It is a great honor to be with you here in Mali. I am America’s Ambassador to the United Nations and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet. This is the first time that a member of President Obama’s cabinet has visited Mali, and the first time that an American cabinet member has visited Mali in more than a decade. And I am thrilled to be here at such a crucial time in the history of your country. There is much to celebrate in Mali’s turnaround since the dark days of 2012 and part of 2013. You are emerging from a period of extreme stress brought on by political upheaval, civil strife, and drought. Today, there is new hope, new signs of democracy at work, and a new president who was elected with the highest voter turn-out in your country’s history.
Still, much has been lost. A priceless part of your ancient heritage has been destroyed. The violence that split your country took many lives and left a multitude of scars that have not yet had time to heal. Thousands of displaced families are still unable to return to their homes.
But Mali has much to build upon, including your tradition of tolerance, mutual respect, and a love of peace. Above all, it has people who care about each other. For example, Madame Fatimata Touré worked in development through grassroots organizations for more than 22 years. During the occupation of the north, she fought against gender-based violence. When extremists attacked the hospital in Gao, Madame Touré helped my government to assist victims in relocating and in finding safety, shelter, and counseling. As the conflict ensued, Madame Touré provided counseling and shelter for victims of rape and she publicly denounced perpetrators of gender-based violence. When her own home was under assault, Madame Toure hid beneath her bed and kept working, using her mobile phone. She is not someone who gives up. Even now, she continues to help her fellow citizens as head of the Regional Forum on Reconciliation and Peace in Gao.
We all know that, last year, the Ansar al-Dine tried to desecrate sacred shrines with pick-axes, and to burn the irreplaceable manuscripts stored in the libraries of Timbuktu. We also know that you, the people of Mali, did all you could to stop them and that, as a result, much of this precious patrimony has been preserved. We have heard stories during our stay here about 300,000 manuscripts that were smuggled out of Timbuktu by brave Malians during the height of the terror. We are aware, as well, of how many Malians have opened their homes to their fellow citizens who fled violence in the north. Unlike many places that have witnessed conflict, most of the displaced in Mali are not in camps, but are instead in the care of the larger community. There is a spirit of generosity and caring here that is a tremendous national asset.
You have other assets as well. You have elected a new government that is pushing to end impunity and to promote accountability so that Malians start to see justice be done and corruption ended. You have brave judges pursuing justice in the face of threats to their own lives. You have civilian control being restored for the security sector, essential to democratic governance. You have journalists telling the truth, warts and all. Historically, Mali has had a media environment that is among the most open and free in Africa. That changed after the coup, when a number of journalists were intimidated, beaten and detained without charge. I am proud that, last March, my own country’s Ambassador – Ambassador Leonard – was the first to publicly denounce the arrest of your colleague Boukary Daou, who was detained and beaten after his newspaper printed a letter criticizing the leaders of the coup. Looking ahead, the press here – you – will have an essential part to play as a critical check and balance on the government and a shaper of public civic spirit.
Civil society as a whole will play a critical role as well. All efforts on national reconciliation, decentralization, and dialogue have to include civil society, and the Malian people must have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. And today, I look forward myself to learning about your own stories and views.
As you know, the UN Security Council is here in Mali because of the world’s interest in supporting the efforts of your government and society to recover from war, achieve reconciliation, and move ahead. The United States has been a strong supporter of the UN, AU, and French missions that have assisted these efforts. We look forward to a continued partnership with you in helping to consolidate security gains and deal with the political challenges that, in the past, have often been left unresolved. We do not want to see history repeat itself. This is the moment to build a new, brighter future for all the Malian people.
To support reconciliation and dialogue, we have fostered initiatives in such strife-torn places as Douentza and in villages along the Niger River from Niafunke to Timbuktu. We have worked with some 80 civil society organizations to train young people in peace building and reconciliation techniques. We have assisted in the broadcasting of more than 3,000 radio programs and 80 television presentations promoting peace. And we have collaborated with more than 5,000 community leaders, including people from the religious sector, women’s groups, youth associations, and schools.
Of course, a major part of reconciliation is the creation of governing institutions in which people from all parts of Mali can have faith. This challenge has been the focus of my discussions – and that of other Security Council representatives – with your President, your Prime Minister, and other ministers and leaders. We have had frank talks about the need to bring people together, to achieve accountability for human rights abuses, to guard against corruption, and to make progress in such critical areas as security, education, health care, the empowerment of women, and true justice.
In closing, let me just say that, for two decades, Mali was widely cited as an example of stable democratic governance in which a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society lived in relative peace and security. The crisis that began in 2012 was terrible, but it was also a sharp departure from your country’s traditions. Mali’s heritage is one of tolerance; your people strive for consensus; your reputation is built on mutual respect; and your future depends on your resilience and on your determination to move forward together. My government is prepared to help in whatever way we can – and I am confident that you will succeed. Thank you.
- Cross posted from the U.S. Mission to the UN