"Crisis Alert in Mali: Populations in north at risk of human rights violations", ICRtoP

 13 April 2012

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Crisis Alert in Mali: Populations in north at risk of human rights violations
1. West African Civil Society Forum, Centre for Democracy and Development, West African Bar Association - Statement of Concern: Civil Society in West Africa Urges for speedy return to Constitutional Government in Mali
2. Amnesty International - Mali: Urgent action needed to protect civilians
3. Human Rights Watch - Mali: Coup Leaders Must Respect Rights

Humanitarian situation worsens following coup d’état in Mali
The humanitarian situation in northern Mali has worsened considerably since a coup in late March, with reports of human rights violations including murder, rape, robbery and forced displacement. President Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in an army coup on 22 March, which leaders stated was in response to the government’s inability to handle the insurgency of ethnic Tuareg rebels in Mali’s northern territories. The coup, occurring one month prior to elections in a country known for its democratic political nature, actually strengthened the position of the Tuareg group, who seized the northern towns of Timbuktu, Goa and Kidal and declared the independence of northern Mali and formation of Azawad on 6 April. The group’s recent advances have been fueled in part by the flow of arms from post-conflict Libya, where many of the rebels were employed by the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.  Putting the population at further risk is the escalating food crisis that has plagued the Sahel region.  Oxfam International reported on 30 March that the conflic t disrupted access to food markets and decreased travel access across borders in search of additional food and income resources, thus resulting in the urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance to the region.
United Nations responds to escalating crisis
The Security Council issued a press statement on 9 April, reiterating their serious concern over the “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” in Mali and calling for an immediate cessation of violence. The Council had already devoted significant attention to the situation as the political and humanitarian crises unfolded with an initial press statement on 22 March condemning the coup, and two presidential statements on 26 March and 4 April strongly denouncing the attacks on civilians in norther n Mali.
Also on 9 April, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, strongly condemned the “alarming number” of acts of sexual violence committed against women and girls in the north, including abduction, public rape and subjection to sexual violence in front of family members. She noted that acts of conflict-related sexual violence “can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity”, two of the four crimes under the Responsibility to Protect. The Special Representative also stated that any individual suspected of these crimes could be publicly named and shamed by the Secretary-General as a basis for Security Council action. On 12 April, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for urgent national and international action in response to the political situation enflaming the violence, describing it as an “extremely serious humanitarian crisis affecting the whole of the Sahel region”. Pillay noted that illegal arrests, poor conditions of detention and attempts to restrict the right to freedom were among the human rights violations, as well as allegations of tension between different ethnic groups and the targeting of non-Muslim civilians in the north, increasing the risk of sectarian violence.
Regional organizations and individual states respond rapidly to the political crisis
On 23 March, the day after the military coup, the African Union (AU) issued a communiqué suspending Mali’s membership from the regional organization; the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) quickly followed suit on 27 March during an extraordinary summit on Mali. At the same meeting, ECOWAS appointed Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré as Mediator of the situation and on 29 March dispatched a delegation, composed of Compaoré, ECOWAS Chairman and President of Côte D’Ivoire Alassane Ouattara, AU Chairman and President of Benin Boni Yayi, and the leaders of Liberia, Niger and Nigeria to Mali. The delegation was unable to land for security reason s and returned to Abidjan to hold an emergency meeting on 30 March, during which ECOWAS adopted sanctions and travel bans along with the freezing of assets of the junta leaders and the closing of Mali’s borders. Following consultations between Compaoré and coup and former political leaders, civil society and others, a framework agreement was signed on 6 April by ECOWAS and the junta to transfer power to the president of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traore, who was sworn in on 12 April. The agreement also stipulated that a unity government would be formed and that ECOWAS would lift sanctions, which it did on 9 April. After the swearing-in, Traore immediately called on the rebels in northern Mali to “halt all abuses”, and said that, though peaceful measures would be preferred, he would “not hesitate to wage a total and relentless war” if the rebels did not negotiate.
Outside of the region, the international response to the coup and succeeding violence was also swift as the United States, France and the European Union, among others, issued statements on 22 March condemning the action and calling for an immediate return to democracy. The European Union, African Development Bank and the World Bank as well as several individual governments announced the suspension of funding for aid and development projects in Mali on 22 and 23 March. As the crisis worsened for civilians in the north, several individual governments expressed concern and calle d for the protection of human rights, including the United States on 12 April and Germany on 4 April.
Civil society calls for the protection of all populations
Civil society organizations reacted swiftly following the coup, calling on national actors to respect human rights, including Human Rights Watch on 23 March which called for the protection of vulnerable populations, particularly minorities. These responses intensified as the political crisis remained unresolved and the humanitarian situation in northern Mali deteriorated. Amnesty International issued a warning on 2 April that civilians felt at risk and were fleeing Tuareg rebels who were reportedly looting houses. Amnesty urgently cautioned that the situation could become a serious humanitarian crisis.  ICRtoP Nigeria-based member West African Civil Society Forum joined the Centre for Democracy and Development and the West African Bar Association in re leasing a statement of concern on 4 April commending all efforts taken at the regional and international levels to peacefully resolve the crisis, but deploring the threat to civilians in the North.
The ongoing situation in northern Mali, if not resolved peacefully,may continue to leave populations at risk of human rights violations which could constitute crimes under the RtoP framework.  All states made a commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in their endorsement of RtoP at the 2005 World Summit.  As such, the government of Mali bears the primary responsibility for the prevention of these most egregious crimes and regional and international actors, in recalling their responsibility to protect, must be available to assist the nation in ensuring the safety of the population.

1. Statement of Concern: Civil Society in West Africa Urges for  speedy return to Constitutional Government in Mali
West African Civil Society Forum, Centre for Democracy and Development, West African Bar Association
4 April 2012
We, members of the civil society in West Africa convened by the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the West African Bar Association (WABA), unequivocally condemn once again through this peaceful mass demonstration at Mali Embassy and ECOWAS Commission in Abuja, the continuing military rule in Mali which has lasted two weeks so far. We issue this statement to reiterate our unshakable stand on zero tolerance to military coup in our continent. (…)

We commend various efforts, both local and international, that have been made jointly so far in an attempt to contain the situation, in particular the vigorous targeted sanctions against the Junta announced by ECOWAS yesterday. We however, deplore the worsening security situation and humanitarian crisis as the Tuareg rebels have now captured over half the country and might still advance to Bamako with civilians paying the price for the takeover in Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and other northern towns of the country. 

We hereby call on all parties within the Malian political landscape to remain calm while strongly urging them to explore all avenues for dialogue and peaceful settlement of their grievances. Specifically, we call for:

1. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) to continue to initiate consultations to stabilise the country and;

2. The international community, especially leading nations to constructively continue to engage and coordinate with the ECOWAS, the AU and the UN in addressing the Malian political and security situation, rather than unilaterally;
3. The Regional, Continental and International community to support the quick and effective deployment of the ECOWAS Standby Force to restore constitutional order and the territorial integrity of Mali

4. The Malian Civil Society to actively continue to play their role of being the vanguard of popular participation by actively consulting with all stakeholders to seek a consensual and peaceful resolution of the situation;

We finally urge all democratic forces to enforce a constitutional solution in Mali through immediate establishment of a transition government to be led by the Speaker of the parliament in line with the 1992 Constitution.
2. Mali: Urgent action needed to protect civilians
Amnesty International
2 April 2012
The Tuareg and Islamist armed groups who have taken the northern cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu must protect the civilian population in areas under their control, Amnesty International said today.

In Gao, the organisation received reports of armed men firing into the air and looting public and private buildings, including the hospital. (…)

“The armed groups who seized these towns in the last three days must ensure human rights abuses do not occur and where they do, they must take action and remove anyone implicated from their ranks,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s researcher on West Africa.

“The looting must be halted to ensure that the civilian population can safely go about their lives.”  (…)

As chaos spirals more and more people are fleeing their homes. (…)
Since the beginning of the uprising, more than 200,000 people have fled the north of Mali with an estimated 100,000 crossing to the neighbouring countries of Mauritania, Niger, Algeria and Burkina Faso.

“There is a real risk of a humanitarian crisis as aid agencies are encountering many problems gaining access to those in need,” said Gaëtan Mootoo. “This situation is aggravated by the fact that the whole Sahel region is facing a widespread food and nutrition crisis.”

The situation in Bamako continues to be volatile ten days on from the military coup that toppled Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Touré. (…)
Read the full article.
3. Mali: Coup Leaders Must Respect Rights
Human Rights Watch
23 March 2012
Military officers responsible for a coup in Mali should restore basic human rights protections, ensure the humane treatment of everyone in custody, and protect the lives and property of all Malians, Human Rights Watch said today. The security of the ethnic Tuareg, Arab populations, and other minorities is of particular concern.

(…) Since the outbreak of armed conflict in northern Mali in mid-January 2012, some 200,000 Malians have fled their homes, most to neighboring Algeria, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

“The political and social upheaval created by the coup must not lead to a vacuum in the protection of basic rights,” said Corinne Dufka, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The military officers who took over Mali’s government must not only maintain discipline within the security forces, but should also ensure that the human rights of all Malians are respected.” (…)

Local and international media reported that the coup leaders, reportedly headed by Capt. Amadou Sanogo,had detained at least two government ministers – the foreign affairs minister,Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, and the territorial administration and local authorities minister, Kafougouna Koné – as well as several loyalist military officers. There were also reports of looting of the presidential palace, shops, and gas stations in Bamako. As a result of soldiers firing in the air, numerous civilians are reported to have been shot by stray bullets. During a speech on national television, Capt. Sanogo called for calm and denounced all looting.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that the unrest provoked by the coup could result in attacks against minority populations, notably the Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups, and called on the coup leaders to ensure that the rights and safety of all Malians are respected. (…)

Read the full article.
Thank you to Georgia Stone and Amelia Wolf for compiling this listserv.

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