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Aid agencies call for measures to mitigate harm to civilians in any military response in Mali

Posted by Ian Bray Senior Humanitarian Press Officer

20th Dec 2012

A military offensive in northern Mali could have serious humanitarian consequences and requires serious safeguards to be put in place warned a coalition of 10 aid agencies today. As the United Nations Security Council considers a resolution to authorise an international military force to restore territorial integrity, humanitarian agencies operating in Mali have come together to sound a note of caution. 

The 10 aid agencies called on the Security Council to give high priority to finding a peaceful political solution to achieve long-term stability in Mali, whilst ensuring that any military action would come with strong measures to mitigate harm to civilians.

"The deployment of a military operation could have significant humanitarian consequences as many families have already been badly affected by fighting and a severe food crisis. We fear any intensification of violence could affect the civilian population with an increase in humanitarian needs and the continued displacement of people. Throughout its decision-making process, the Security Council must make sure that any military planning includes humanitarian consideration to minimise harm to civilians at all stages," said Michael Quinn, Country Director of Oxfam in Mali.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a total of 412,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. This figure includes some 208,000 refugees who are currently hosted in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger and Togo. An additional 204,000 Malians have been internally displaced and living in tough conditions, reliant on humanitarian assistance as well as the help from host communities. 

"Women and children are among the most vulnerable groups when military operations are launched. In some parts of Mali we already have alarming reports of sexual violence against women and girls and we ought to protect the rights especially for women, children, persons with disabilities and elderly who are the most vulnerable," said Chance Briggs, National Director of World Vision Mali. 

The 10 agencies called on the UN Security Council to implement a series of recommendations including: 

1. Give high priority to negotiating a peaceful solution to the crisis, while linking any authorisation for the deployment of armed forces to a clear and feasible long-term strategy focused on strengthening social cohesion and inclusive governance in Mali.

2. Require that any military force authorised by the Security Council would receive training on international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law and would take all measures necessary to prevent harm to civilians and their property during hostilities. 

3. Ensure the authorised forces would report to the Security Council in a timely and transparent way on steps they take to comply with international law and mitigate civilian harm.

4. Call upon donors to increase their support for humanitarian assistance to meet urgent needs, currently estimated at $214 million, and be prepared to provide further support as necessary.

5. Ensure the UN leads humanitarian contingency planning and requests sufficient additional funding to meet all the needs of affected civilians, including additional needs arising as a result of military operations.

Signatory organisations: CARE International, Christian Aid, Handicap International, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Norwegian Refugee Council, Refugees International, Tearfund, World Vision International.

Blog post written by Ian Bray

Senior Humanitarian Press Officer

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