In November 2012, the Watchlist Monitoring and Reporting programme began a field mission to conduct research into grave violations reportedly being committed against children in northern Mali.

The West African country is currently experiencing dual crises: a pre-existing food and nutrition crisis, and additional insecurity and instability due to armed groups operating the three northern regions since early 2012. The government’s poor handling of the crisis in the north, lead to a military coup in March 2012. Taking advantage of the instability in the south, the north declared its independence two weeks later. Local populations have fled to neighbouring countries or to the southern regions to avoid the armed groups, some of whom have imposed and are strictly enforcing Sharia law on local populations. This increase of recent displacements from the north has put considerable strain on families in the south, many of whom are hosting their displaced relatives from the north in their own households, increasing the vulnerability of both.

By July 2012, growing reports of rights violations and abuses against the population in the north, including against children, resulted in the Government of Mali referring the situation to the International Criminal Court in July 2012. The government cited massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law including the recruitment of child soldiers, rape of women and girls and the destruction of schools and hospitals. In addition, the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict raised concerns over reports of grave violations against children in northern Mali at this year’s Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict.

Watchlist’s research is looking into allegations that grave violations against children are being committed by the armed groups now administering the northern regions, such as recruitment and use of children by all the armed groups and instances of maiming of children by unexploded ordinances. Nearly all schools in the north have been closed, depriving thousands of children of the right to education and humanitarian access to northern Mali has been hampered, exacerbating an already dire food and nutrition crisis. Further, as in many situations of instability and conflict, girls are at increased risk of gender-based violence.

The ensuing Watchlist Field Monitor report will be published in 2013, and will include findings as well as recommendations to improve the situation for children affected by armed conflict in Mali.