School of Politics and International Studies

Responsibility to Protect Student Journal

Pillar II in Mali: Endless Interference or Making a Difference?

Katie Gabriel, University of Leeds, UK

Katie is a final year undergraduate at the University of Leeds studying International Relations, with a particular interest in the Responsibility to Protect.


On 25 December 2012 under Resolution 2085, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) commitment was invoked by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in reaction to the mounting crisis in Mali (UNSC, 2012). The Resolution permitted an African-led support mission in Mali (AFISMA), which later converted into the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) under Resolution 2100 (Global Centre for R2P, 2013; UNSC, 2013). As it was the Malian government who requested the international assistance, the nature of the mission falls under Pillar II of R2P.

The previous United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, identified three broad categories of intervention under Pillar II, (a) “encouraging states” to fulfil their Pillar I obligations, (b) capacity building to “prevent atrocity crimes”, and (c) “assisting states to protect in situations of emerging or on-going crisis” (UNSG, 2014, p. 8). Although Ban Ki Moon’s interpretation of Pillar II evidently encompasses a range of attractive components, the Mali crisis exposes its broad character as overreaching, especially considering R2P’s short lifespan.

This essay is divided into the following sections: firstly, a brief overview of the Mali crisis and how R2P has been invoked to assist Mali’s government in fulfilling its Pillar I responsibilities; secondly, an evaluation of R2P’s short-term contributions in Mali; and thirdly, an evaluation of R2P’s long-term contributions in Mali. Ultimately this essay argues that R2P has made a difference, although the evaluation is far from straightforward. In particular, it questions whether Pillar II, while offering a ‘broad umbrella’ of assistance (Gallagher, 2015, p. 1264), has such a broad scope that it in fact damages its ability to make a long-term difference in humanitarian crises. Finally, it also questions whether R2P has actually had the time to have a prolonged impact on Mali.


The Mali Crisis and Pillar II

In March 2012, a military coup took place against the Malian government, resulting in the formation of a transitional government. In the midst of such political instability, the ethnic Tuareg separatist group, the National Movement for Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), seized the Northern part of Mali (Global Centre for R2P, 2013, p. 11). They were followed by a number of armed Islamist groups, who then side-lined the MNLA. These groups have been accused of committing offenses listed under the R2P, which covers four crimes: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The intervention was originally an African-led military intervention headed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). Nevertheless, when Islamist groups threatened to progress towards the South, Mali’s Interim President requested immediate military assistance from the French (Global Centre for R2P, 2013, p. 12). Since then, other European states have also contributed assistance through MINUSMA.

In relation to the Mali crisis, the first category under Pillar II is less controversial because the government requested international assistance. Therefore, this essay primarily focuses on the second and third categories. The second category, titled ‘capacity building’, is aimed at the prevention of the four crimes by helping states to identify, manage, and prevent the risk factors that may lead to the outbreak of atrocity crimes (ICRtoP, no date). Ban Ki-moon specified two sets of capacities; the first is aimed at creating “effective, legitimate, and inclusive governance”, and the second is directed at strengthening institutions and actors within a state so that they can prevent the escalation of crises (UNSG, 2014, p. 10). This includes political institutions, the legal system, security sector, and the media (ICRtoP, no date). The third category under Pillar II, titled international assistance or protection assistance, represents a ‘toolbox’ (Gallagher, 2015, p. 1264). It includes expertise in dispute resolution, human rights monitoring, law enforcement and criminal investigation, protection of refugees and the internally displaced, and protection of civilians in humanitarian emergencies (ibid). Undeniably, Pillar II offers a diverse set of useful tools to assist states with protecting its populations from the four crimes, not simply in the short-term, but over an extended period.  Nevertheless, the second section of this essay questions whether Pillar II’s broad scope provides opportunity to protect populations and prevent mass atrocities, or whether it simply sets expectations too high, ultimately undermining R2P’s credibility. Beforehand, it is important to discuss R2P’s more immediate successes in Mali.


The short-term

This first section addresses why R2P should be considered as having made a significant difference in the Mali crisis. The primary area of success has been the military intervention from the French, the European Union (EU), and MINUSMA. European counterparts provided a vast range of military equipment such as troops, arms, aircrafts, intelligence, and engineering capacities. MINUSMA, for instance, was composed of 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 police personnel at full capacity (ICRtoP, 2015). This was the third largest UN peacekeeping mission, with an approved six-month budget of US$367 million. The European Union Training Mission for Mali (EUTM Mali) also included 550 staff, 200 instructors, and a 15-month budget of €23 million (Weiss & Welz, 2014, p. 898). This demonstrates a huge international response and commitment to the protection of Mali’s populations. It was also a successful military campaign in the short term. The French intervention alone forced Islamist groups out of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao. The primary aims of Resolution 2100 were a “strong commitment to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Mali” and “swift action by the French forces, at the request of the transitional authorities of Mali” (UNSC, 2013, p. 1). The primary aims of the mission therefore reflected the central tenets of Pillar II: state sovereignty and ‘swift and decisive’ action taken by the international community (Gallagher, 2015, p. 1272). However more importantly, both of these aims were achieved. Due to the successful efforts of the interveners, the main population centres of the North were regained in “just a few weeks” with the exception of Kidal (Karlsrud, 2016, p. 791).  Furthermore, the mission successfully protected Malian populations from war crimes and crimes against humanity such as rape, amputations and executions (Human Rights Watch, 2012). These outcomes suggest a considerable difference has been made.

In addition to military assistance, multi-lateral efforts by the AU, ECOWAS, and the UN were made to address political, security, human rights and humanitarian concerns (UNSG, 2013, p. 3). The European Union also created the Capacity Building Mission in Mali, a civilian mission to “deliver strategic advice and training to the three internal security forces in Mali – the police, the gendarmerie, and the national guard” (Karlsrud & Smith, 2015, p. 4). Further, the European Union Training Mission for Mali (EUTM Mali) included training on human rights, international humanitarian law, and the protection of civilians (Global Centre for R2P, 2013). And finally, aside from the EU’s efforts, the AU and ECOWAS successfully deployed 50 human rights monitors to Mali alongside 30 monitors from the UN (ibid). Therefore, it can be concluded that Pillar II’s third category, its ‘toolbox’ of international assistance, was effectively utilized to tackle the Mali crisis in the short-term.

However, the enactment of R2P in Mali could be criticised for its slow orchestration and weak implementation. Although there are strong grounds for this argument, the reasons for the mission’s slowness do not lie with R2P in principle, rather they lie with the various different components of the mission beyond its control. The first is the dangerous nature of the mission, whereby the interveners were dealing with non-state armed groups, not violence committed by the State. Reports found the environment encountered by MINUSIMA “became more challenging than most other UN peacekeeping missions”. They faced many “ambushes, complex attacks, and other asymmetric and terrorist tactics, such as suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs)” (Karlsrud & Smith, 2015, p. 4). Although R2P was originally a state-based principle; parallel to non-state armed groups becoming more prominent, Pillar II has become more relevant as a potential framework for tackling these groups. The Mali crisis proves that governments may seek international assistance to protect their populations from groups committing the four crimes under R2P, highlighting Pillar II’s potential for taking on this role (Gallagher, 2015, p. 1270). The new, and highly dangerous environment posed by Mali may have hindered the speed and effectiveness of the mission. Nevertheless, R2P was not designed with the intent to tackle non-state armed groups. Therefore, the overall success of the military interventions should be recognized for their ability to adapt to new threat types. To turn this question around, the crisis in Mali could be argued as having made a notable difference to the future use of R2P, as it has demonstrated its capacity to tackle non-state armed groups with some future improvement.

The second reason for slow and weak implementation can be pinned to the lack of cooperation between the interveners. Bank Ki-moon once stressed the importance of “partnerships” when invoking R2P. Indeed, multilateral approaches contribute to the effectiveness and legitimacy of any intervention (UNSG, 2014, pp. 6-7). Still, without “a harmony of interests” they can be counterproductive (Gallagher, 2015, p. 5). Thomas Weiss and Martin Welz found there were tensions between the AU and ECOWAS over who should lead AFISMA to begin with, largely because the AU became involved after ECOWAS and “had to play catch up” (2014, p. 890). After the later transfer from AFISMA to MINUSMA, tensions surfaced between the AU and the UN. The AU felt sidestepped by the UN when “essential deliberations and decisions were made” (Weiss and Welz, 2014, p. 898). Conversely, the UN and European counterparts became frustrated over the cooperation of troops from the AU and ECOWAS. It was claimed they were inadequately trained and ill-equipped for such a mission (ibid). Again, this helps to emphasize the challenging environment facing the interveners. Although incorporating regional actors within R2P missions is essential; without an upgrade in capacities across the African continent, these “partnerships” will always face difficulties. ­ Jennifer Welsh wrote that “while regional organizations are often touted as the legitimate and preferred actors in crises such as Mali, they cannot always fulfil their mandate. Capacity and politics get in the way” (Welsh, 2013). From this, it can be concluded that in Mali, the incorporation of regional actors hindered R2P’s implementation. Again, this could be argued is no fault of R2P in principle. Nevertheless, if “partnerships” are to become a vital feature of R2P missions, work should be undertaken to prevent the same occurrences in future crises.

In spite of the disagreements between interveners, and the complexities of the mission, the primary aims of the mission, alongside the central tenets of Pillar II, were still successfully achieved. Therefore, this essay holds the firm view that R2P has made a difference in Mali.


The long-term

Despite the short-term successes, the mission has been further criticised for failing to address the root causes of the crisis, subsequently failing to make an overall difference. This section is going to address these concerns, with the overriding view that R2P is not set to deal with such underlying problems. Or if it is, then it certainly is not able yet.

The Malian government’s call for renewed assistance in January 2015 indeed signals that R2P has failed to have an enduring effect in Mali (Gallagher, 2015, p. 1272). While the intervention was able to dissipate the mass violence, restore democratic elections and aid refugees, major concerns persist over the reality of the situation. Malians have since specified many failings of its ‘restored democracy’, such as “systemic corruption, a failing and corrupt judicial system, weak political parties and no opposition, and… lack of civility within communities” (Wing, 2013, p. 479). In the months leading up to the March 2012 coup there were forestalled presidential elections, a Tuareg rebellion, and a resentful military (Wing, 2013, p. 476). Since, the interveners have helped orchestrate the election of a new president and assembly; however, there are claims that it remains ‘business as usual’ (Gallagher, 2015, p. 1272). People are still protesting against the “poor governance performances of state officials” (Vliet, 2014, p. 66). Wing (2013) argues that if Mali’s dysfunctional political system continues, “it is unlikely peace and democracy will return”. In addition to the democratic deficit, there remains the on-going conflict between the Malian government and the ethnic Tuareg’s (Wing, 2013; Wing, 2013, p. 476). This conflict is known to be “one of the fundamental causes of the crisis”, yet it “remains to be addressed” (Global Centre for R2P, 2013).

It is not hard to refute that the root causes have been addressed by R2P, as the entirety of the evidence suggests it has not. However, should R2P be faced with such issues? The premise of the principle is to react and protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity (UNGA, 2005, p. 30). It was not created to then combat the vast multitude of deeply rooted issues that perhaps trigger those four crimes, such as weak and corrupt political systems, poor legal systems, and food insecurity. For instance, although the UNSG put forward capacity building as a category within Pillar II, its duties completely breach the four crimes R2P was employed to tackle. As previously mentioned, capacity building may range from introducing educational initiatives, opportunities for dialogue, supporting political institutions and the media, to establishing truth commissions. Not only does it encompass a range of protective measures, its primary focus is towards prevention. Prevention represents a whole other dimension of R2P. Critics such as Thomas Weiss argue that prevention “is superficially attractive but highly unrealistic way to try and pretend that we can finesse the hard issues of what essentially amounts to humanitarian intervention” (2012, p. 113). Doing so increases expectations and sets R2P up for inevitable failure, as it lacks the capacity to tackle such intricate and complex problems. Further, prevention obscures “the most urgent part of the spectrum of the responsibility: to protect those caught in the crosshairs of war” (ibid). As highlighted in the first section, the ‘most urgent’ purpose of R2P was achieved in Mali; its ‘territorial integrity’ was restored and the mass violence dramatically decreased.

Furthermore, the third category, protection assistance, also encompasses a broad range of measures, including dispute resolution, humanitarian intervention, and military intervention. Both categories have opened up the floodgates to an overwhelming and diverse set of eventualities. Even without the preventative dimension of capacity building, the range of protective measures remains ambitious. Consequently, the overreaching scope of Pillar II has created a sense of disillusionment over what R2P is able to achieve. Such disillusionment and high expectations will inevitably damage R2P’s credibility. Before increasing Pillar II’s range of responsive measures, perhaps efforts should be directed towards finessing the more pressing issues surrounding R2P’s implementation. This could include ensuring cooperation amongst the intervening bodies, or strengthening R2P’s capabilities to protect populations from non-state armed groups.

Finally, if Pillar II should in fact represent this ‘broad umbrella’ of both preventative and protective measures, could we not then question whether R2P has had adequate time to make a difference in Mali over a long period? John Karlsrud points out that the intervention under R2P can only be considered a “short-term success” (2016, p. 791). However, after only five years since the crisis began, of course R2P can only be considered a short-term success, it certainly cannot be labelled as anything else. Finding a sustainable solution to the fundamental causes of the crisis, such as a settlement between the Malian government and the Tuaregs, may take decades to achieve. Not only did the crisis take place five years ago, but R2P itself is only twelve years of age (Bellamy, 2015). Again, expectations must be managed over R2P and what it is able to achieve at present.

Meanwhile in Mali, the UNSC renewed the mandate of MINUSMA in June 2015, the EUTM Mali is still in place, and steps are being taken to strengthen Malian capacities through supporting the justice sector and addressing corruption (Human Rights Watch, 2015). If we are to accurately measure the extent R2P has made a difference in Mali, perhaps we should allow it the chance to do so first.



This essay has clearly identified the positive achievements of the French, AFISMA, and MINUSMA military campaigns, indicating their notable successes. Besides military assistance, the interveners effectively tapped into some of Pillar II’s ‘toolbox’ to provide humanitarian assistance and human rights training, allowing for a more rigorous resolution to the crisis. Whether or not R2P has made a difference long-term by dealing with the deeply embedded causes of the conflict is where this question loses clarity. Mali’s ‘restored democracy’ remains highly dysfunctional, reeking with corruption and nation-wide discontent, as well as the on-going tensions between the government and the ethnic Tuaregs. Nevertheless, this essay has questioned whether R2P should have to address these issues, because they stretch far beyond the four crimes it was engineered to combat. I have specifically contested the inclusion of ‘capacity building’ within Pillar II of R2P on the grounds that it distracts focus away from the four crimes, and opens R2P up to another dimension of prevention. Even without the second, the third category alone contains an ambitious set of protective measures. On the other hand, this essay has argued that if in fact Pillar II should be employed to deal with such intricate and longstanding issues, it is far too early to judge R2P’s long-term potential.  With this in mind, this essay concludes that R2P has made a significant difference to Mali in the short-term: partly because of the swift humanitarian successes and partly because we have not yet entered the long-term.



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