Foreign military intervention in Mali risks massive civilian suffering

27 December 2012

AU troopsThe UN Security Council’s approval of international armed intervention in Mali last week, risks worsening the human rights and humanitarian crisis in the north, Amnesty International said today.

According to APO, the Council voted unanimously to approve an African-led force to “use all necessary measures” at its disposal to take back the country’s north from “terrorist, extremist and armed groups”.

But Amnesty International’s researcher on West Africa – Salvatore Saguès, is sceptical. He says that; “An international armed intervention is likely to increase the scale of human rights violations we are already seeing in this conflict.”

Civilians in the north are already suffering under the rule of the armed Islamist groups that have controlled the region since April 2012.

Amnesty International fears that during the intervention, indiscriminate attacks, arbitrary detentions, torture, extrajudicial executions, and the use of child soldiers by both sides, could become even more widespread.

Tuaregs1In order to prevent a new surge in abuses, Amnesty International is calling on the UN to ensure that any military force is bound by effective safeguards for civilian protection.

The rights group is also calling for human rights monitors to be sent to Mali to observe the conflict closely, with particular attention given to government-supported militias.

“The United Nations has to ensure that any intervention force fully complies with international humanitarian and human rights law, and prioritises the protection of civilians caught in the conflict,” said Salvatore Saguès.

“The African armed forces that could take part in this intervention should not have been involved in human rights abuses against their own population.”

Since April 2012, Islamist groups in Mali’s north have imposed a reign of terror, introducing punishments such as amputations, flogging, and stoning to death for those who oppose their interpretation of Islam.

Malian army - BBCAt the beginning of the conflict, the Malian security forces responded to the uprising by bombing Tuareg civilians and arresting, torturing and killing Tuareg people apparently only on ethnic grounds.

Military intervention risks triggering further ethnic conflict, in a country where attacks on Tuareg and other lighter-skinned people are on the increase.

The Malian army is currently dominated by the military junta, which overthrew the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012, and is still heavily influential in political life.

Malian soldiers have been responsible for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture. For example, a group of 16 Muslim preachers comprised of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested and then executed by the Malian military in September 2012, in Diabaly (400 km northeast of Bamako).

“The Malian soldiers have benefited from total impunity. We fear their participation in an armed intervention in the North might lead to further violations against a background of retaliation and revenge”, said Salvatore Saguès.

Amnesty International is also urging the UN to prepare for a deepening refugee crisis.

The conflict has already displaced up to 400,000 people, resulting in a flood of refugees to neighbouring countries poorly prepared to protect them, including countries suffering humanitarian crises due to region-wide food shortages.

Reacting to last week’s UN resolution calling for international armed intervention, the FIDH and its member organization in Mali, AMDH, welcome the inclusion in the resolution of several mechanisms to protect human rights in Mali.

FIDH President – Souhayr Belhassen called on the UN Secretariat and members of the international community to swiftly fulfil their commitments to ensure the prevention of further human rights violations.

Tuaregs“All parties – including the Malian transitional authorities, the UN, and regional groups such as the African Union and ECOWAS – must immediately implement human rights protection mechanisms in Mali. If mediation fails and a military intervention does take place without these protection mechanisms, we risk seeing more serious attacks against civilians and violations of human, creating greater animosity and mistrust between the North and South,” Souhayr Belhassen stated.

The UN Security Council resolution also emphasizes the importance of advancing a political process in parallel with the preparations for military action.

Although the resolution urges the Malian authorities to finalize a roadmap for inclusive national dialogue and political transition, including the holding of elections “as soon as technically possible,” Souhayr Belhassen says that his organization remain concerned at the lack of progress towards inclusive political transition in Mali, as highlighted by the recent forced resignation of Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra.

Attempts at political dialogue have also been marred by an unfair distribution of seats at the table for distinct political parties and civil society groups.

FIDH and AMDH call on the transitional authorities of Mali to establish conditions for a genuinely inclusive political dialogue, and to prepare for the holding of presidential and legislative elections in order to establish a credible and representative government in Mali.


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