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
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
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.