To intervene or to not intervene? That's the Mali question
Across dinner tables and in column inches, the debate has raged over whether France and other western powers should intervene in the deepening conflict in Mali, as Islamic insurgents gain ground across the country.
The Daily Telegraph questioned why it took France so long to intervene, given that “AQIM and its allies have been allowed 10 months of unchallenged control over northern Mali.”
Owen Jones of the Independent questioned the rationale of military intervention by France and Britain, suggesting that this would “fuel the narrative of radical Islamist groups".
Meanwhile the Economist writes how the French President “Mr Hollande’s action is decisive, vigorous and entirely justifiable” and that once the threat has been reversed then a pan-African diplomatic and military group should take over.
Whatever you may think of foreign intervention, the fact that Islamic militant groups were able to commit some of the worst human rights abuses across the north of Mali for most of last year is deeply troubling. Amnesty described how these groups had imposed “a reign of terror”, introducing punishments such as amputations, flogging, and stoning to death for those who oppose their interpretation of Islam.
I must say that although it's been less reported, Mali’s government forces' human rights record last year hasn't been great either. Amnesty's previously reported how soldiers extra-judicially executed Tuareg civilians simply on the basis of their ethnicity, shelled a Tuareg nomadic camp and killed livestock which the nomadic population relied on for survival.
And last September, the military were accused of killing 16 moderate Muslim preachers because “the men’s long beards roused their suspicions”, they assumed they were extremists.
From relative anonymity, Mali has rapidly become a troubled hotspot in West Africa and this country now has the attention of the EU (whose ministers met today to approve training and assistance for Malian soldiers), its West African neighbours (Mali’s been pretty high on ECOWAS agenda for most of last year actually), and several other western powers including of course the UK.
Yesterday’s decision by the ICC to investigate possible war crimes committed across Mali last year by all parties is a good move. But that’s just the start.
The international community’s priority – it would seem right now – is to send in as much military firepower as possible to stop the threat posed by these groups. We would urge these states to urgently send in human rights monitors as soon as possible, and give them all the resources they need to do their job. Amnesty USA's Scott Edwards excellent blog goes into more detail - it's worth a read.
Next week our Mali experts are heading to Bamako where they’ll assess the human rights situation on the ground. We’ll be issuing reports from there as soon as possible.
For more background on Mali and the situation, look at our briefing, below.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.