According to reports, the Malian Armed Forces accompanied by foreign soldiers have committed killings 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.
Alexandre Carette: Ten months after a military coup that overthrew President Boubacar Keit, the situation in Mali remains precarious. The country is facing political and security crises that have been compounded by drought, COVID-19 and violent extremism, which has triggered multiple abuses in almost all regions.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has denounced extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and sexual violence and Mali is subject to international sanctions – including from the Economic Community of East African States West (ECOWAS).
You recently told the Human Rights Council that the violence there has spread so rapidly that it threatens the very survival of Malian civilians. What does this mean, concretely?
Alioune Tine: The security situation is extremely worrying. This is starting to become difficult for Mali to control. Even if we felt that the situation was improving from July to December 2021, I now hear every day about jihadist attacks, in particular from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), in central Mali, in Gao. And it is, above all, civilians who are overtaken by armed groups, extremists, jihadists and the Malian army.
There are many serious violations, tortured and missing French citizens. And impunity is a big problem, including of some Malian soldiers accused of serious allegations of aggression. Even if we were to open investigations, structural problems within the military justice system would only hamper the process. If the criminal prosecution can take up the issue, it cannot go far, because the offices of the investigating judges – who must pursue the legal proceedings – are not yet ready. So, we call on Mali for instructions so that the legal proceedings can have a concrete result because impunity is a real cancer for institutions and society. It risks discrediting and undermining the credibility of the army, can potentially create a situation of continuous violence and damages national cohesion. So on this issue, we really insist that practical and concrete measures must be taken by the Malian authorities.
Put civilians first
Alexandre Carette: Could you who are these extremist armed groups endemic to Mali and if they exist in the wider Sahel region?
Alioune Tine: These are groups that loot, rape and force children to do their military service. It is cancer that threatens today not only Mali but also coastal countries, such as Benin, northern Togo, Ghana and Senegal. The big problems today are due to the fact that we haven’t been able to defeat these groups since 2012. Despite international efforts that have required enormous military resources and financial support, civil society and especially civilian populations continue to pay the price. We need to reconsider our overall strategy, which also involves African institutions like ECOWAS, the African Union (AU).
The top priority is to protect civilians who are invariably the main victims.
The top priority is to protect civilians who are invariably the main victims
Prevent a apocalypse
Alexandre Carette: You mentioned that the international community has invested heavily in security. At the request of the Malian authorities, France announced the withdrawal of Operation Barkhane. What impact might this have on human rights and civil abuses?
Alioune Tine: With nearly 6,000 men with equipment and intelligence, etc., Barkhane was a major operation, the absence of which can only accentuate Mali’s vulnerability. We constantly advocate dialogue between France and Mali, who are old friends, and recommend that security cooperation with Malian partners be done on a broad basis, with respect for human rights. This is extremely important for all international human rights obligations. When my team and I had discussions with European diplomats in Mali, I saw a glimmer of hope. We have asked the international community not to abandon this country, whose needs have never been greater. The collapse of Mali means the fall of East Africa – a kind of apocalypse. So once again, we appeal to the international community and call on the Malian authorities to favor dialogue so that everyone can find their place to work for stability, security and peace in Mali.
Ensure the security
Alexandre Carette: It seems that Mali asked for help from the mercenaries of the paramilitary group Wagner. Many delegations criticized their activities and abuses. Have you been 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 that Africans must build their own geopolitics to ensure their own security, to also ensure their own interest and do so in dialogue with the whole planet and especially with the West. However, we must be extremely careful so that there are no negative impacts on Mali from the geopolitical changes we are witnessing today.
Alexandre Carette: Today, there is a problem of governance in the Sahel region. There have been coups in Burkina Faso and Mali. Could the elections be a first step towards normalizing the situation?
Alioune Tine: Elections should be seriously considered before any action. Mali is a country experiencing a huge security emergency and a huge political crisis with geopolitical changes. From my point of view, with the help of ECOWAS, solutions can be found through discussion, if they are taken carefully so as not to aggravate the situation. We must continue the dialogue, without saying to ourselves: “Well, the elections are the solution”. They must be well prepared so that their results do not trigger a new crisis, because in reality, the coup came from the disputed legislative elections in Mali.
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 must be considered first. We must reflect on the African security response, with ECOWAS and the AU. While considering the situation, we must ensure that civil society is included in the discussions before deciding what we are going to do to overcome the security crisis. We need to find the most appropriate solutions to fix what went wrong.
Alexandre Carette: Despite everything, are you optimistic for the future?
Alioune Tine: Yes. I am optimistic because there is a debate. We talk to each other and it’s very positive. And there are solutions people come up with. I think we’ll get through this, I’m definitely optimistic for the future.
© Aurora Bourdin