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Representatives of the Azawad Movement attend the signing of the Algerian-brokered peace agreement in Bamako, Mali, June 20, 2015. © 2015 Habibou Kouyate/Getty Images

Mali's junta announced yesterday the end of a 2015 peace agreement with armed separatist groups. Should fighting intensify, it’s critical that the warring parties abide by international humanitarian law—the laws of war—and protect civilians against dangers arising from military operations.

In a statement read on national television, Col. Abdoulaye Maïga, spokesperson for the Malian military government, ascertained the “absolute inapplicability” of the peace agreement due to other signatories’ “change of posture,” the commission of “terrorist acts,” as well as “hostile acts” by the government of Algeria, the deal’s main broker, which Malian authorities accuse of hosting suspected “terrorists.”

In June 2015, the Malian government and a coalition of mainly ethnic Tuareg armed groups from northern Mali, called the Coordination of Azawad Movements (Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad, CMA), signed a United Nations-brokered agreement to restore peace in the country, following three years of fighting. The deal came after Tuareg rebels launched a violent independence campaign in 2012 against Mali’s government, accusing it of marginalizing their region, which they call Azawad, and calling for greater autonomy.

The deal began to fray in August 2023 as hostilities renewed between the rebels and the Malian armed forces, who were assisted by fighters from the Wagner Group, the Russia-linked military security contractor, in the country’s north. This fighting culminated in December with the announcement that the government had regained control of the northern town of Kidal, a stronghold of the Tuareg rebellion. Media reported that civilians, including children, were killed in military drone strikes on Kidal that forced more than 11,500 people from their homes.

Residents have told Human Rights Watch of their fear of being caught between the two sides.  

In recent months there has been a surge in attacks by armed Islamist groups across Mali. As UN peacekeepers, deployed to the country in 2013, complete their withdrawal at the request of the junta, there are serious concerns for rights monitoring and accountability for security force abuses. 

The parties to Mali’s conflict will need to take all necessary measures to minimize harm to civilians and end unlawful attacks on civilians and civilian property. Peace deal or not, the threat to civilians across Mali remains grave.

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