“We have to realize that things have changed for the worse. We all have a duty to understand that we live in a very fragile society now -- and what that means. Many people want to take revenge…but we have to understand that revenge will tip us into hell.” –Ahmed*, a schoolteacher in Mali
Fighting between armed groups and the government in northern Mali in 2012, the subsequent collapse of state control over the northern half of the country, the French-led military intervention in early-2013, and ongoing violence and instability fueled largely by violent extremist organization (VEO) activity have killed hundreds and forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, some across international borders. As communities struggle to return to normal, we have heard many Malians express their fears about the continued insecurity in the northern part of the country.
Our Mali program addresses civilian harm in three ways: research on civilians' experiences, wants, and needs; support to training of the national military (Forces armées et de sécurité du Mali – FAMA); and advocacy on the best practices to prevent and respond to civilian harm. Our goal is to strengthen the capability of security forces and international actors to prevent and respond to civilian harm in conflict and post-conflict situations.
RESEARCH: Our team meets with civilians affected by the conflict, with an emphasis on communities in the regions of Segou, Mopti, Timbuktu, and Gao. We also meet with government officials, traditional leaders, civil society, the United Nations, European Union, and other stakeholders to better understand civilian needs, expectations, as well as protection gaps. We use this information to advocate with the Malian government and its international partners for practical solutions. We believe that preventing and recognizing civilian losses and appropriately responding to them is necessary to create the lasting peace Malians deserve.
TRAINING: The Malian military (FAMA) currently receives no training on civilian harm mitigation—tactics to avoid and appropriately address civilian harm. Our team analyzed FAMA’s behavior in the field to learn how it interacts with the population and how troops can best avoid causing harm in their interactions. We established partnerships with local, regional, and international training programs and will create and deliver tailored trainings on civilian harm mitigation as part of the FAMA’s training on International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
ADVOCACY: Thanks in part to our work, the United Nations created a civilian risk mitigation advisor position in Mali, the first such position for a UN peacekeeping operation. When the advisor is appointed, we believe he or she will play an integral role in helping the mission understand its impact on the civilian population. We are also working with civil society groups to encourage the Malian government to create an assistance program for civilians suffering losses during the conflict.
photo by Thomas Martinez