Human rights concerns loom as EU hosts Mali conference

Holland in Mali.JPG

Europe and its global partners that are being asked to help finance a €4-billion development programme in Mali should be pressuring the government to address the executions, torture other abuses occurring in the divided country, human rights advocates say.

An EU-hosted donor conference is scheduled to be held on Wednesday (15 May) in Brussels with the aim of raising €1.9 billion, or half what Mali’s transitional government says it needs to finance a two-year development plan. The United Nations, meanwhile, says it needs at least €222 million to address immediate food and other humanitarian needs for the 475,000 people displaced by fighting.

The situation in Mali and its restive north remains tense since sectarian violence broke out in early 2012, prompting a French-led intervention in January that has stalled advances by rebels and Islamic militants.

But amid calls for more aid, UN rights officials and advocacy groups have expressed concern about the treatment of non-combatants, accusing both the government and insurgents of violations.

Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher on Africa at Human Rights Watch, said the donors gathering in Brussels should pressure the Malian authorities to improve their human rights performance.

“The donors really need to look at why Mali is in this situation in the first place and focus their efforts on strengthening the institutions which uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights,” she said.

Dufka, who has been in the West African nation twice since the French intervention, said the transitional government has taken steps to improve discipline and credited the EU’s military training mission in Mali of improving the army's professionalism, but said violations continue.

“What we have documented is numerous incidents by the army of excessive use of force, executions, disappearances, torture and other forms of abuse against alleged supporters of the MNLA,” or national Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a Tuareg separatist group.

“We do not think those are systematic, but we do believe that there have been what we have characterised as numerous, very serious incidents that have to be addressed,” she said in a telephone interview from Washington.

Executions, child soldiers

Amnesty International, another human rights group, has accused government forces of carrying out extrajudicial executions in the north and Islamic militants of recruiting child soldiers and killing civilians and wounded government soldiers.

Mali has been torn for decades by divisions between its northern Islamic and Arab communities and the African south. Attacks by northern insurgents, backed by regional Islamic groups, surged in early 2012, leading the military to temporarily seize control of the government.

UN officials have also expressed concern about reprisal attacks against Tuareg and Arab ethnic communities in the north as government troops, with the support of European and African intervention forces, have retaken towns from Islamic rebels.

In April, the UN Security Council approved a 12,600-strong police and military force to take over from the African-led security force in Mali, partly to help secure the civilian population.

“Human rights is one of the core elements of the mandate,” Hervé Ladsous, a French diplomat who is in charge of UN peacekeeping operations, said in a statement.

Earlier, the UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, said he was “deeply concerned at the risk of reprisal attacks.”

“There have been serious allegations of human rights violations committed by the Malian army, including summary executions and disappearances, in Sevaré, Mopti, Niono and other towns close to the areas where fighting has occurred,” Dieng said in a statement on 1 February.

“There have also been reports of incidents of mob lynching and looting of properties belonging to Arab and Tuareg communities. These communities are reportedly being accused of supporting armed groups, based simply on their ethnic affiliation,” he said.

Besides attacks on civilians, media rights groups have reported that domestic and foreign journalists have been targeted.

The International Press Institute in Vienna and the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York have both condemned the detention of journalists by Malian authorities and urged the government’s international supporters to ensure press freedom. Last week, a French journalist who was reporting on alleged human rights abuses carried out by government troops was expelled from the country.

Donor meeting

Wednesday’s donor conference is to be attended by some 100 government representatives and aid officials. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, French President François Hollande and Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré will be among those leading the gathering.

The European Commission announced in March it was freeing €250 million in development aid for Mali to help the struggling government in Bamako. The money had been frozen pending civilian government reforms and pledges to rebuild the north and organise democratic elections.

EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said the infusion of money would help jump-start large-scale immunisation programmes for children, help rebuild health facilities and schools, provide supplies for farmers and support job-creation.

In addition, the EU has stepped up humanitarian aid and development efforts in the African Sahel, a region prone to sectarian fighting and food insecurity. Along with Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania have all faced drought, food shortages and insecurity in the past two years.

Some 10.3 million people in the region lack sufficient food and 4.5 million children under five are vulnerable to severe to moderate malnutrition, EU and UN figures show. The UN estimates that 226,000 million children die every year from malnutrition.

Valcárcel Siso, president of the EU Committee of the Regions, is scheduled to open the international donor conference Mali on Wednesday. "On behalf of the Committee of the Regions, I invite all local and regional authorities across Europe to take part in a joint cooperative initiative to support their counterparts in Mali," Valcárcel said in a statement.

"Malian local authorities will have a key role to play in recovering from the crisis, because they will guarantee efforts to re-establish local public services, revive local investment, calm inter-communal tensions and strengthen grassroots democracy,” he said, adding that “local and regional authorities in Europe should support them in this challenge."

Mali, a nation of 16 million, erupted in conflict last year when army officers deposed the civilian government while Tuareg fighters who had been sheltering in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya returned home to renew their long-time rebellion. Civilian rule was restored, paving the way for the restoration of EU and international aid this year.

The French intervention has stabilised the south and the influx of aid has allowed relief organisations to begin restoring war-damaged clinics in populated northern areas despite continuing threats of rebel attacks.

The UN’s humanitarian agency reported on 8 May that 475,000 people had fled northern regions due to conflict and food insecurity. The International Committee for Red Cross says civilians continue to stay away.

  • 15 May: Mali donor conference in Brussels
  • July: Mali to hold nationwide election

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