Moscow's narrow view of the Mali peacekeeping mission

Last Thursday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a substantial new peacekeeping mission. The new operation--ponderously named the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)—will likely become the UN's third-largest peacekeeping mission, after those in Congo and Darfur. But just how multidimensional the force will be is a matter of debate and interpretation. In voting for the mission, Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, endorsed a narrow view of its mandate:

[W]e are disturbed by the growing shift towards the military aspects of United Nations peacekeeping. What was once the exception now threatens to become unacknowledged standard practice, with unpredictable and unclear consequences for the security of United Nations personnel and their international legal status.

Russia also doesn't want the peacekeepers getting in the business of arresting war criminals (the International Criminal Court has an ongoing investigation of alleged atrocities in Mali):

We believe that using Blue Helmets for the tasks  involved in arresting those accused by the International  Criminal Court, including through the use of force, is not part of United Nations peacekeeping and carries a  number of risks for the peacekeepers, who could find themselves required to take part in actions that should be conducted by specially trained troops.

Moscow's interpretation is at least in tension with the text of the resolution, which provides that the mission should conduct a wide range of tasks, including the following:

Stabilization of key population centres and support for the reestablishment of State authority throughout the country...to stabilize the key population centres, especially in the north of Mali and, in this context, to deter threats and take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas;

To protect, without prejudice to the responsibility of the transitional authorities of Mali, civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, within its capacities and areas of deployment...

To provide specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict..

To protect the United Nations personnel, installations and equipment and ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations and associated personnel...

To monitor, help investigate and report to the Council on any abuses or violations of human rights or violations of international humanitarian law committed throughout Mali and to contribute to efforts to prevent such violations and abuses...

To assist the transitional authorities of Mali, as necessary and feasible, in protecting from attack the cultural and historical sites in Mali, in collaboration with UNESCO...

To support, as feasible and appropriate, the efforts of the transitional authorities of Mali, without prejudice to their responsibilities, to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mali...

For all these tasks, the resolution "[a]uthorizes MINUSMA to use all necessary means, within the limits of its capacities and areas of deployment, to carry out its mandate." As always, there is plenty of wiggle room in the text, and the force commander will get to decide what the "limits of [the mission's] capacity" are. But it's fair to ask whether there was a meeting of the minds between Russia and other key players on the Mali mandate.


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