The conflict in Mali is receiving considerable attention in Canada due to our military’s opaque role in the ongoing conflict. Recent reports suggest that Mali’s northern regions are nearly rid of the Islamist militants who gained control following last year’s destabilizing coup. Dislodging the rebels has freed Malians from a campaign of violence that included amputations and executions – and a ban on music! But what is next for Mali and its citizens?
Human Rights Watch has released its World Report 2013, which outlines human rights practices, abuses and progress around the globe. Over 90 countries are analyzed in the report, including a pre-intervention analysis of Mali. One of the most alarming Mali-related insights is that we must be wary of ignoring abuses carried out by the government in the days and months ahead. It is easy to criticize the abusive Islamist faction that conquered the north and launched a repressive campaign of rape and violence. However, the government will have the biggest impact on the future of Mali, and its human rights record in 2012 was problematic.
According to the World Report 2013, over the past year:
Malian government soldiers arbitrarily detained and in several cases executed men they accused of collaborating with the rebel groups in the north. The majority of victims were of Tuareg or Arab ethnicity or Mauritanian nationality.
On September 8, 16 Islamic preachers on their way to a religious conference in the capital, Bamako, were detained and hours later executed within a military camp in Diabaly, some 270 miles from Bamako, for their alleged links with Islamist groups. Their driver, seen in military custody days after the killings, has since disappeared. The Malian government, under pressure from Mauritania, from which nine of the victims hailed, apologized for the incident and promised an investigation, but has made no arrests. On October 21, soldiers executed at least eight Tuareg herders, also in Diabaly.
In May, members of the security forces loyal to Captain Sanogo forcibly disappeared at least 21 soldiers allegedly linked to an April 30 counter-coup, and committed torture and other abuses against dozens of others. The soldiers were handcuffed and tied for days at a time; beaten with batons, sticks, and guns; kicked in the back, head, ribs, and genitals; stabbed in their extremities, and burned with cigarettes and lighters. Four men were forced at gunpoint to engage in anal sex with one another. The detainees were also subjected to psychologi-cal abuse including death threats and mock executions. Several journalists critical of the coup leadership were detained, questioned, and intimidated; in July, armed and masked gunmen abducted two journalists, severely beat them, and dumped them on the outskirts of Bamako after warning them to stop criticizing the military.
The section on Mali concludes by declaring that while the International Criminal Court is considering a formal investigation, the government has consistently failed to investigate or prosecute abuses by its security forces.
Canada’s interests in Mali are considerable. As one of CIDA’s 2009 countries of focus, Mali has received significant financial support from Canada – nearly $130 million in 2009-10 alone. In fact, earlier this week Minister Fantino pledged another $13 million in humanitarian aid. Furthermore, as one of Africa’s largest gold producers, Mali’s instability threatens Canada’s commercial interests and the productivity of Canadian mining companies like IAMGOLD.
The recent instability poses a threat to the recent positive trends in Mali. Canada suspended its foreign aid contributions to the Malian government after the 2012 coup. However, we must also ensure that the mission in Mali does not end once the Islamist militants have been defeated. Mali has a long way to go and its development requires more than the ousting of its northern rebels.
Canadians should certainly care about what is happening in Mali – both today and tomorrow. But what role can and should Canada play in post-conflict Mali?