The United Nations Security Council voted today to dissolve its beleaguered stabilization force in Mali, a serious blow to the future of human rights monitoring and protection of civilians in the conflict-torn region.
The Security Council said the withdrawal of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali’s (MINUSMA) approximately 15,000 armed and civilian personnel will begin in July and end by December 31. The Malian transitional military government will assume responsibility for the protection of civilians after the withdrawal. The announcement was expected after Mali revoked its consent to host the mission on June 16.
MINUSMA’s mandate included documenting and investigating allegations of grave human rights abuses, as well as protecting civilians from attack. With its withdrawal, it’s not clear who will conduct credible, independent human rights investigations in a country rife with abuses by both Islamist armed groups and the government forces, allied foreign fighters, and militias fighting them.
“Care must be taken to ensure that MINUSMA’s departure does not create gaps in terms of civilian protection, and human rights monitoring and reporting,” said Alioune Tine, the UN independent expert on Mali.
The Malian military junta has opposed external scrutiny of its counterinsurgency operations, dismissing allegations of abuses. It deems these alleged violations – which include summary executions, sexual violence, and looting by its security forces and affiliated fighters – as part of a “disinformation campaign” intended to discredit its legitimacy.
In early 2022, Malian authorities used no-fly zones to obstruct a MINUSMA investigation into the alleged massacre of more than 500 people by state security forces and associated foreign fighters in the town of Moura. The junta has lashed out at UN criticism of its rights record and expelled two ranking MINUSMA officials – the mission’s spokesperson, Olivier Salgado, and its human rights chief, Guillaume Ngefa.
Documentation of rights abuses should not end with MINUSMA's exit. Independent rights observers like the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Economic Community of West African States should press Malian authorities to let them work with Mali’s National Human Rights Commission, laying the groundwork for future prosecutions.