Posted on | February 2, 2013 by Stefan Kirchner |
International forces led by France are advancing into the Northern parts of Mali in an effort to drive out Islamist terrorists which had imposed Sharia law in the area for the last nine months. At the same time not only the terrorists but also Malian forces which are involved in the re-conquest of this part of their country are accused of war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war. The allegations include the murder of prisoners of war and civilians as well as the poisoning of water sources by throwing corpses down several of the few wells in the region. According to Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/mali-civilians-risk-all-sides-conflict-2013-02-01), Malian forces throw prisoners into a well and then shot the men. Amnesty International also reports cases of indiscriminate targeting, which is illegal under international law.
International Humanitarian Law, also known as the Law of War, has clear rules on the protection of civilians as well as of prisoners of war. These rules include key principles which are applicable at all times. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has started investigations into the use of child soldiers by the Islamists and other war crimes after Mali had referred the situation to the ICC last year. Right now, though, it is virutally impossible to have a clearer picture of what is actually happening in Mali because journalists have been prevented from entering the combat area. A lack of impartial observers makes it difficult to monitor and prevent such crimes, regardless of who is perpetrating them. The military liberation of Mali has to be accompanied by long-term measures which allow for a climate which is conductive to justice, respect for human rights and post-conflict reconciliation among all Malians. For the time being, the focus will be in fighting (often foreign) terrorists which have used part of Mali as a safe haven. It must not be forgotten, however, that also in anti-terrorism measures, key human rights and the rules of International Humanitarian Law must be respected at all times.