Interview: Despite security and political crises, UN expert remains optimistic about Mali

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According to reports, Malian armed forces, accompanied by foreign military personnel, allegedly committed murders and other serious violations during a military operation.

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

cancer impunity

Alexandre Carette: Ten months after a military coup that toppled President Boubacar Keit, the situation in Mali remains precarious. The country faces political and security crises exacerbated by drought, COVID-19 and violent extremism, which has led to multiple abuses in almost all regions.

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

You recently told the Human Rights Council that: violence there has spread so quickly that it even endangers the survival of Malian citizens† What does this mean in concrete terms?

MINUSMA/Marco Dormino

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in a village in the Malian Mopti area.

Alioune Tine: The security situation is extremely worrying. It’s starting to get hard for Mali to control. While we felt the situation improved from July to December 2021, I now hear every day of attacks by jihadists, especially from the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), in central Mali, in Gao. And it is mainly the civilians who are caught by armed groups, extremists, jihadists and the Malian army.

There are many serious violations, French citizens are tortured and disappear. And impunity is a major problem, including for certain Malian soldiers accused of serious charges of aggression† Even if we opened investigations, structural problems within the military justice system would only hamper proceedings. If the prosecutor can handle the case, it can’t get very far, because the offices of investigating judges – who have to continue the judicial proceedings – are not ready yet. So we call on Mali for instructions so that legal proceedings can have concrete results, because impunity is a real cancer for institutions and society. It threatens to discredit and undermine the credibility of the military, could potentially create a situation of continued violence and is bad for national cohesion. So on this subject, we really insist that: practical and concrete measures to be taken by the Malian authorities

Prioritize citizens

Alexandre Carette: Can you identify these rampant extremist armed groups in Mali and whether they exist in the wider Sahel region?

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

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

Preventing an apocalypse

Alexandre Carette: You said 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 could that have on human rights and civil violations?

Alioune Tine: With nearly 6,000 troops with equipment and intelligence and so on, Barkhane was a major operation whose absence can only accentuate Mali’s vulnerability. We consistently recommend dialogue between France and Mali, who are old friends, and recommend that security cooperation with Malian partners be on a broad basis, with respect for human rights. This is of great importance for all international human rights obligations. When my team and I held talks with European diplomats in Mali, I saw a glimmer of hope. We have asked 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 again, we appeal to the international community and call on the Malian authorities to promote dialogue so that everyone can find their place of work for stability, security and peace in Mali

Securing security

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

Alioune Tine: No one can confirm that Wagner is there. But the right question is why Wagner would be there. I think Africans should build their own geopolitics to ensure their own security, including to safeguard their own interests, in dialogue with the whole planet and especially with the West. However, we must be extremely careful that there is no negative impact on Mali from the geopolitical shifts we are witnessing today.

The people living in the Timbuktu region are among the most vulnerable in the country, Mali.  (File)

OCHA/Eve Sabbagh

The people living in the Timbuktu region are among the most vulnerable in the country, Mali. (File)

elections

Alexandre Carette: Today there is a governance problem in the Sahel region. There have been coups in Burkina Faso and Mali. Could elections be a first step to normalize the situation?

Alioune Tine: Elections should be seriously considered before action is taken. Mali is a country going through a massive security crisis and a massive political crisis with geopolitical shifts. From my perspective, with the help of ECOWAS, solutions can be found through discussion, provided careful care is taken not to make the situation worse. We must 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 coup d’état sprang from Mali’s contentious parliamentary elections.

Looking forward

Alexandre Carette: What can the UN and the international community do to help Mali recover? What are the priorities?

Alioune Tine: Since all security responses have failed, the situation needs to be thought through first. 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 involved in the discussions before deciding what to do to overcome the security crisis. We need to find the most appropriate solutions to correct what went wrong.

Alexandre Carette: Despite everything, are you optimistic for the future?

Alioune Tine: Yes that’s me. I am optimistic because there is discussion. We are talking and that is very positive. And there are solutions that people come up with. I think we’ll get through this, I’m definitely optimistic for the future.



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