On June 29, the United Nations Security Council will vote on renewing the mandate for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The vote comes at a critical time: this month also marks the end of the two-year interim period laid out by Mali’s 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation between the government and some of the largest armed groups involved in the conflict.
MINUSMA’s core mandate is to help implement the peace agreement, which was reached after a rocky process, and which has barely moved forward since 2015. Some of the largest armed groups were reluctant to sign it–the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad, for example, did not sign until more than a month after the official ceremony. Violence in northern Mali, extensively documented by CIVIC in a 2015 report, has spread to the center of the country, and the deteriorating security situation poses complex challenges for the government and MINUSMA.
Why didn’t the 2015 peace agreement result in political stability? One reason was a persistent lack of state presence. The UN Secretary-General reported on June 6 this year that despite the establishment of local interim authorities since the March 27-April 2 Conference for National Harmony, persistent fighting led to a decrease in government presence in northern and central Mali. Only 34 percent of State officials and 33 percent of judicial officers are present in Kidal and Taoudenni, and 75 percent of State officials are present in the Mopti region.
This absence of state officials—especially in areas where they have historically been absent—means the lack of basic state services, which can, in turn, drive civilians to support armed groups out of frustration or necessity. Furthermore, security forces aren’t held accountable for human rights violations and abuses of civilians–including enforced disappearance, torture, beatings, and other types of degrading treatment.
Indeed, last month, Human Rights Watch interviewed civilians who said they favor armed Islamist groups’ presence in central Mali, and consider them to be “a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive government.”
To help curb support for non-state armed groups and to better protect civilians, the UN Security Council must review MINUSMA’s mandate, and provide the Mission with adequate resources to carry it out. The peacekeepers suffer unique challenges, including being attacked by armed groups. As recently as 2016, 80 percent of the Mission’s military capability was used towards protecting MINUSMA’s peacekeepers and facilities, leaving the Mission with less than 20 percent of operational capability to fulfill its mandate.
Some in the international community have criticized the mandate for being too broad and far-reaching. The Security Council should more clearly prioritize MINUSMA’s tasks to protect civilians and contribute to the security of local communities, and ensure that the Secretary-General holds troop-contributing countries accountable for deploying peacekeepers with the equipment, training, and will to implement the mandate. Moreover, the Security Council should emphasize the need for MINUSMA to communicate the purpose of its presence and work with communities to increase their protection. Otherwise, MINUSMA’s limitations and the government’s inability to provide services and security will continue bolstering armed groups’ legitimacy among civilians, prolonging the conflict.
The Malian government and the Security Council should analyze and better understand how to decrease popular support for extremist groups, when many civilians perceive these groups as the only entities capable of providing protection or even, in several areas, with basic services.
The conflict in Mali is highly volatile and fast evolving; the government and MINUSMA have been unable to keep up. However, without improving government presence and accountability across the country, and without providing adequate support to MINUSMA, both will continue to struggle and further delay the implementation of the Peace Agreement.