The departure of French and other international forces is likely to create a vacuum in parts of this African country that terrorist armed groups may exploit.
Amid a delayed return to civilian rule, the deteriorating security and the dire humanitarian and human rights situation in Mali, the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali should be extended for another year, speakers told a Security Council meeting on the situation in Mali on Monday.
"While the challenges in Mali are numerous and complex, they are far from being insurmountable," said El-Ghassim Wane, special representative of the secretary-general in Mali and head of the UN mission, expressing hope for breakthroughs.
Echoing UN Secretary Antonio Guterres's acknowledgement of the need for the mission's continued presence and recommendation to extend its mandate for another year, Wane stressed the importance for the mission to be allowed to move freely to fulfil its mandate.
Armed conflicts have led to massive displacement, said Sadya Toure, director of Mali Muso, a non-profit for girls' education, when briefing the council on behalf of civil society.
"Women are not safe anywhere," and many schools have closed across the country, affecting some 450,000 children, she said, adding that teenagers in Mali have grown up in a violent environment without any prospects, and high rates of unemployment "have led to insecurity and social unrest," making teenagers easily recruited for armed groups.
Addressing these issues must be a priority if the international community wants to ensure long-lasting peace and reconciliation, she said, emphasizing the need to bolster the UN mission's mandate to allow it to operate alongside Malian forces to combat terrorism.
In the ensuing discussion, members broadly supported the extension of the mandate. Nicolas de Riviere, the permanent representative of France to the United Nations, proposed renewing the mission's mandate for another year. Meanwhile, he said the Malian transitional authorities must also take up their responsibilities and remove obstacles to the mission's activities and the rotation of contingents.
The mission would benefit from stronger support in troop contribution, capacity-building on counter-terrorism measures and provision of adequate logistics, said Harold Agyemag, Ghana's permanent representative, also speaking for Gabon and Kenya.
While highlighting the critical role of the mission, India's permanent representative T. S. Tirumurti emphasized the importance of not burdening the mission with direct counter-terrorism-related operations, injecting a different perspective.
These operations need to be undertaken by national security forces, he said, adding the concerns raised by the mission regarding the capacity gaps result from the withdrawal of international forces from Mali.
Noting most victims were from the pastoralist Fulani groups, Odd-Inge Kvalheim, Norway's deputy permanent representative, pointed to the ethnic dimension of the violence, and insisted the UN mission "be given full and unrestricted access to investigate such crimes."
The conflict in the northern part of the country has spilled into its center, spread across the entire nation and has now reached neighboring states, said Malian Foreign Affairs Minister Abdoulaye Diop, noting that to reverse this trend, the government has invested massively in national defense and security forces.
According to the secretary-general's latest report on Mali dated June 2, the departure of French and other international forces is likely to create a vacuum in parts of Mali that terrorist armed groups may exploit. The violence involving Islamic State-affiliated groups, which killed hundreds of civilians and displaced 32,000 people in the eastern Malian region of Menaka, can be attributed to the imminent departure of these forces.
Since February, Mali's authorities have been blocking the rotation of 2,480 uniformed personnel from seven West African countries. This was in response to the sanctions the Economic Community of West African States imposed on Mali in January, due to the delays in Mali's political transition to restore constitutional order after coups d'etat in 2020 and 2021.
Mali remains one of the most dangerous places for peacekeepers. Established in April 2013 following a military coup and the occupation of the north by radical Islamists, the UN mission in Mali supports political processes and performs security-related tasks.