Addressing the "deeply troubling situation" in Mali, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today encouraged the Security Council to consider taking more action - such as travel and financial sanctions - against those responsible for some of the West African country's current instability.
"I encourage the Security Council to give serious consideration to the imposition of targeted travel and financial sanctions against individuals or groups in Mali engaged in terrorist, religious extremist or criminal activities," Mr. Ban told a Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa.
In January, fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels resumed in northern Mali. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region and political instability in the wake of a coup d'état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries. Some 174,000 Malians are estimated to be internally displaced.
"Since the start of the crisis earlier this year, we have seen the situation take one alarming turn after another, reaching seemingly new depths with every passing week," Mr. Ban said. "These grave developments have brought enormous suffering to the people of Mali. They also pose a widening threat to international peace and security."
He added, "I am also extremely concerned about reports that armed groups in the north are committing serious human rights violations, including summary executions of civilians, rapes and torture."
In addition to international engagement, the UN chief stated that the crisis in Mali will require a holistic and comprehensive approach, rather than partial and disconnected measures, given its complex and multidimensional nature.
"I strongly encourage the Government of Mali to develop an over-arching political strategy to return the country to constitutional order and reestablish state authority in the north," Mr. Ban said. "The strategy should clearly spell out responses to genuine socio-economic and political grievances, the modalities for political dialogue and negotiations, and the aims of eventual military action against extremist forces in the north."
"Looking ahead, it is essential for Malians to take ownership and show leadership," he noted, adding that the regional grouping known as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the European Union, key regional countries and bilateral partners should all assist in this endeavour.
In a unanimously adopted resolution in early July, and acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council condemned the forcible seizure of power in Mali, and demanded the immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities by rebel groups in the country's north.
It also indicated its willingness to consider the deployment of a stabilization force in the troubled West African country, and expressed serious concern about the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and the increased terrorist threat due to the presence of members of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the country.
"With last month's adoption of resolution 2056, this Council has expressed its concern," Mr. Ban said. "Today, as we consider the latest developments, it is clear that more may be required of you."
In June, ECOWAS and the AU requested a Security Council mandate authorizing the deployment of an ECOWAS stabilization force to ensure the protection of Malian state institutions, and assist in upholding the country's territorial integrity and in combating terrorism.
In resolution 2056, Council members expressed their readiness to further examine this request and encouraged close cooperation between the Malian transitional authorities, ECOWAS, the AU and other countries, to prepare detailed options in regard to any such force's mandate.
Turning to the political situation, the Secretary-General noted that limited progress had been made in restoring constitutional order.
"Mali's socio-political forces remain divided over support for the transitional arrangements and, more broadly, over future prospects for the country," he said. "The military junta reportedly maintains a strong influence on the transitional process. It has retained control over the security and defence forces, and continues to violently repress fellow soldiers suspected of having supported the attempted counter-coup of 30 April."
Heads of State and Government from ECOWAS have called for a more inclusive Government, and mandated the ECOWAS Mediator - President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso - to urgently engage in consultations with Malian stakeholders. In addition, the regional grouping decided to deploy an ECOWAS Standby Force to Mali and to send a Technical Assessment Mission to the capital, Bamako, to prepare for its deployment.
In his remarks to the Council meeting, Secretary-General Ban welcomed the return of President Dioncounda Traoré to Bamako as a "positive development," with his presence enhancing the constitutional legitimacy of the transitional arrangements.
"I commend the steps the President is taking to ensure the formation of a government of national unity," Mr. Ban said. "I also welcome his announcement of the creation of the National Transition Committee, the National Dialogue Committee, and the High Council of State, which he plans to chair."
Referring to the situation in northern Mali, where the Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa - which are reportedly linked to AQIM - have taken control after pushing out the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (known by the French acronym MNLA), and have illegally imposed Sharia law on the residents, the UN chief said that with the influx of regional and international jihadists, there is reason to be concerned that the area is becoming a safe haven for terrorists and criminal elements.
"The ECOWAS Mediator, President Blaise Compaoré, has taken initial steps to meet with representatives of the MNLA and Ansar Dine," Mr. Ban said. "But no meaningful dialogue has commenced between the Government of Mali and any of the groups in the north."
He noted that with the establishment of President Traoré's National Commission for Negotiations, it is expected that a Malian-owned dialogue process, with the assistance of ECOWAS and neighbouring countries, will commence shortly.
The Secretary-General has been using his 'good offices' to help address the crisis, through his Special Representative for Africa, Said Djinnit, in addition to support from the UN Department of Political Affairs, which is consulting with ECOWAS Member States, and UN military planners, who have helped advise an ECOWAS technical assessment mission.
"As the Malian transitional authorities prepare to initiate a national dialogue, the United Nations stands ready to offer its considerable expertise in designing such processes and facilitating such dialogue," Mr. Ban said.
The Secretary-General also noted that the ongoing conflict has exacerbated a perilous humanitarian situation in Mali, with a severe food security and nutrition crisis already affecting 4.6 million people in Mali.
The food and nutrition situation in Mali is part of a wider crisis in the region. Humanitarian organizations estimate that there are currently some 18 million people facing food insecurity in the western part of African's Sahel region, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and includes countries such Mali, as well as Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a revised response strategy for the Sahel seeks a total of $725 million in funding, including $481 million for food security activities and $243.6 million for nutrition projects.