities?

Alioune Tine: Since all security responses have failed, you must first reflect on the situation. We need to think about the African security response, with ECOWAS and AU. As we consider the situation, we must ensure that civil society is included in the discussions before deciding what we are going to do to overcome the security crisis. We need to find the most suitable solutions to correct what went wrong.

Alexander Carette: Despite everything, are you optimistic about the future?

Alioune Tine: Yes I am. I am optimistic because there is a debate. We are talking and that is very positive. And there are solutions that people are thinking about. I think we’re going to get through this, I’m definitely optimistic for the future.

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