21 January 2013

Africa: Priority Given to Protecting Civilians in the Context of Armed Intervention in Mali

press release

As the African-led International Support Mission is deployed in Mali (AFISMA) and fighting between international forces and Jihadists intensifies, FIDH calls upon the African Union - whose 20th Summit opened today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - to be vigilant and firm in securing the integrity of the civilian population.

Almost 2000 soldiers are expected to Mali by 26 January 2013, within the framework of AFISMA, the African-led international mission. Mandated by UN Security Council resolution 2085, AFISMA is to recover territorial control over Northern Malian areas still in the hands of terrorist groups. This deployment occurs while a Malian and French military intervention to combat these groups began on 11 January 2013, with a view to halting the terrorists' advance towards Bamako.

"In this context of intensifying military operations, the civilian population is likely to pay the heaviest price. The desire to neutralise the terrorist threat as quickly as possible should not foreshadow the responsibility to protect civilians. The African Union has a real contribution to make in this regard" said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

Consultations on the details of AFISMA's deployment are gaining momentum out with the Summit, with discussions on the composition, leadership and monitoring of the mission, and a donor conference due to take place on 29 January to address funding. FIDH calls upon the parties to these discussions to fully take into account the human rights protection mechanisms contained in resolution 2085. These include human rights training for Malian security and defense forces, the establishment of human rights protection monitoring procedures - ensuring that international support does not contribute to the perpetration of more violations -, the deployment of human rights observers and cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the prosecution of perpetrators of human rights abuses. All these provisions are important in the current context. Indeed, the civilian population remains subject to serious acts of violence in the North and numerous allegations of violations by Malian forces have yet to be verified (see below).

"The Mali conflict will be at the heart of debates at this African Union Summit. The African Union will need to use all of its influence to ensure that the issue of implementing human rights protection mechanisms is incorporated into discussions. These necessary safeguards must be activated with the least possible delay" declared Mabassa Fall, FIDH Representative to the African Union.

An integrated task force on Mali (MITF) has just been established at the African Union's headquarters. This group is responsible for providing strategic advice and guidance to AFISMA and is composed of experts from the African Union, ECOWAS, the United Nations and the European Union, among others. FIDH expects the MITF to ensure coordination of all stakeholders in the implementation of resolution 2085's human rights protection mechanisms.

FIDH also re-emphasizes its recommendations to African Heads of States and Governments concerning political crises and conflicts in Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic at the African Union 20th Summit. The Kenyan elections, international justice and abolition of the death penalty in Africa must also be carefully considered.

FIDH addresses African Heads of States and Governments with the following recommendations regarding each of these situations.

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