Ottawa – In a sobering new report, the head of the United Nations says the security situation in Mali has sharply deteriorated over the past three months even as demand for more food aid and other humanitarian assistance has skyrocketed.
The assessment by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres coincides with the presence of Canadian peacekeepers in Mali, and suggests the country is in many ways worse off now than when they first arrived in June.
Not that there haven’t been some hopeful signs, including successful presidential elections in July and August and a marked decline in the number of peacekeepers killed or wounded despite continuing attacks by armed groups.
That is reflected in the fact that while the Canadian military’s primary task in Mali is to evacuate injured UN peacekeepers by helicopter, they have so far only conducted two such missions, both on Sept. 11.
Guterres nonetheless painted a picture of a country at war with itself as various ethnic and extremist groups targeted each other as well as the Malian military, international forces and even civilians.
The result was the largest number of civilians killed — 287 — in one three-month period since UN peacekeepers first arrived in the country in 2013, while thousands more have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence.
Much of the fighting was between members of two different ethnic communities in the centre of the country, while groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State were also responsible for a great deal of violence.
‘The human rights situation is alarming’
“Intercommunal conflict, exacerbated by violent extremist groups, is fraying an already fragile social fabric and is deeply concerning,” Guterres wrote. “Too high a human toll has accrued as a result of the ongoing spiral of violence.”
The number of human-rights violations in Mali, which was already troublingly high, was similarly worse because of hundreds of new extrajudicial killings, disappearances, tortures and rapes across different parts of the country.
While most of those atrocities were perpetrated by the Islamic groups and competing ethnic communities, the Malian military itself was implicated in 18 violations — including one mass killing that is being criminally investigated.
“The human rights situation is alarming,” Guterres wrote. “It is absolutely imperative that the government prevent human rights violations and abuses, including those committed by the Malian armed forces.”