Tag Archive | "Mali"

Critical Analysis: Fighting in Mali Continues

Malian soldiers arrive in the recently liberated town of Douentza. (The Guardian)

Malian soldiers arrive in the recently liberated town of Douentza. (The Guardian)

In early 2012, fighting broke out in northern Mali after a coup by army officers in the capital of Bamako.  Shortly thereafter, Tuareg fighters and other armed groups advanced on towns, which fell to their control in a broad triangular area in the northern Mali desert.  The Tuareg are a traditionally nomadic people who are also the principal inhabitants of the North Africa Saharan desert interior. The Tuareg rebels refer to the broad triangular area in northern Mali’s desert as Azawad.  The Tuareg rebels have proclaimed that the Azawad area is independent.

By May 2012, the Tuareg rebels had joined with Islamist forces not only to seize northern Mali but also to agree to merge and turn the new territory into an Islamist state.  The Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad  (MNLA) signed a deal with an Islamist group with ties to al-Qaeda, Ansar Dine, in the town of Gao.  By that time Ansar Dine had already begun to impose Sharia law in towns within its new borders, such as Timbuktu.

Fast forward to February 2013, and the deal signed between Tuareg MNLA rebels and Ansar Dine has collapsed.  Ansar Dine was joined and backed by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), pushing the Tuareg rebels aside, and leading to the collapse of the agreement.  While some MNLA fighters joined the Islamist groups, the MNLA came out in support of the French-led intervention.  This was done by the MNLA in hopes of regaining control of northern Mali.

The fighting continues in northern Mali.  Other African countries, such as Chad, have joined Malian forces and the French forces that are now leading the fighting campaign.  France has deployed 4,000 troops to Mali since January 2013.  French and African forces are being assisted by the United States, which is sending Predator drones to Niger in order to gain information on deployments.  At the start of the French-led campaign the forces were met with little resistance as they drove forces from the cities of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu.  Now, however, the forces are being met by a guerrilla style campaign that includes sudden raids, suicide attacks, and land mines.

These guerrilla-style tactics led to increased fighting at the end of February after a clash of fighting left 23 Chadian soldiers dead.  A suicide car bombing killed another six Malian government allies.  Fighting is heaviest along the Mali-Algeria border in the mountainous Ifoghas region between the cities of Tessalit and Kidal.  This area is strategically important because it is seen as a stronghold by the Tuareg rebels and is used by Islamists as a hideout from French forces.

The French-led intervention is making progress in pushing Islamist forces out of northern Mali.  In the meantime Mali is suffering from the severe food crisis that has hit Africa’s arid Sahel region, causing the displacement of an estimated 430,000 Malians, and children soldiers are being recruited and taken from Quranic schools.  While the fighting continues the people will continue to suffer.  The U.N. is appealing for $373 million in aid and the United States is placing sanctions on the Islamic rebel leaders.  In order for theses steps to be effective, however, the fighting needs to come to an end and the area needs to stabilize.

Sarah Emery is a 2L and is the Business Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.


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Critical Analysis: French President Visits Mali as French Troops Battle Islamist Militants

Armed Islamist fighters race near the Mauritania-Mali border on May 21st. (Magharebia)

Armed Islamist fighters race near the Mauritania-Mali border on May 21st. (Magharebia)

On February 2nd, French President Francois Hollande visited Mali, where French forces have been battling Islamist militants.  “We are serving a cause defined within the United Nations’ framework … to bring the entire Malian territory under the legitimate authority of the Malian president and then the leaders who will be elected by the Malians,” stated Hollande.  Mali, a former colony of France, requested French assistance as Islamist militants seized Konna on January 10.  After a military coup, Islamic extremists took over much of Northern Mali last year.  With France’s assistance, the key cities of Konna, Timbuktu, and Gao are now back under Malian control. 

Mali achieved independence from France in 1960, and after years of being ruled by military dictators, the country held democratic elections in 1992.  In 2012, however, Malian soldiers led a coup and overthrew the democratically elected leader, resulting in a power vacuum that allowed militant Islamist groups to seize control of northern Mali.  The Islamists had joined forces with the Tuaregs, a historically oppressed nomadic group from Northern Mali.  In 2012, as the Islamists pushed south, France responded to the pleas for assistance from the Malian Government, and has since reclaimed many seized cities.

The Islamists established strict Sharia law as they seized cities from the North and began pushing their way South, threatening Mali’s capital city, Bamako. Human rights groups claim that floggings, rapes, killings, and other torture are rampant in these areas.  Mali Minister of Justice Malick Coulibaly referred the situation to the International Criminal Court, and “the ICC Prosecutor has responded to the referral by announcing that her office will conduct a preliminary examination to determine whether an investigation should be opened.”

The militant Islamists in Northern Mali are allegedly the same group responsible for the recent hostage crisis in Algeria, which resulted in the deaths of twenty-three hostages and at least one American.  Mokhtar Belmokhtar , a militant who has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the crisis.  The Islamist group operating in Northern Mali, Ansar Dine, is backed by AQIM, and some believe that the hostage crisis in Algeria was fueled by France’s intervention in Mali.

Although the United States is increasing its involvement in Mali, U.S. policy prohibits direct financial assistance to the Malian Government because the current Government is in place as a result of a military coup.  However, the U.S. Air Force “has flown at least seven C-17 cargo missions into Mali, carrying 200 passengers, mainly French troops, and 168 tons of equipment,” according to Pentagon spokesman Major Robert Firman.  The United States’ increased assistance is considered legal because France notified the United Nations Security Council “that its mission in Mali is being offered at the request of the African country’s government, which is fighting ‘terrorist elements,’” claims Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. James Gregory.

Lisa Browning is a 2LE at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the DJILP. 

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Critical Analysis: Mali’s Plea for Help Results in French Troops

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Fighters of the Islamic group Ansar Dine standing guard at Kidal airport in northern Mali. (CNN)

After a plea from Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, French troops were sent in last Thursday to help combat an Islamic group, closely associated with Al Qaeda, that has taken over parts of Northern Mali. The group has instituted Shariah Law in the region, dealing out harsh punishments such as hand and feet amputations, whippings, and even in one reported case, the stoning of a couple who was accused of having children out of wedlock. The police chief cut off his own brother’s hand as his brother was strapped to a chair, stating “[w]e had no choice but to practice the justice of God.” Despite international threats and the United Nations Security Council approval to initiate a military campaign to drive out the group, these rebels seem undeterred.

Mali, originally a French territory, gained its independence in 1960 and held its first democratic election in 1992. The country, however, has faced turmoil over the years resulting in government coups. The Islamic extremist are just the last in a line of those who have gained power, taking over two –thirds of northern Mali last year.

The U.N.-approved plan originally involved a retrained Mali army, backed by African troops from the Economic Community of West African states, entering the region and retaking the area. The European Union was to help train the troops and France was to serve as a guide, with the United States providing intelligence and airborne reconnaissance. The plan, however, has been slow to commence. France was never intended to be involved in the actual fighting, but the situation seems to have changed. The French president took sudden action by sending in troops on Thursday. The action was meant to be a “sudden blow” to the rebels and a short-lived involvement. Instead, it has turned into a “drawn-out military and diplomatic operation.” When asked about France’s unexpected involvement, a French official stated that the alternative is “another Somalia.”

The African countries that committed troops are finding it difficult to get their operations off the ground. Many believe that France’s action will stimulate the slow process and force European and African countries to move at a faster pace. However, others are asking why France took such action in the first place.

Despite some criticism, the entire African region supports the involvement along with various European countries. David Cameron, Prime Minster of the United Kingdom, stated on Friday that “those who believe that there is a terrorist, extremist Al Qaeda problem in parts of North Africa, but that it is a problem for those places and we can somehow back off and ignore it, are profoundly wrong.”

Lina Jasinskaite is a 3L at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law and a staff editor at the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Conflict is Brewing in Northern Mali

Islamist radicals, who control northern Mali, are imposing a harsh version of sharia law and doling out brutal punishments to civilians. (Washington Post)

Islamist radicals, who control northern Mali, are imposing a harsh version of sharia law and doling out brutal punishments to civilians. (Washington Post)

This land-locked, former French colony, nestled in the Sahara Desert could become a key point for the next war on terrorism as attacks against civilians in the north grow more brutal.  Radical Islamists have transformed vast stretches of desert in the north into an enclave for al-Qaeda militants and other jihadists.  They have imposed a hard-edged brand of sharia law, echoing Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, in this West African country where moderate Islam has thrived for centuries.

The Islamist radicals who seized a vast arc of territory in northern Mali in the spring are intensifying their brutality against the population.  “The people are losing all hope,” said Sadou Diallo, a former mayor of the northern city of Gao. “For the past eight months, they have lived without any government, without any actions taken against the Islamists. Now the Islamists feel they can do anything to the people.”

People are deprived of basic freedoms, historic tombs have been destroyed, and any cultural practices deemed un-Islamic are banned.  Refugees fleeing the north are now bringing stories that are darker than those recounted in interviews from this summer.

Today, the area is under Islamist control and sharia law; stonings and mutilations — not to mention the conscription of children — are “widespread,” according to the United Nations. Two weeks ago, U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson told U.N. members that sexual violence is prevalent in the region.

By some estimates, more than half the population of 60,000 has fled; a majority of the refugees in Segou and the capital, Bamako, are from Timbuktu, said Western refugee officials and community leaders.

Alexis Kirkman is a 3L and a Candidacy Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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News Post: The International Response to Mali

The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Mali, following a military coup on March 21st. The coup, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, ousted the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure. Toure came to power in 1991 in a coup, but was widely credited with establishing democracy in Mali.

Captain Amadou Sanogo

The military overthrew Toure, claiming that he had failed to provide the army with enough resources to fight the Tuareg rebels in northern Mali. One soldier who was fighting in the north said that the corruption in the high levels of government and the military left soldiers in the front lines almost defenseless.  Leading up to the coup, Malians believed that President Toure was not responding strongly enough to the rebels.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MLNA) and Islamist Ansar Dine are the primary rebel groups in northern Mali.  The MLNA wants independence for the Tuareg’s homeland, Azawad, while Ansar Dine wants to implement Sharia rule across Mali and has connections to Al-Qaeda’s African branch.  The two groups do not have formal ties and the alliance may fall apart in the future.  For now, however, the groups have managed to take the north of Mali, including UNESCO heritage site Timbuktu and the major towns of Kidal and Gao.  Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s former leader, supported Tuareg rebellions in Mali; many of the rebels are led by officers and troops who fought for Qaddafi and returned to Mali with weapons.

The United States, France, and the European Union have cut off aid to Mali.  The African Union has implemented travel bans and frozen assets.  ECOWAS has sealed off the borders and frozen Mali’s account at the regional central bank.  Malians are lining up at gas stations; Mali imports all of its gasoline and some gas station owners say they will run out within days if there are no new imports.

ECOWAS is insisting that the coup leaders restore democracy.  However, Sanogo has said that Toure will be charged with treason and financial mismanagement.  Sanogo has vowed not to seek office and has pledged to hold a democratic vote. Meanwhile, the rebels in the north may be willing to negotiate, but only with a leader of Mali recognized by the population and the international community.

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