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Addie DarlingOctober 13, 2012
According to reports from a senior U.N. official this Wednesday, extremists looking to impose a radical interpretation of Islamic law in northern Mali are abusing human rights, enacting violence against women and paying families to give their children over to rebel armies. This escalation in human rights abuses continues the trend of civil unrest and chaos following the March coup d’état against the democratically elected government, that until the coup respected religious freedom, and reasonable protection-particularly for youth- against human trafficking.
Interviews with human rights officials, Mali citizens, and children reveal that forces across northern Mali have bought as many as 1,000 children from destitute and rural areas racked by hunger and poverty. Abuses against women have also escalated and continued, as they are forced from the public square in more extreme manners, sold as wives, and trafficked as prostitutes.
The radical Islamists proclaim themselves to be Salafi. This theological movement within the Sunni tradition has been rapidly expanding since its inception in the early 20th Century. Salafism aims to return Islam to its 7th Century roots, focusing upon literal interpretations of the Qur’an and other documents written in the first three generations of Islamic thought. In returning to the fundamentals of Islam, cultural influences and philosophies are removed or devalued, even those that have existed for centuries, such as Kalam- a Socratic-style dialogue, or Sufism- a mystical branch of Islam. At its core, this interpretation of Islam is apolitical and aims to transcend cultural differences.
However, many who claim a Salafi identity or influence don’t eschew all non-Qur’anic philosophies. Those who break with various veins of Islamic tradition are influenced by various political and modern philosophies, thus creating a broad spectrum of beliefs among those who identify as “Salafi.” So, while many Salafi are relatively moderate and modern, this stream of Sunni Islam has been tied to many radical Islamists who add a militaristic political dimension to the Islamic fundamentalist aspects of Salafism.
In Mali, whose population is 90% Muslim, most individuals are Sunni of a Sufi tradition, though there is a sizable minority who self-identify as Salafi. This minority includes the militant radicals who started the coup and who are engaging in the trafficking of child soldiers.
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic has interviewed dozens of individuals across the country, unveiling the tactics used to recruit children for this war. The extremists are “buying loyalty” with citizens in the countryside, paying children, youth, and families upwards of $600 as compensation. In a country where over half the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, and a region increasingly beset by instability, offers of protection and security are especially tempting for many families. Children who are enlisted are understood to be the property of the extremists until the fighting ends.
In addition to the obvious ties the trafficking and inscription of child soldiers has to the continued fighting by Islamist extremists, the UN Human Rights Council also speculates that the extremists also have ties to drug trafficking in the region.
Trafficking of women in Mali, as well as the prosecution of guilty parties by the Mali government has been under surveillance by the US and UN for years. Since the coup, however, there has been increased pressure from the international community for prosecution of human rights violations as well as humanitarian intervention.
France has drafted a resolution that would give U.N. support to international military forces to support the Malian army in ousting the Islamic extremists from the northern half of the country. The draft of the resolution gives Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 30 days to submit a detailed plan for regaining and stabilizing the occupied territory. The Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) , the African Union, and the Malian Transitional authorities are also working with the U.N. on the stabilization plan. Additionally, Ban Ki-moon has named former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi to be an envoy to the region.
Foreign aid and humanitarian workers have faced kidnapping and trafficking themselves since the March coup. Troublingly, there appear to be no organized Christian aid or intervention at this time.
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