At the end of 2012, Watchlist undertook a mission to Mali to research grave violations committed against children as well as the child protection sector’s response capacities and needs after armed groups took control of the three northern regions of Mali (Gao, Kidal, and Tombouctou) earlier in the year. Watchlist found evidence of violations by armed groups in Mali, notably on use and recruitment of children.

On 11 January 2013, France launched Operation Sérval in response to a request from the Government of Mali for assistance in the face of a joint advance of three of the armed groups further south and west into Mali. The beginning of military operations in Mali rushed the deployment of African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) forces and dramatically changed the operating environment and context for civilians and humanitarian actors in Mali. Given these new events, Watchlist is currently conducting further research.

The sudden change in the situation and rapid deployment of AFISMA forces, as well as the Malian army, resulted in the by-passing of precedent-setting stipulations in Resolution 2085, particularly on human rights training before beginning military operations. While AFISMA spokespeople say that troops did receive pre-deployment training, it is unclear what this training entails and whether it followed the specifications within the resolution. Given the impact of the conflict on children, and the presence of children amongst the armed groups, it will be essential to ensure that all troops, AFISMA and Malian forces, receive thorough child protection training. What’s more, protocols on children associated with armed forces and armed groups (CAAFAG) – and thorough and comprehensive training on these for members of all forces, particularly those on the front line – are urgently needed.

Findings from both field missions are expected to be published in June 2013.