In a surprising development, Russia has vetoed a United Nations resolution aimed at keeping a team of experts in Mali.
These experts had accused foreign fighters, believed to be associated with Russia’s Wagner mercenary force, of engaging in widespread abuses in the war-torn West African country. This move by Russia has sparked controversy and raised questions about the motivations behind their decision.
The UN Security Council had received a proposal to extend sanctions on Mali for another year, along with maintaining the team of experts overseeing the situation in the country. Thirteen out of the fifteen members of the Security Council supported this proposal, with only Russia exercising its veto power to block it. Notably, China abstained from the vote, indicating a neutral stance on the matter.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, argued that the sanctions were initially imposed in 2017 to support a peace agreement in Mali. He emphasised that UN Security Council sanctions should solely focus on this objective and not be utilised as a means of foreign influence on Mali. According to Nebenzia, the independent monitoring team had overstepped its role and was being used as a mechanism for exerting pressure on the country.
However, Russia did propose an alternative – extending the sanctions for one final year while seeking the immediate termination of the independent monitoring team. This proposition has garnered criticism from Western powers, who believe it is a retaliatory response to the UN experts’ critical comments about the actions of Malian forces and their “foreign security partners.” It is widely believed that these partners refer to the Wagner forces operating in Mali, which Russia adamantly denies.
The veto by Russia has sparked concern among Western nations about the implications it may have for accountability and justice in Mali. Many argue that the presence of a monitoring team is essential to assess and address the ongoing human rights abuses in the country. The veto undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the UN’s efforts to promote peace and stability in the region.
According to recent reports from independent UN sanctions monitors in Mali, there have been disturbing instances of violence against women and other serious human rights abuses perpetrated by Malian soldiers and their foreign security partners, believed to be Russian mercenaries. These acts are aimed at spreading terror throughout the region.
Furthermore, UN rights investigators have accused Malian troops and foreign forces, likely Wagner Group mercenaries, of being responsible for a massacre in the central Malian town of Moura in March 2022, resulting in the loss of at least 500 lives.
Significantly shifting its alliances, Mali has aligned itself closely with Russia following consecutive coups in 2020 and 2021. As one of the few nations supporting Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations, Mali has distanced itself from traditional partners.
Additionally, Mali’s military rulers have expelled French forces who were engaged in combatting fighters associated with ISIL (ISIS). This action was followed by the removal of UN peacekeepers from the country.
During a recent Security Council meeting discussing these matters, Deputy US ambassador to the UN Robert Wood highlighted Russia’s desire to quash independent monitoring efforts to prevent uncomfortable truths about Wagner Group’s actions in Mali from becoming public knowledge. The situation demands attention and scrutiny.
The United States has accused Wagner Group – estimated to have around 1,000 fighters present in Mali – of orchestrating the sudden request made by Mali’s military for the departure of the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force by year-end. Thus concluding a decade-long operation.
During the council meeting, James Kariuki, the United Kingdom’s envoy, expressed concern over the increasing uncertainties in Mali. He criticised Russia’s veto as “reckless,” emphasising that it would diminish the council’s ability to monitor and support Mali’s peace process during this crucial time.