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In Mali, UN Runs French PR Quoting US Power, Nothing on Kidal, Rapes

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 2 -- During the Mali trip of the UN Security Council, the UN mission MINUSMA has produced and uploaded a series of YouTube videos, heavy on the positions of French Ambassador Gerard Araud.

  Inner City Press noted that the "interview" uploaded from Mopti, where the Council did not meet representatives from Kidal in the North, omitted all of the questions asked. Inner City Press asked why, on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access asked that the Council's 7 pm press conference be live-streamed or otherwise made accessible in real time.

  MINUSMA responded that "Internet speed is not sufficiently fast, sorry for that." FUNCA has asked that questions can be posed and answered by Twitter, as done for example the UN in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (from which envoy Martin Kobler complained on February 3 of protesters stoning UN vehicles; Kobler did a live-streamed Twitter Q&A.)

  We note that from Mail the UN's MINUSMA, despite the statement about Internet speed, has continued to put online Araud (and envoy Bert Koenders) videos on YouTube, for example here and here. Koenders claimed that with president IBK, "all the aspects" were discussed -- but still nothing has been said pubicly about the failure to meet with those from Kidal, and about the alleged gang rapes by UN peacekeepers.

  Araud went further in his MINUSMA video, quoting US Ambassador Samantha Power that strong-man IBK is "impressive," video here at Minute 0;40, and calling his dialogue "completely inclusive" despite the absence of those from Kidal.

  So will these questions be asked, allowed and answered at "the Security Council's" 7 pm press conference? The Free UN Coalition for Access has asked.

 That the Malian Presidency proudly links to a Radio France Internationale story praising the French ambassador as "at once very nuance and very clear" is one thing.

  Now the UN Peacekeeping mission in Mali MINUSMA has edited and posted a video of Ambassador Araud, with all questions edited out. Click here. Thus Araud is able to speak about "inspecting" the UN force, without anything about oversight of the French Serval force the UN belated authorized.

  (Will the 7 p.m. press conference at MINUSMA headquarters in Bamako be live-streamed? One would think with the money spent that the UN could do it. But will they?)

  Likewise, Araud speaks of meeting with the armed groups of the north without saying anything about Kidal.

   It's one thing that the Security Council members did not visit the north due to safety concerns. But given the centrality of Kidal to the split in the country, how could their meeting in Mopti with "civil society" from the north not include Kidal?

  It is confirmed, by French-selected scribes: the Council met with it "civil society from Timbuktu, Gao and Mopti" - and NOT from Kidal. But the scribes, typically, did not question the omission, much less disparities in description of killings in Kidal or the lack of transparency by the UN about gang rapes by its peacekeepers, despite claims of "zero tolerance."

  On February 3, France's Operation Serval is set to make a presentation. While the Security Council has so far remained silent about France's Operation Sangaris' killings in Central African Republic, and taking sides and leaving some at risk as even Navi Pillay noted, more should be expected in person in Mali.

MaliActu, a publication on which the government in Bamako has previously cracked down and threatened, reported that Kidal was not represented in the meeting: "Les émissaires de l’ONU ont rencontré les représentants de la société civile -chefs religieux ou traditionnels, fonctionnaires- de Mopti, Gao, et Tombouctou, mais pas de Kidal." 

  It and the below are important issues, but are not addressed in the tweets and facebook-ed statements of the Council members on the trip, much less in MINUSMA's upbeat photos of Bert Koenders and France's Gerard Araud inspecting the troops.

   Did the Security Council, led by France and Chad, meet with leaders from Kidal or not? Especially given the dipute, below, about killings in Kidal?

  So far, the way France arranges this trips like the one to the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year, there is too little media coverage, at least online, about the trip.

   The MINUSMA mission, which is releasing interesting photographs, directed its promotions to only one media: Radio France Internationale. And RFI has now published a piece calling French Ambassador Gerard Araud statement "a la fois tres nuancee et tres claire" -- at once nuanced and clear. Hmm.

   Alongside a growing with of tweets (beginning with UK, Lithuania, US, now joined by Luxembourg, Bert Koenders and Araud inspecting the troops),, the Council members have returned to Bamako. Not yet mentioned: the UNresolved charges of gang rape by the UN peacekeepers from Chad.

  If the UN's and Security Council's stated policies on sexual violence and conflict and "Zero Tolerance" mean anything, the issue will have to be addressed, and publicly, during the two day trip.

  Back on January 16 the UN Spokesperson's Office sent Inner City Press this response, which does not answer the question of accountability. But here it is, in full:

Subject: Your question on Mali
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 3:23 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

In response to your question about the follow-up to the allegations of sexual assault by United Nations peacekeepers in MINUSMA in September 2013, we have received the following information:

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations officially notified the Government of Chad of these allegations in late September. The Government of Chad officially responded, saying that it would take responsibility for the investigations. The Government of Chad has further advised the Department of Peacekeeping Operations that it has completed the national investigation, and the United Nations awaits advice on the outcome of the investigations and follow-up accountability measures as appropriate.

  The UN is waiting for "advice" -- but will it ever make it public? How else can the UN's stated Human Rights Due Diligence Policy be assessed?

  On January 17, Inner City Press asked UN acting deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about it. From the UN's transcript, video here and embedded below:

Inner City Press: On Mali, I wanted to thank you for this written answer you gave yesterday afternoon that Mali has said that its completed its investigation of the alleged rape in Mali by the Chadian troops. And it said that the UN awaits advice on the outcome of the investigation. And what I wanted to know is whether… what part of that is going to be made public, given both the human rights due diligence policy, etcetera? I appreciate you saying that the investigation is finished, but, has… did they clear the soldiers? Were the soldiers found guilty? Where does it stand?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: As we emailed to you, the Mission does await advice on the outcome of the proceedings. We know that there have been proceedings regarding the case. You know this is a case regarding sexual assault and so, we await further information from that. We’ll try to make public what we can of the information that we receive.

Inner City Press: So, they literally just told you that it’s complete, but…no indication on what was done? I guess I wonder when --

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The information I have in the email that was sent to you is the information we have. If we have any further updates, we’ll share it with you at that point.

  Two weeks later, nothing. So what will members of the Security Council ask, find and make public?

  One of the UN's other too-few criticisms of military action in north Mail, the shooting into a crowd of protesters in Kidal on November 28, was disputed in the Security Council on January 16.

  In a statement prepared like a defense attorney, trying raise reasonable doubt, Mali's Permanent Representative Sekou Kasse said that the UN Mission MINUSMA elements closest to the shooting were 400 meters away, precluding them from "objective" testimony.

  The argument made was one must wait for the ballistic analysis ordered by the Malian government itself. Will that be credible? Shouldn't the Council, or less "invested" Council members, inquire into this during the two day visit?

 Again, similarly, can statements by the French Mission to the UN, about military action in its former colony Mali and related topics, be believed? If so, does that require disbelieving the UN itself, whose reports are different?

  In the run-up to the UN Security Council's January 16 meeting on Mali, both France and the UN Mission MINUSMA filed reports. It's worth comparing their accounts of the same incidents, for example on October 23, 2013 in Tessalit.

France gave a Polyanna report emphasizing its good works and downplaying death:

"On 23 October 2013, in response to an attack on a Chadian post in Tessalit by a commando made up of three armed terrorist groups using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, the Operation Serval Liaison and Support Detachment assigned to the Chadian battalion assisted MINUSMA by conducting a patrol with a Mirage 2000D jet and sending a CASA 'Nurse' medical evacuation aircraft. The end result was that six wounded Chadians were evacuated and the remaining explosives were neutralized."

  The UN by contrast recounts seven deaths including five civilians (one child) and two peacekeepers:

"On 23 October, four individuals drove and detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device into a MINUSMA checkpoint in Tessalit. Seven people were killed, including four adult civilians, a six-year-old boy and two MINUSMA peacekeepers."

  This type of disparities in reporting - misleading - would and should be delved into into during the two day Council trip. How and where will these disparities be explained?

  One might say, ask at the Security Council stakeout. But in mid January French Permanent Representative Gerard Araud used the stakeout to rail against publication of a New York Police Department document concerning a French diplomat -- contrasting with the case of Indian diplomat Khobragade -- an NYPD document on which Araud's French Mission to the UN had declined to comment, responding only with threats that publication would a "hostile act."

 While continuing to pursue that, particularly given developments in the Khobragade case, delving into the French report, and the roles of UN Peacekeeping, MINUSMA and their respective leadership(s), should be done - including by the Council during their two days "on the ground." Watch this site.


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