UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council voted Wednesday to maintain the U.N. peacekeeping mission in turmoil-wracked Mali, while condemning the West African nation’s military rulers for using mercenaries that commit human rights and humanitarian violations.
The council also expressed “grave concern” at the deteriorating political and security situation in the West African nation.
Russia and China abstained on the French-drafted resolution that extends the mandate of the mission until June 30, 2023, with its current ceiling of 13,289 military personnel and 1,920 international police.
Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted mutinous soldiers to overthrow the president. The power vacuum that resulted ultimately led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013.
But insurgents remain active and extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali since 2015, stoking animosity and violence between ethnic groups in the region.
Mali’s current ruling junta, which seized power in August 2020, has grown closer to Russia as Moscow has looked to build alliances and gain sway in Africa.
The junta has hired mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group, which has been accused by the European Union and human rights groups of violating human rights and international humanitarian law. The Kremlin denies any connection to the company, but Western analysts call it a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After Wednesday’s vote, France’s U.N. ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, said violations of human rights and humanitarian law by terrorist groups as well as Malian armed forces accompanied by members of the Wagner Group “must stop.”
Warning that insecurity in Mali is rising, he said the U.N. mission must be given access to areas where alleged violations are committed to fulfill its mandate and publish quarterly human rights reports as the resolution demands. He said that “those responsible for violations must be brought to justice.”
Amid tensions with Mali’s military rulers, France announced in February that its military forces would be out of the country by this summer. But France proposed continuing to provide aerial support to the U.N. peacekeepers, who need the capabilities of attack helicopters. Mali strongly objected to a continued French air presence, however, and the French offer was dropped from the resolution.
U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills said one reason the United States supported the resolution was “because it strongly condemns the alarming increase in violations and abuses against civilians and again calls for all parties to cease committing or abetting any violation or abuse.” He said that “this includes terrorist armed groups, the Malian armed forces, and the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group.”
The resolution authorizes the U.N. mission to assist Malian authorities in promoting and protecting human rights. The force also is “to monitor, document, conduct fact-finding missions, help investigate and report publicly” to the Security Council on humanitarian and rights violations, including sexual violence and human trafficking, “and to contribute to efforts to prevent such violations and abuses.”
It also authorizes U.N. peacekeepers to carry out other “priority tasks,” including supporting implementation of a June 2015 peace agreement and the current political transition, supporting the restoration of state authority to central Mali and stabilizing the region, protecting civilians and creating safe environments for delivery of humanitarian aid.
Explaining Russia’s abstention, the country’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, pointed to the resolution’s “intrusive wording “ on human rights, saying it will not help ensure that Mali can exercise its right to protect its own citizens.
“We are concerned that this might be used by those who want to tarnish the work of the transition government and are not pleased with its independent foreign policy approach,” she said. “We to a degree have become used to the fact that our Western colleagues time and again try and push `fakes’ into the council about the apparently disruptive work of Russia in Mali” when Moscow is helping the country combat terrorism.
Last Friday, Mali’s junta leader signed a new law paving the way for elections and a return to constitutional rule in 2024. The law would allow Col. Assimi Goita, who is president of the transitional government and other military members, to be candidates, according to a copy of the legislation seen by The Associated Press.
The resolution on Mali also gives Security Council backing to continued support for the regional counterterrorism force known as the G5 Sahel, which Mali’s military rulers announced they were pulling out of in May. The G5 Sahel force, which also includes soldiers from the neighboring West African states of Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad, was created in 2014 and actually deployed troops in 2017.
The council said it will continue providing medical evacuations and “access to life support consumables and use of engineering plant equipment.” It asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “to enhance exchange of information between the peacekeepuing force in Mali and the G5 Sahel states through provision of relevant intelligence.”