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Boost For Mali Civilian Health Protections

Boost For Mali Civilian Health Protections
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Civilian protections
Two Malian former rebel leaders, Attaye Ag Mohamed, left, and Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadan, right, join Geneva Call’s General Director Alain Délétroz, center, at a signing ceremony in Geneva for a Deed of Commitment on Protection of Health Care in Armed Conflict

Leaders of a coalition of former Tuareg and Arab rebels in Mali signed a written pledge on civilian protections for health and medical facilities during armed conflict, reflecting global efforts to stem attacks on health facilities, transport, and patients that have become more frequent since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

The two leaders with the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) signed the Deed of Commitment on Protection of Health Care in Armed Conflict at a closed ceremony organized by the Swiss-based humanitarian organization, Geneva Callon Friday.

Geneva Call’s General Director Alain Délétroz and two CMA steering committee members, Attaye Ag Mohamed and Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadan, affirmed their pledges to enforce civilian protections through the Deed of Commitment, which marks a milestone in Geneva Call’s humanitarian dialogue with CMA over the past four years, the humanitarian organization said in a statement.

Despite its “diversity of opinion on certain social issues, the CMA could agree on a document that comprises the main themes of international humanitarian law,” Attaye Ag Mohamed said, adding that the coalition benefited from Geneva Call’s support and expertise.

“Aware of the importance of the free movement of medical missions and their access to target populations and vice versa, the CMA can only make its modest contribution to their protection as well as to that of humanitarian convoys in Mali and more particularly in the North of the country,” said Mohamed.

“The signing of this act of commitment thus signals a new phase of collaboration,” he said. “It is up to all of us to put it into widespread use in the field through awareness-raising and training on this important topic.”

CMA pledged to respect international laws insisting on the protection of “health care personnel, facilities and medical transports, and the wounded and sick,” and to adhere to “the principles of medical ethics.”

Geneva Call works to strengthen the protection of civilians during armed conflicts in dozens of countries. The issue of protections for health care workers and facilities has become more pressing in conflicts and wars around the world, including Syria and Ukraine.

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that more than 700 healthcare workers and patients had diedand more than 2000 were injured in attacks on health facilities across 17 emergency-affected countries and fragile settings since December 2017. Countries at risk included Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria, Mozambique, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Myanmar and the Central African Republic.

The three-year analysis ws based on data from the WHO’s Surveillance System for Attacks on Healthcare (SSA)which monitors attacks on healthcare workers, patients, facilities, and healthcare transport, the resources that they affected and their immediate impact on health workers and patients.

Working behind the scenes on protecting civilians

Geneva Call has an unusual remit, persuading armed groups and de facto authorities to respect and apply humanitarian norms and human rights.

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These include the conduct of hostilities, protections for children, education, food security, health care and cultural heritage, prohibition of sexual and gender-based violence, forced displacement and humanitarian access.

The Geneva-based humanitarian organization, which has worked in around 25 countries since 2000also boosts civilian protections by strengthening local civil society organizations and their awareness of international humanitarian norms.

As a result, it says, some armed groups have developed their own monitoring bodies for humanitarian norms and human rights, have trained their senior leadership and field commanders to effectively implement these commitments, and facilitated international access for humanitarian aid to flow.

CMA was created in 2014 as a coalition of political-military movements composed of MNLA/MAA/HCUA, present in Mali in the regions of Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal, Taoudeni, and Menaka. In 2015, CMA signed a peace and reconciliation accord in Algiers with the Malian government.

Four years of work on civilian protections in Mali

Geneva Call began working to improve civilian protections in Mali in 2018.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Geneva Call says it has worked in Mali to ensure health care access and strengthen respect for humanitarian standards and military codes of conduct.

Two armed groups in Mali previously signed commitments to the Geneva-based organization to provide health care access and to try to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

Délétroz told the signing ceremony that attacks on hospitals, medical transport and health workers have increased in conflict zones in recent years, paralyzing emergency services and disrupting the local population – with devastating impacts on the lives of staff and patients, both civilians and wounded combatants targeted because they are among the most vulnerable.

“Unfortunately, Mali is not spared from this trend,” he said. “The deterioration of the security situation has also been reflected in increased difficulties for populations to access health care centers and health workers being targeted on a regular basis.”

The Deed of Commitment with CMA is of “paramount importance,” he said, because it “represents an important step in the humanitarian dialogue initiated four years ago by Geneva Call and the members of the Coordination of the Movements of Azawad.”

On CMA’s side, the coalition affirmed it will improve civilian protections generally and respect and protect health structures and medical missions during armed conflicts in particular. The Canton of Geneva is legal custodian of the document, the first one signed with Geneva Call in Mali since it began working there.

And on Geneva Call’s side, there’s also commitment, said Délétroz, since the organization will continue to work with CMA to stick to its pledges under a jointly developed implementation plan.

“We also hope that this signature can serve as an encouragement to all Malian stakeholders who have a role and responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians,” he said. “For Geneva Call remains concerned about the situation of populations impacted by this conflict.”

Picture Credits: Geneva Call.

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