(New York) – Amnesty International is urging French forces in Mali to give as much advance warning as possible to civilians, and called on all armed groups to protect civilians.
Amnesty International is also calling for the international community to support the immediate deployment of human rights monitors, with particular attention given to the use of child soldiers, children's rights, gender, and protection of civilians.
"There are real concerns that the fighting might lead to indiscriminate or other unlawful attacks in areas where members of armed Islamist groups and civilians are inter-mingled," said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International's deputy director for Africa. "The international community has a responsibility to prevent a fresh surge in abuses during this new phase of the conflict. Forces involved in armed attacks should avoid indiscriminate shelling at all costs, and do their utmost to prevent civilian casualties."
"Amnesty International has documented appalling abuses at the hands of security and opposition forces since last March in addition to those committed by armed Islamist groups—torture, child recruitment, extrajudicial executions, and other grave abuses," said Scott Edwards, managing director, Crisis Prevention and Response, Amnesty International USA. "The United States and members of the international community must ensure that those responsible are brought to justice, and not allowed to participate in operations."
With French support, the Malian army launched a counter-offensive against armed Islamist groups on Friday to prevent the capture of cities in the south of the country.
Today, Islamist armed groups captured the town of Diabaly, 248 miles north of the capital Bamako, from the Malian army.
In a marked intensification of the intervention, the French army bombed positions in the north, in Gao and Kidal, on Sunday. At least six civilians were reportedly killed during the fighting for control of the town of Konna on Friday and Saturday.
Reports have indicated that the Islamist groups have been using child soldiers, and that some of them have been wounded and possibly killed in the conflict.
Amnesty is also calling on the Islamist armed groups not to harm any of the 13 hostages they are holding, among whom are six French and four Algerian nationals.
Since Islamist groups gained control of Mali's north in April 2012, they have committed widespread and grave human rights abuses, introducing amputations, flogging, and stoning to death for those who oppose their interpretation of Islam.
At the request of Mali's government, France deployed some 550 soldiers to Mali under "Operation Serval."
On December 20, 2012, The U.N. Security Council authorized an African-led force to "use all necessary measures" to take back northern Mali from "terrorist, extremist and armed groups." Troops from several West African countries including Nigeria and Niger are about to be sent in.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.