The international community takes action on Mali

Published: 23 Jan 2013
By: Djibril Balde

The international community could have avoided the consequences of the crisis in Mali if they had mobilised earlier. And nothing can justify the inaction and slowness of the international and regional military deployment in northern Mali.

In January 2012, violence broke out in northern Mali when Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) invaded Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao and a part of Mopti region.  They succeeded in expelling the Malian army and proclaimed the independent state of Azawad. This then led to the Islamist groups of Ansar Dine and the MUJWA (Movement of Unity and Jihad in Western Africa) re-taking large parts of northern Mali with the support of international Islamist groups including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Tuareg rebels had previously carried out insurgencies in 1962, 1990 and 2009.

On 22 March 2012, Malian soldiers announced that they had overthrown the regime of President Amadou Toumany Toure, suspended the constitution and dissolved government institutions. Soldiers accused the head of state of incompetence in the fight against the rebel and Islamist groups in the north. A few days later, Dioncounda Traoré, the former Chairman of the national assembly, was appointed head of state.

In the midst of all this is terrible human suffering amongst the civilian population, particularly with the proliferation of Islamist groups operating in northern Mali. Human rights abuses have been committed against the population, particularly with the implementation of Sharia law: there are reports that children have been recruited by militias in the Mopti region; many cases of amputation have been reported; anti-personal landmines have been buried in the northern part of the country; and a number of cases of rape have been reported. Not surprisingly, the civilian population has been living in a state of total fear and disarray since the conflict started. In addition, neighbouring countries fear that this destabilisation could spread to the entire sub region by the Islamist groups and the control of the borders has been reinforced.

To add to the suffering, hundreds of thousands of people have had to flee their homes, generating an estimated 204,000 IDPs and 145,599 refugees. Humanitarian access to the region is very limited with the Islamist groups restricting international aid. Several NGOs and UN agencies have significantly reduced their work in the north and others have suspended their programmes after their aid materials, food and equipment were looted. The Security Council adopted Resolution 2085 on December 20, 2012 authorising the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) for an initial period of one year under the coordination of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS agreed to deploy 3300 troops to restore the integrity of the north Mali. West African countries including Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ghana, Togo, Niger and Senegal will shortly send troops to Mali. The US and the UK have announced that they will support peacekeeping troops with logistics and food. The resolution has been welcomed by the Malian population and its effective implementation of this resolution is urgent.

On Friday 11 January2013, French President Francois Hollande deployed 800 of French Special Forces to Mali after the government army lost control of the strategically important town of Konna to Islamist groups. French planes bombed several positions held by the Islamists and, with the support of the Malian army, they have started a ground battle. Once again, civilian are caught up in the middle and causalities have been reported.

Today the French President is considered by many Malians as a hero. However, many in West Africa are criticising ECOWAS for being so slow in pushing for military intervention in Mali since the rebels captured the northern part of the country. The deployment of ECOWAS troops was scheduled in September 2013. If it hadn’t been for the intervention of the French army, the Islamists would have taken Bamako and the entire country.

In January 2012, the government of Mali referred the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Prosecutor has since announced that a preliminary examination of the situation is already underway, and on 16 January 2013, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) announced the opening of a formal investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the territory of Mali since January 2012. Alleged crimes include murder; mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; intentionally directing attacks against protected objects; the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court; pillaging; and rape. And all of this at a time when everyone is talking about the ‘responsibility to protect’.

Of course, the jury is still out on whether or not the current intervention is going to bring much needed peace and stability to Mali. But what is for sure is that there cannot be a military solution alone: civil society actors need to make sure they get involved and ensure that any resolution to the crisis in Mali addresses the issues that would allow for genuine political stability.

Programmes: Responsibility to Protect R2P
Regions: Western Africa
Type: IRRI Blog