Oxfam urges Australia to use its UN Security Council role to protect civilians as Mali conflict escalates

Africa, Campaigns and Advocacy, Emergencies, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 17 Jan 2013

With fighting intensifying in Mali and the French military intervention, Oxfam Australia fears there will be tighter restrictions on humanitarian access that will lead to a significant increase in the humanitarian needs of people in the region.

The international aid agency said Australia, in its new role as a non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, has a vital role to play in protecting civilians caught up in Mali’s worsening crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousands of Malians forced to flee their homes over the past year.

Oxfam Australia’s humanitarian advocacy coordinator Steph Cousins said Australia must use its position on the Council to push for all forces – including those of France, a Permanent Member of the Security Council – to take every possible precaution to ensure military operations do not cause further harm to already distressed civilians, particularly women and children.

“Mali is fast becoming the first big test of Australia’s commitment to making the protection of civilians a key focus of its Security Council term.

“To pass that test, Australia will need to be willing to ask the hard questions in Council chambers to ensure any authorised use of force in Mali puts civilians’ interest and safety first,” said Ms Cousins.

Oxfam is calling on all military forces in the country, including French and Malian troops already engaged in combat, armed groups in northern Mali, and regional troops yet to be deployed, to respect international human rights and humanitarian law. This includes ensuring all necessary measures are taken to minimise harm to civilians, as outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2085, adopted in December 2012.

“Oxfam is urging all military forces to ensure the safety of civilian populations and refrain from any actions that jeopardise the ability of humanitarian actors to provide assistance or the ability of civilians to receive it,” Ms Cousins said.

“Thirty thousand people are already reported to have been displaced by recent fighting, adding to the 345,000 Malians who have been displaced already over the past year.

“Further fighting will inevitably lead to even greater numbers so the international community cannot turn its back on those most in need.”

In recent days, nearly 500 new arrivals have been reported in the Fassala transit camp in Mauritania, with thousands more reported to be en route. The main camp in Mauritania, Mbera, already hosts 54,000 people. Refugees are living among people that are struggling with poverty, food insecurity and limited basic social services. Impoverished host communities, still recovering from a region-wide food crisis last year, now have to share scarce food and water.

Oxfam is calling for UN monitors to be urgently deployed and is urging Australia to push the Malian authorities and France to regularly report to the UN Security council on civilian casualties and human rights violations by all parties, as well as measures taken to address these. At the same time, no effort should be spared to give high priority to finding a peaceful and lasting political solution to achieve long-term stability in Mali, as requested by the UN Security Council.

Oxfam is providing humanitarian assistance in the Gao region of northern Mali, as well as to Malian refugees in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, with access to basic food, clean water and public health related assistance. Oxfam’s programs aim to reach almost 60,000 in Gao, and more than 147,000 refugees and people in host communities in Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0412 560 584 or cheecheel@oxfam.org.au