Populations at Risk
Previously Studied Situations
Populations in northern Mali, particularly ethnic Tuareg and Arab civilians, remain at risk of possible war crimes as the Malian army and interventionist forces battle armed Islamist groups.
BACKGROUND:On 22 March 2012 a group of Malian soldiers under the leadership of Captain Amadou Sanogo led a military coup against the central government, resulting in the formation of a transitional government. With this new government lacking the capacity to respond, a loose alliance of armed Islamist groups and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a mainly ethnic Tuareg separatist group, were able to militarily seize control of northern Mali. By June the MNLA had been sidelined by the armed Islamist groups, which committed various human rights abuses including torture, amputations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers while instituting a strict form of Sharia law.
In the midst of armed conflict in the north, during June the transitional government and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for international support to restore the territorial integrity of Mali. On 20 December the UN Security Council (UNSC) approved a resolution authorizing an African-led military intervention force that could be deployed by September 2013.
On 10 January armed Islamist groups captured the central town of Konna and threatened to advance towards the capital, Bamako. France responded to a request by Mali's interim President for urgent assistance by militarily intervening in support of government forces on 11 January, decisively shifting the balance of power in northern Mali.
Several reports implicate Malian troops battling against armed Islamist groups in the north of committing extrajudicial-executions, forcible disappearances and torture. The 26 March report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Mali stated that elements of the Malian army have specifically targeted Tuareg and Arab civilians for reprisals and these groups are now at risk of grave human rights abuses.
On 12 March Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang said that "the situation has been exacerbated by the propagation of inflammatory messages, including through the media, stigmatizing members of the community, thousands of whom have reportedly fled out of fear of reprisal by the Malian army."
ANALYSIS: Armed rebel groups were able to take control of almost half the country due to a combination of tensions between the government and military, a humanitarian crisis related to food insecurity, growing transnational criminality, weak governance and the spread of weapons from Libya. The arrival of interventionist forces in January 2013 succeeded to a large degree in alleviating the risk of violence to civilians in northern Mali by these armed groups. Yet one of the fundamental causes of the crisis, the marginalization of ethnic Tuareg, remains to be addressed.
Arab and Tuareg populations in northern Mali continue to face the risk of possible war crimes perpetrated by the Malian army and segments of the population. On 1 February the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide warned of the risk of reprisal attacks against Tuareg and Arab civilians and called "on the Malian army to discharge its responsibility to protect all populations, irrespective of their race or ethnicity."
The government of Mali is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs the ongoing support of the international community.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: After repeated requests by ECOWAS and the African Union (AU), the UNSC adopted Resolutions 2056 and 2071 in July and October 2012 respectively, to advance preparations for an ECOWAS-led military intervention in northern Mali.
On 20 December the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2085 authorizing the deployment of an African-led international support mission in Mali (AFISMA). Following France's intervention on 11 January, ECOWAS began immediate deployment of AFISMA forces. On 26 March UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recommended the conversion of AFISMA into an 11,200-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali.
On 2 April the European Union began its training mission for the Malian military, which includes training on human rights, IHL and the protection of civilians. The AU and ECOWAS plan to deploy 50 human rights monitors to Mali alongside 30 monitors from the UN.
On 13 July 2012 the government of Mali referred the situation in the north to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which formally launched a war crimes probe during January 2013.
NECESSARY ACTION: Safeguards should be rigorously implemented by the Malian government and the international community to mitigate any further risk to civilians, particularly Tuareg and Arab civilians, while conducting military operations against armed Islamist groups in the north.
As recommended by UNSC Resolution 2085, it is crucial to maintain a strong human rights component in the ongoing training of Malian troops and ensure the rapid deployment of mandated human rights monitors.
The government should set up an independent commission to investigate alleged war crimes in northern Mali and cooperate fully with the ICC investigation.
Last Updated: 15 April 2013