‘Mali had never experienced the phenomenon of child soldiers. The first cases of child soldiers were two children who were shown on television by the Malian army – something that we immediately decried because children should not be displayed like war trophies. It’s a violation of their rights.’

mali– So stated Bakary Traoré, head of Mali’s child welfare department, in an article entitled Mali takes baby steps toward protecting former child soldiers, just published by IRIN News, a service of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (h/t) Citing a recent Watchlist report, the article reported that “an unknown number of children” found themselves in militias during the armed conflict waged in Mali last year. Enlistment of child soldiers was cited in Mali’s July 2012 referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

The IRIN article reported that 23 children, aged 12 to 17, are now in the care of authorities Bamako. Four of them have been charged with crimes under national law – charges Traoré’s office is seeking to have dismissed. Meanwhile, UNICEF officials told the reporter that much needs to be done to locate and address the needs of children caught up in the conflict.

LocationMali.svgAn upcoming American Bar Association teleconference promises to enrich understanding of events in the Republic of Mali. (map credit) Entitled Dissecting the Crisis in Mali: From Political Intervention to International Criminal Responsibility?, it’s scheduled for 1-2:30 p.m. Eastern time next Wednesday, March 27. Organizers write:

‘From the March 2012 coup d’état in Bamako to the January 2013 French military intervention in the northern region, the crisis in Mali has gripped international attention and dominated the headlines for several months. Yet, often opaque in discussions is an understanding of the underlying causes of the conflict, the implications for regional stability and the importance of international accountability.

‘As the anniversary of the coup approaches, and the international intervention is extended, the challenges for Mali’s future are immense. In this teleconference an expert panel will dissect the complex crisis addressing key issues affecting the way forward including the timeliness and subject matter of investigations conducted by the International Criminal Court.’

Confirmed to lead the discussion will be Professor Mathurin C. Houngnikpo, Academic Chair, Civil-Military Relations at the African Center for Strategic Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense thinktank located at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., and Haverford College Political Science Professor Susanna Wing. Also invited to speak is Ambassador Oumar Daou, Mali’s U.N. Permanent Representative. Moderator will be Johanna Mendelson Forman, Senior Associate at the D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Fee for the teleconference is $15 for members of the ABA Section on International Law, $25 for all others. Details and registration here.

lemondeThe news out of Paris is all about Mali, as evidenced by this screenshot from LeMonde. That’s because last week France sent troops to fight rebels who’ve held the north for months. It did so on request of the government that still holds power in the southern region where Mali’s capital, Bamako, is located. (The BBC reported that other countries, in the West and in Africa, are lending support to the French efforts, while a New York Times article contended that U.S. missteps helped fuel the crisis.)

Groups holding the north are said to include AQIM, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Unrest began last April, and drew global attention because of last summer’s destruction of a UNESCO World Heritage site – adobe Timbuktu tombs held sacred by some Muslims but loathed by persons who’d seized the city. In October, a U.N. official alleged that rebels were “buying child soldiers,” among many other human rights offenses.

President François Hollande said (my translation) of last week’s decision:

‘France will respond … strictly within the boundaries of U.N. Security Council resolutions, on request of Malian authorities fighting armed Islamist groups.’

France once was the colonizer of much of West Africa – Mali won independence in 1960 – and LeMonde reports that although there’s evidence of approval in Bamako, an array of Algerian publications have decried what some characterized as a return to a kind of colonialism. These differences of opinion invite further inquiry.

bamakoA great starting place is Bamako, a 2006 film that portrays 2 trials unfolding within the walls of a neighborhood compound. (IntLawGrrl Karen E. Bravo’s review here.) One is a figurative trial – that of a husband, wife, and daughter pulled in different directions by the challenges and lures of modernization. The stops-and-starts of modernization also crop up in the compound: one night, many cluster around the lone TV to watch a Western shoot-’em-up (starring the American actor Danny Glover, a producer of Bamako) titled Death in Timbuktu. The other trial is literal – an outdoor proceeding in which ermine-clad judges hear individual witnesses give evidence in support of an anti-globalization complaint that a partie civile described as “African civil society” has lodged against the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and unnamed other international institutions. Immediately at issue is closure of stops on a once-public railroad, occasioned by the railway’s forced privatization – closure that is said to have deprived many Malians of jobs and transport, and to have sent many on a peril-fraught emigration toward hoped-for work on the other side of the Mediterranean. These trials add layers to understanding of today’s news.