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Mali women tell of rape and beatings

15 February 2013


Punished: Salaka Djicke stands at the entrance to the women's prison in Timbuktu, Mali, on Monday of last week. During the ten months of Islamist rule, she was accused of having a relationship with a married man, and was publicly whipped

Punished: Salaka Djicke stands at the entrance to the women's prison in Timbuktu, Mali, on Monday of last week. During the ten mont...

THE horror stories of women who fled the Islamist occupation of northern Mali have been reported by World Vision, in the wake of a warning by the UN that the rape of women and girls had been "repeatedly used" to intimidate people and break resistance.

World Vision's country director for Mali, Chance Briggs, said on Tuesday of last week: "Those who have escaped with their families have had terrible traumatic experiences. Some of those who did not flee will have even worse stories to tell."

A woman, Namina, told World Vision staff that a 16-year-old girl had been seized by rebels in Timbuktu and raped by a number of men. She described the young boys who are recruited as child soldiers as "very traumatised". Another girl, Fatou, aged 16, described being beaten for not wearing a headscarf.

In January, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reported that "rape[s] of women and girls, at times in front of family members and often apparently carried out on an ethnic basis, have been repeatedly used in the north to intimidate people and break any form of resistance, in a culture where rape is considered taboo and victims often suffer from social exclusion."

Girls as young as 12 had, reportedly, been forcibly married to members of extremist groups, and gang-raped for days. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into the situation in Mali, after a referral from the Mali authorities in July. There have been reports of reprisals against Tuareg and Arab civilians in northern Mali, including summary executions and disappearances ( News, 25 January).

Since the intervention of French troops last month, the insurgency in northern Mali has dispersed ( News, 1 February). Last Friday, a spokesman for a rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, in Darfur, Sudan, said that Islamist fighters from Mali had fled to the region.

The UN's under-secretary-general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, said last Friday: "The French intervention has accelerated developments on the security side; they need to be accelerated on the political side." A balance must be struck, he said, "be-tween providing the help needed, and not overwhelming Malians with our pres-ence. . . The long-term goal is a democratic Mali, where their forces are in charge of security."

The UN was "exploring op-tions for the rapid deployment of a mobile team of human- rights observers to start monitoring activities in accessible areas", he said.

In 29 January, the National Assembly in Mali unanimously endorsed a road map for political transition, including negotiations with groups willing to renounce armed conflict.

On Wednesday of last week, the UN's regional humanitarian co-ordinator for the Sahel, David Gressly, said that humanitarian access was improving in Mali, but warned that about ten million people in the region could be at risk of starvation this year.

NGOs request evacuation. The organisation Mission Aviation Fellowship reported on Wednesday of last week that it had received requests from several NGOs, including Medair, to evacuate staff in South Sudan. "Pockets of violence" had escalated, culminating, the charity said, in a battle between South Sudanese soldiers and the guards of a former rebel commander in the town of Pibor on 27 January. About 2000 people fled to a UN peacekeeping base, a UN spokesman, Kouider Zerrouk, said.

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