Once known as the pillar of democracy and peace in West Africa, Mali is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since 1960 with an estimated 2 million Malians at risk of food security, 400,000 people displaced and hundreds more subjected to arbitrary detention, extra- judicial executions, sexual violence, torture and other inhumane treatment.
Taking advantage of the political upheaval and the chaos created by the coup led by General Amadou Sanogo against the then President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012, the MNLA and the Islamist armed groups swiftly occupied the entire north of the country and have continued to hold it for the last nine months. Hundreds of detainees are being tortured, ill-treated or subjected to inhumane treatment for having alleged links with rival military groups with 70 Malian soldiers were allegedly summary executed in the town of Alguelhoc in the month of January.
Sexual abuse including gang rape, summary executions, looting and pillages of hospitals, schools, aid agencies and government buildings to name a few are prime examples of the ways in which Mali is disrespecting the rule of law and democracy. Islamist extremists have enforced their interpretation of sharia law on the Malian citizens with beatings, floggings, stoning and amputation for those that are seen as deviating from it.
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Women are forced to adhere to the dress code and are forbidden to smoke or sell cigarettes. MNLA and Islamist groups have recruited, trained and used several hundred children, some as young as the age of eleven. Those that have sought refuge in the makeshift camps lack basic necessities such as food, housing, electricity and water distribution, thus adding to the increase of malnutrition along with malaria, and other transmitted diseases in the camp.
With the broiling human right situation, Mali’s African and international partners struggled to come up with a solution. The African Union, ECOWAS and EU countries provided initial military and logistical support with the adoption of Resolution 2100 on 25 April 2013 establishing the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The main focus of the mission is on the protection of civilians, human rights monitoring, the creation of conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance and the return of the displaced persons. On July 13 2013, the AU further deployed an Election Observing Mission to Mali.
European Union observers and MINUSMA praised the West African nation’s legislative elections on Sunday, 24 November 2013 despite the low turnout and some voting abuses. A second round will be held on December 15 in constituencies where there is no majority winner. France aims to reduce its military presence to 1000 by February 2014 an MINUSMA is only using half of its 12,600 planned strength. Is this small election victory combined with the decrease in the military strength a sign of peace to come or is the humanitarian going to worsen? Only time will tell.