Violence Against Women Spreading In Northern Mali

As the security situation in Mali continues to deteriorate, human rights abuses against women and children are on the rise, according to a senior United Nations official. In a four-day tour of northern Mali, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović noted that the human rights situation on the ground has shifted since the conflict ignited in early 2012.

Previously, members of the Tuareg rebellion seeking independence from the Malian government carried out abuses in pursuit of their goals. But a junior officer-led coup by the Malian Army against perceived government weakness in pursuing the Tuareg in March considerably changed the conflict’s dynamic. Islamist groups such as Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) took advantage of a weakened government and unorganized Tuareg rebels to gain control of vast swaths of territory.

Their de facto control of the north has increased the systemic nature of the assaults as well as changed the targets, the U.N. report says:

Allegedly at least three executions, eight amputations and two floggings have been carried out in recent months. Forced marriages are reportedly common, and women are being sold and forced to remarry, which is akin to rape and commercial sexual exploitation. Šimonović said that one of the people he had interviewed had told him that “women were not only for sale, but also ‘on sale’ in the North, and can be bought for less than 1,000 US dollars.”

During his mission, Šimonović drew particular attention to the violation of women’s rights. “Women are the primary victims of the current crisis and have been disproportionately affected by the situation in the north. Their human rights, to employment, education and access to basic social services have been seriously curtailed,” he said.

Among the other troubling reports from the U.N. visit is the compiling of lists of women “who have had children out of wedlock, or are unmarried and pregnant” for reprisal and the recruitment of child soldiers into the Islamists’ camps.

Ansar Dine and MUJAO have in the past months also destroyed ancient shrines and kidnapped and executed diplomats. Both groups maintain ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an affiliate of al Qaeda’s core, which has put down roots in Northern Mali.

The situation in the south, including Mali’s capital Bamako, is one of instability as the national government rebuilds itself post-coup. Mali has reached out to the international community for assistance in recapturing territory, prompting the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to pledge military force to assist in an intervention. However, the United Nations Security Council has so far refused to sign off on intervention until ECOWAS provides a workable plan of action.

The growing presence of AQIM in the region has led the United States to consider unilateral strikes in the aftermath of last month’s attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya.