After weeks of remote negotiations, on 29 June, the UN Security Council agreed upon MINUSMA’s mandate for the next 12 months. Last year the Security Council made a significant change to the mandate, by adding a second strategic priority that instructed the Mission to help the Malian authorities protect civilians and reduce intercommunal violence in central Mali.  Recognizing that MINUSMA is still adapting to implement the new strategic priority, the Security Council made more modest amendments to the protection language in the new mandate.  However, there are a few substantive changes that seek to improve the Mission’s protection of civilians that will be discussed in this two-part blog.

Part 1 focused on the new request for MINUSMA to record its rate of response to warnings about imminent threats to civilians. Part 2 will now examine some of the changes to the Security Council’s requirements concerning the Secretary-General’s quarterly reports on the situation in Mali and MINUSMA. It will specifically look at the reporting requirements relating to the protection of civilians, the implementation of MINUSMA’s adaptation plan, and the negative impact of undeclared caveats on Mission performance.

Reporting on the Protection of Civilians (POC)

Security Council resolutions often request or require the Secretary-General to provide regular updates on situations, thematic issues, and efforts to implement aspects of the resolutions under the authority of the Secretary-General. This year, the Security Council revised the “Reports by the Secretary-General” section of MINUSMA’s mandate (Resolution 2531). Despite the Security Council continuing to prioritize POC in the new mandate, the reporting requirements no longer include an explicit reference to the protection of civilians. The June 2019 mandate, (Resolution 2480), called on the Secretary-General to use his quarterly updates to the Security Council to report, “on progress… to protect civilians and to reduce intercommunal violence in Central Mali, as well as on MINUSMA’s efforts to support these objectives;”.[1] The new mandate replaces this language with: “on progress in the implementation of the Stratégie de stabilisation du centre du Mali (the Stratégie), particularly on the priority measures referenced in paragraph 14 above, as well as on MINUSMA’s efforts to support these objectives.”[2] This revision could unintentionally undermine reporting on POC in four important ways. 

First, the omission of an explicit reference to the protection of civilians could result in an ad hoc approach to reporting on the subject, making it difficult for the Security Council to monitor the Mission’s progress in relation to this priority task. The Secretary-General’s quarterly reports on the situation in Mali have previously taken varying approaches to reporting on POC. Between September 2015 and October 2019, these reports contained a dedicated Protection of Civilians section (before September 2015, there was a ‘Security, stabilization and protection of civilians’ section). However, the past three reports (June 2020, March 2020, and December 2019) have not contained a section devoted to the protection of civilians. Instead, POC-related content was mainstreamed throughout the report.

Second, the revised language focuses more on long-term POC indicators rather than actions that can save lives today. As quoted above, the new mandate requests reporting on measures outlined in paragraph 14 of the resolution, which urges the Malian government to fulfil two priority measures before MINUSMA’s current mandate expires on June 30, 2021. The first deals with re-establishing the provision of basic services and the presence of state authorities, especially the internal security forces and judicial entities, in central Mali. The second calls for the Malian authorities to prosecute “the individuals accused of perpetrating the massacres that killed hundreds of civilians in 2019 and 2020” in central Mali. Although re-establishing state services and boosting the activities of the criminal justice system are essential for the long-term well-being of civilians in central Mali, neither of these benchmarks are likely to be met within a year given the present levels of insecurity in the region.

Even if the Malian government were able to fully redeploy the armed forces, MINUSMA’s Human Rights Division has noted that the Malian defense and security forces carried out 99 extrajudicial killings in central Mali during the first three months of 2020. Thus, these two benchmarks are unlikely to improve protection for civilians in the near-term. The Secretary-General’s reports should ensure equal weight is given to reporting on paragraph 13, which urges the Malian authorities “to take expedited action to protect civilians, reduce intercommunal violence and restore peaceful relations between communities.” This would encourage greater focus on the immediate steps taken to prevent and mitigate the current threats against civilians.

Third, the reporting requirement could be interpreted as only concerned with activities that MINUSMA undertakes to support the Malian government’s efforts to implement these longer-term strategies. It is vital that the Malian government takes greater responsibility for protecting its own citizens, wherever possible, rather than sit back and expect MINUSMA to take the lead. The reporting language helps to emphasize this point. However, MINUSMA must also take action to protect civilians independently of the Malian government when the host state is unable or unwilling to do so. Therefore, the Security Council should ensure that the quarterly reports include information on the actions MINUSMA is taking to directly protect civilians.

Fourth, the protection of civilians objectives that are included in the revised reporting requirements only relate to central Mali. This was also a shortcoming of the previous mandate and the revised reporting language fails to address this. Civilians in many parts of northern Mali also face threats of physical violence and the Secretary-General’s reports should include information on what MINUSMA and the Malian government are doing to mitigate these. 

The Security Council could have bolstered the reporting language by inserting a distinct requirement for updates on the progress made by both the Malian government and the Mission in terms of protecting civilians throughout Mali. In the absence of this requirement, the Secretary-General should guarantee that the protection of civilians remains a priority in reporting. The Security Council should also closely monitor POC-related issues in the quarterly reports to determine if it needs to request additional information from the Secretary-General and whether the reporting language should be revised in next year’s mandate.

Reporting on the Adaptation Plan

A more positive development is that the new mandate also asks for MINUSMA to report on the progress made in implementing its adaptation plan in its biannual letter to the Security Council. Following the addition of the second strategic priority to MINUSMA’s mandate last year, which tasked the Mission with supporting the Malian authorities in reducing intercommunal violence and protecting civilians in central Mali, in January, MINUSMA produced an adaptation plan outlining the capabilities it needs to fulfil this new strategic priority.

The plan puts a heavy emphasis on the need for additional military helicopters, which would allow MINUSMA to rapidly respond to security threats and thereby enhance its ability to protect civilians. Despite MINUSMA recently obtaining several pledges of extra air assets, the Mission still won’t have military utility helicopters in Mopti region and the UN has yet to find a replacement for the Romanian military utility helicopters that are set to leave Gao region later this year. Moreover, it can take many months to deploy the air assets that have been pledged and it is proving difficult to convince Member States to fill remaining gaps. It will therefore take some time to fully implement the adaptation plan.

Thus, it is essential that reporting on the status of the adaptation plan helps to manage expectations of what the mission can realistically achieve, especially regarding the protection of civilians. The Security Council has the responsibility of monitoring whether missions have the necessary resources to implement their mandates. The letter provides Mission leaders with a valuable opportunity to outline how capability gaps are affecting MINUSMA’s realization of its strategic objectives and priority tasks. Although the Secretary-General is not required to share the letter publicly, the letter sent in December 2019 was published. It is important that all future letters are also published to help manage expectations beyond the confines of the Security Council. Moreover, the UN Secretary-General’s quarterly updates to the Security Council on the situation in Mali should also continue to report on the progress of the adaptation plan. These reports are likely to be more widely read and can offer a regular reminder to Member States that certain military equipment is still urgently needed if MINUSMA is to accomplish its mandated tasks.

Reporting on Undeclared Caveats

Another change to the reporting section of the mandate is the request for “information on performance… of uniformed personnel, including information on undeclared caveats and their impact on the mission, and how the reported cases of under-performance are addressed.”[3] In UN peacekeeping, caveats are the restrictions that Member States set on how their personnel or equipment that they deploy to serve under the operational command of a UN-led mission. [4] National caveats are a normal part of any multilateral security operation. [5] Caveats are and should be allowed in UN peacekeeping operations to reassure troop and police contributing counties (T/PCCs) and encourage them to participate in such missions. However, these caveats should be declared and agreed with the UN Secretariat before deployment to allow the Secretariat to determine whether the caveats are so restrictive that they would undermine the contingent’s ability to effectively implement mandated tasks. Too often, T/PCCs don’t outline or negotiate certain caveats before deploying, leaving them undeclared. This creates serious problems for Mission leaders who are unaware of which commands and activities a T/PCC will and won’t perform. 

Though this is the first time that such a reporting request has featured in a MINUSMA mandate, it is not unprecedented in UN peacekeeping. For instance, the current mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) asks for “information on national caveats that negatively affect implementation of the mandate,”[6] while the previous two mandates of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO” requested updates on:

“… any instances where the Mission is not effectively fulfilling its protection of civilians mandate, and the circumstances surrounding these instances, including, as appropriate, incidents where units assert undeclared national caveats…”[7]

These requests suggest there is growing concern about how undeclared caveats are inhibiting peacekeepers from undertaking their tasks. Indeed, several MINUSMA officials have confirmed to CIVIC that caveats are a problem for the Mission. Moreover, the Secretary-General’s quarterly report from March 2020 cited that one unidentified military unit had “caveats regarding its ability to conduct patrols outside the camp.” The six-monthly letter to the Security Council in December 2019 was even more explicit:

“In some instances, the Mission’s ability to ensure performance was hampered by caveats and national controls, including cases of units refusing to escort civilian convoys. Similarly, on a few occasions, troops refused to perform tasks involving the disposal of explosive ordnance. Efforts are under way to provide these troops with further training and equipment. When these incidents occurred, the Mission took immediate action, communicated incidents of refusal to follow orders to Headquarters and recommended the repatriation of one unit commander for the refusal to follow orders on grounds of national caveats. The Secretariat informed the Member States concerned.”[8]

The Security-Council’s request to include such information in quarterly reports is likely to raise further awareness of how undeclared caveats hinder MINUSMA’s operations and hopefully help to reduce their prevalence.

A Mixed Outcome for POC

The removal of an explicit reference to the protection of civilians from the reporting section of the mandate risks sending the wrong message to MINUSMA. Although the Mission should report on how well the local authorities are working towards longer-term POC objectives, this should not be to the detriment of reporting on the immediate, life-saving interventions of MINUSMA and the Malian government.

Meanwhile, the reporting requirements pertaining to the implementation of the adaptation plan are positive, so long as the six-month letters continue to be published. Coupled with the quarterly updates, regular reporting on the adaptation plan should help the Mission manage expectations and keep Member States focused on filling the urgent capability gaps that MINUSMA faces. Finally, enhanced attention to the negative impacts of undeclared caveats in the Secretary-General’s future reports could help eradicate a problem that can hinder MINUSMA’s ability to protect civilians.

[1] UN Security Council resolution 2480, paragraph 64(i).

[2] UN Security Council resolution  2531 (2020), paragraph 62 (ii). UN resolutions are divided into two sections. They begin with “preambular paragraphs that are not numbered, and “serve to present the background to the action part of the resolution.” These are followed by operative paragraphs, which are numbered, and “express the opinions of Member States and contain the action that they are agreeing to take.” See for more info on editing and structure of UN resolutions and

[3] UN Security Council resolution 2531, paragraph 63 (ii).

[4] Adapted from Dr Regeena Kingsley, ‘What are “National Caveats”?’, Military Caveats, 9 December 2016.

[5] Alexandra Novosseloff, ‘No Caveats, please?: Breaking a Myth in UN Peace Operations’, Global Peace Operations Review, 12 September 2016.

[6] UN Security Council resolution 2514 (2020), paragraph 41.

[7] UN Security Council resolution 2409 (2018), paragraph 59 (ii); UN Security Council resolution 2463 (2019), paragraph 46 (i).

[8] United Nations Security Council, ‘Letter dated 27 December 2019 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council’, 30 December 2019, p4.

Image courtesy of MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko