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Non-international armed conflicts in Mali

Conflict type: Non-international armed conflict

Mali is engaging in parallel non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) against various Islamist insurgent groups, most notably Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS). The Government of Mali is supported by France, by a peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and by the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel (FC-G5S).

A number of non-international armed conflicts are taking place in Mali, involving international actors and non-state armed groups:

  • The Government of Mali is engaged in parallel non-international armed conflicts with a number of non-state armed groups, in particular Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS).
  • France provides ongoing military support to the Government of Mali in its fight against rebel groups.
  • The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is a peacekeeping operation supporting the Government of Mali in its efforts to restore state control over areas in the hands of non-state armed groups. S/RES/2364 (2017), 29 June 2017.
  • The Joint Force of the G5 Sahel (FC-G5S) was founded in March 2017 by G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), with the support of France. Its aim is to counter terrorism and tackling organized crime in the Sahel.  

Since the interventions are taking place with the consent of the government, the foreign involvement does not affect the classification of the conflict, which remains non-international in character.

Two criteria need to be assessed in order to answer the question of whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a non-international armed conflict:

  • First, the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions.
  • Second, in every non-international armed conflict, at least one side in the conflict must be a non-state armed group that exhibits a certain level of organization in order to qualify as a party to the non-international armed conflict. Government forces are presumed to satisfy the criteria of organization. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict’ in our Classification section.

Since 2006, Mali has been affected by low-intensity armed violence between the government and a number of Touareg non-state armed groups based in the north of the country. At the beginning of 2012, violence increased as Touareg groups launched a series of offensives against the Malian Government. On 22 May 2012, President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown by a military coup d’état. Furthermore, on  April 2012 the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, an umbrella organization composed of Touareg non-state armed groups, declared the independence of Azawad, in northern Mali. Since then, Mali has engaged in a non-international armed conflict against a number of non-state armed groups. S. Casey-Maslen, ‘Armed Conflict in Mali in 2013’, in S. Casey-Maslen (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflict in 2013, Oxford University Press, 2014, p 148; ‘Mali Profile – Timeline’, BBC News, 20 July 2018.

Intensity of the violence

Various indicative factors are used to assess whether a given situation has met the required intensity threshold, such as the number, duration and intensity of individual confrontations; the types of weapons and military equipment used; the number of persons and types of forces participating in the fighting; the number of casualties; the extent of material destruction; the number of civilians fleeing and the involvement of the United Nations Security Council. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict – Intensity of violence’ in our Classification section.

Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS)

The Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS) declared its allegiance to the Islamic State in May 2015, and the latter recognized the pledge in October 2016. See UNSC, Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS), Narrative Summary, 23 February 2020. Violence between the group and the governmental forces of Mali is deemed sufficiently intense for the application of international humanitarian law (IHL).

Since its inception, the group has engaged in intense armed confrontations against Malian state forces. Sustained attacks have taken place for years and have not decreased. Notably, 2020 has been one of the deadliest years, when 166 armed confrontations involving ISGS were reported in Mali. This year has been particularly intense in the entire Sahel region, whereby jihadist violence has caused 4,250 fatalities, 60% more than the previous year; it has been reported that ISGS ‘is linked to more than half of these deaths.’ It is also worth recalling a particular deadly attack conducted by the group against state military basis in November 2019, which resulted in the death of approximately 100 soldiers. Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara Expanding its Threat and Reach in the Sahel, 18 December 2020; MenaStream, Attacks claimed by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS); International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, Mali.

The group engages in armed hostilities not only against Malian state troops, but also against French forces. A number of illustrative armed confrontations would confirm this point. In January 2018, ISGS conducted a military attack against French forces, which wounded three soldiers. In August 2018, at least two fighters of the ISGS killed by French forces. In October 2019, French forces killed at least eight suspected fighters belonging to the ISGS. In February 2020, French forces killed at least 50 suspected fighters affiliated to the ISIS and Al-Qaeda. In January 2021, suspected ISGS or JNIM combatants killed four peacekeepers belonging to the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA and wounded five more. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, Mali.

Sustained confrontations have been reported between ISGS and other armed groups operating in Mali. Nevertheless, based on the information at our disposal we cannot conclude that violence is sufficiently intense to qualify the situation as a NIAC. In particular, ISGS has been engaged in clashes against JNIM, a jihadist group close to Al Qaeda. For instance, in April 2020 armed confrontations between the ISGS and Katiba Macina left at least 100 dead combatants belonging to the ISGS. In May 2020, armed confrontations between combatants affiliated to the Islamic State and JNIM and Katiba Macina fighters led to heavy losses among the Islamic State’s militants. More recently, in December 2020, clashes between the ISGS and JNIM armed groups caused the death of at least 20 fighters. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, Mali.

Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM)

In recent years, the intensity of violence between the Malian armed forces and Jihadist groups, in particular Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), has been significantly high. Since the emergence of JNIM in March 2017, the group has carried out numerous violent attacks against Malian soldiers, French forces and members of United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Mali (The Sahel), Military and Security Updates – 2017’, Armed Conflict Database; ‘Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin / Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM / GSIM) – AQIM, Ansar Dine, Macina Liberation Front & Mourabitounes Coalition’, Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium. Nevertheless, the precise number of attacks attributed to JNIM is difficult to verify, as some have not been claimed, or responsibility is claimed by the group but is not verified. It has been reported that, since 2017, more than the 64% of violent attacks involving Islamist groups is attributed to the JNIM. D. Eizenga and W. Williams, Africa Security Brief no. 38 – The Puzzle of JNIM and Militant Islamist Groups in the Sahel, Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, 2020.

Based on the information available on attacks claimed by JNIM, the intensity threshold is met. A number of illustrative confrontations reinforce this conclusion. In 2018, armed attacks against Malian forces increased significantly. During the first quarter of 2018, frequent small-scale attacks were carried out against Malian armed forces, mainly in the centre of the country. For instance, on 27 January 2018 JNIM conducted an armed attack against a governmental military base in Niafunké, near Timbuktu, which resulted in the death of 14 Malian soldiers. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Mali (The Sahel), Military and Security Updates – 2018’, Armed Conflict Database; ‘14 Malian Soldiers Killed in Attack on Soumpi Camp’, The Defense Post, 27 January 2018. Furthermore, on 21 February 2018, an incursion by an Islamist group in Gao was repelled by Malian and French armed forces. ‘Mali: Islamist Incursion in Gao “repelled”’, BBC News, 21 February 2018. Between July and September 2018, attacks against Malian security forces increased and proved particularly deadly, with 19 soldiers killed and 24 injured. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Mali (The Sahel), Military and Security Updates – 2018’, Armed Conflict Database. The following months were equally deadly as armed confrontations between Jihadists groups, in particular JNIM, and Malian armed forces took place on a near-daily basis. International Crisis Group, ‘Tracking Conflict Worldwide’, December 2018.

The intensity of violence between the armed group and governmental forces remained sustained in 2019 and 2021. For instance, on 17 March, JNIM attacked a military camp in Dioura (Mopti region, central Mali), which resulted in the death of 22 soldiers. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, March 2019. In August, the group ambushed state soldiers travelling on Hombori-Boni road, killing 5 of them. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, August 2019. In January 2020, it attacked the Sokolo military camp, causing the death of 20 soldiers. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2020.

In February 2020, the government called for dialogue with JNIM. The following month, the armed group expressed its willingness to engage in peace talks, at the condition that French and MINUSMA troops withdraw from Mali. Nevertheless, JNIM kept engaging in armed confrontations against the government, notably on 19 March it attacked a military outpost in Gao region, killing 29 soldiers. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, March 2020. The following month, it conducted an armed attack against the Bamba military base, where the ensuing armed confrontation resulted in the death of at least 25 soldiers and 12 fighters. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, April 2020. In 2021 violence has increased. For instance, on 2 January 2021 a roadside bomb planted by JNIM killed two French soldiers. the same day, French Operation Barkhane conducted airstrikes that killed 15 members of JNIM in Gassa-Douni locality. The following week, a suicide bomber member of JNIM-linked jihadist group Katiba Serma caused the death of six French soldiers. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, Mali.

JNIM uses heavy weapons, including rockets and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). For instance, on 25 January 2018 an IED exploded near the town of Boni in central Mali, killing at least 24 civilians. ‘24 Killed in Fresh Landmine Attack in Mali’, ENCA, 25 January 2018. Similarly, 5 civilians were killed and 18 wounded in central Mali as their vehicle passed over a landmine. ‘Mine Explosion Kills Five Civilians, Wounds 18 in Mali’, Eyewitness News, 11 February 2018. More precise information on the weaponry of JNIM is not available. However, as the group is a coalition of different armed non-state actors previously active in Mali – notably Ansar Dine, al-Mourabitoun and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – it can be reasonably deduced that the arsenal previously held by each of these separate groups is now collectively held by JNIM following the March 2017 merger of the groups. it is worth noting that AQIM used small arms, as well as mortars, rockets and IEDs. Furthermore, it has been reported to possess AK-47 assault rifles, various small handguns, Semtex (a multi-purpose plastic explosive), PK 7.62mm GPMGs (General Purpose Machine Guns) and RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades), as well as SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, .50 caliber DSHKs (armour-piercing machine guns) and NATO-issued F2000 assault rifles. ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’, Mapping Militants Project, Stanford University.

The intensity of armed violence in the country is further exemplified by the number of individuals displaced. As reported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of October 2018 there were 139,978 Malian refugees in asylum countries, while 80,302 individuals were internally displaced. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ‘Mali Situation: Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and Returnees’, 31 October 2018.

Past conflicts: The Plateforme and the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA)

Between 2014 and 2015, following three years of intense armed violence between non-state actors and the government, two coalitions of armed groups emerged: the Plateforme and the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA). The Plateforme is composed of a number of actors who were militarily active in Mali during the internal conflict that erupted in 2012, such as the Imghad Touareg and Allied Self-Defense Group (GATIA), the Coalition of the People of Azawad (CPA), the Coalition of Movements and Patriotic Resistance Front (CM-FPR) and the Popular Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MPSA). International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Plateforme’, Armed Conflict Database. On the other hand, the CMA is composed of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), factions of the CPA and a number of splinter groups. IISS, ‘Coordination of Movements for the Azawad (CMA)’, Armed Conflict Database.

In 2015, the two groups engaged in peace talks with the government, which led to the conclusion of a peace agreement on 20 June 2015. G. Nyirabikali, ‘Mali Peace Accord: Actors, Issues and Their Representation’, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 27 August 2015. Nevertheless, armed confrontations between the two coalitions did not cease.  International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Mali (The Sahel), Military and Security Updates – 2015’, Armed Conflict Database. Specifically, significant violations of the ceasefire took place in 2017, which resulted in many casualties. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Mali (The Sahel), Military and Security Updates – 2017’, Armed Conflict Database. Furthermore, as of 2018 both umbrella organizations still control considerable parts of the territory in the northern part of Mali. ‘Conflict in Mali’, Congressional Research Service, 19 September 2018. The United Nations Panel of Experts on Mali reported that signatory armed groups and splinter groups had conducted armed attacks against Malian security and armed forces.  UN Security Council, Letter Dated 8 August 2018 From the Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Resolution 2374 (2017) on Mali Addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/2018/581, 9 August 2018, p 2.

It is worth recalling that the existence of a peace agreement does not in itself put an end to a non-international armed conflict: violence frequently continues after the conclusion of a peace agreement. In addition, a non-international armed conflict may also end without a peace agreement, for example when one of the parties to the conflict disappears. Under IHL, a NIAC ends in the case of a 'lasting cessation of armed confrontations without real risk of resumption'.  ICRC, ‘Article 3: Conflicts Not of an International Character’, ICRC 2016 Commentary on Art 3 of the First Geneva Convention, §491. Since the 2015 peace agreement did not lead to such a lasting cessation and armed clashes have continued on a regular basis, it did not determine the end of the NIACs at the time. Nevertheless, since 2017 no armed confrontations between CMA and the Plateforme on the one hand and the Malian troops on the other have been reported. Accordingly, it seems possible to conclude that the conflict is now over. 

Organization

A series of indicative factors are used to assess whether armed groups exhibit the required degree of organization, such as the existence of a command structure and disciplinary rules and mechanisms; the ability to procure, transport, and distribute arms; the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations; the ability to negotiate and conclude agreements, e.g. ceasefire or peace agreements. If the minimum criterion for organization of the armed groups is not fulfilled, there is no armed conflict. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict – Organization’ in our Classification section.

While the situation in Mali is complicated by a myriad of transient armed groups ‘who split and coalesce as new opportunities arise', it is possible to identify a number of armed groups and umbrella organizations that are party to the non-international armed conflict. O. Walther, C. Leuprecht and D. B. Skillicorn, ‘Political Fragmentation and Alliances Among Armed Non-State Actors in North and Western Africa (1997–2014)’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 26 September 2017.

Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS)

The Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS) was founded in May 2015, as a splinter from Al Mourabitoun, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group allied with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It is considered a regional offshoot of the Islamic State (IS) and operates in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. While JNIM pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, ISGS pledged allegiance to the IS, which recognised the group as an affiliate in West Africa in October 2016. S. Mednick, ‘Burkina Faso’s new conflict front: Jihadists against jihadists’, The New Humanitarian, 17 August 2020; M. Pellerin, ‘Armed Violence in the Sahara, Are We Moving From Jihadism to Insurgency?’, Études de l’Ifri, November 2019; Centre for International Security and Cooperation, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

The leader of ISGS is Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi. The group is currently militarily active and operates in several countries in the Sahel region and exercises control over part of the Malia territory. France 24, Islamic State replaces al-Qaeda as Enemy no. 1 in Sahel, 15 January 2020; Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara Expanding its Threat and Reach in the Sahel, 18 December 2020. It has been reported that it uses the following weapons: mortars, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, bomb-loaded trucks and suicide bombs. Stanford Centre for International Security and Cooperation, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. The ISGS ‘was listed on 23 February 2020 pursuant to paragraphs 2 and 4 of resolution 2368 (2017) as being associated with ISIL or Al-Qaida for “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of”, “supplying, selling or transferring arms and related materiel to”, “recruiting for”, “otherwise supporting acts or activities of”, “either owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by, or otherwise supporting”, and “other acts or activities indicating association with” Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), listed as Al-Qaida in Iraq.’ See UNSC, Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS), Narrative Summary, 23 February 2020.

Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM)

On 2 March 2017, several Islamist non-state armed groups involved in hostilities against the Malian Government and allied forces announced their intention to merge: Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Murabitoon formally announced the formation of a new entity called Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), literally the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims. The aim of the group is to encourage Muslims present in the region to resist oppression and to expel ‘non-Muslim occupiers’. SITE Intelligence Group, ‘AQAP-Affiliated Newspaper Interviews Leader of Newly-Formed AQIM Branch in Mali’, 6 April 2017; Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), ‘Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM)’, Armed Conflict Database.

JNIM is led by Iyad Ag Ghali (formerly leader of Ansar Dine), and appears to be predominantly under the direction and control of AQIM and Al-Qaeda central. C. Weiss, ‘Analysis: Merger of al Qaeda Groups Threatens Security in West Africa’, FDD’s Long War Journal, 18 March  2017. As of September 2018, JNIM members is estimated to have between 1,000 and 2,000 fighters. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), ‘Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin’, Armed Conflict Database.

While there is relatively scant information available on the group’s internal structure, other factors suggest that the non-state actor meets the organization requirement, such as the ability to procure, transport, and distribute arms and the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations, which have been discussed above.

The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA)

The Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) is an umbrella organization that was created in 2014 and actively participated in the peace process the following year. In 2015, it signed the peace agreement with the Plateforme and the Government of Mali. The objective of the group is to obtain self-determination for the northern regions of Mali and the broader Azawad. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Coordination of Movements for the Azawad (CMA)’ Armed Conflict Database. The CMA encompasses a number of armed groups that rebelled in 2012, most notably:

The Plateforme

The Plateforme was founded in June 2014 as a reaction to the creation of the CMA. It participated in the peace process in 2015 and signed the peace agreement with the CMA and the Government of Mali. The Plateforme is comprised of a number of armed non-state actors, in particular:

Notwithstanding the paucity of information regarding the organization of the armed groups that are members of the Plateforme, the capacity to conclude and implement ceasefire and peace agreements, as well as the aforementioned military capabilities, lead to the conclusion that the Plateforme and a number of the groups that have joined it meet the organization requirement.

International interventions

United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)

Following the increased armed violence between the Government of Mali and a number of armed groups in 2012, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deployed the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) to support the government against the rebels operating in the north of the country. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) authorized the mission through Resolution 2085, which  authorized ‘the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) for an initial period of one year’. See S/Res/2085 (2012), 20 December 2012. On 1 July 2013, in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2100, AFISMA transferred its authority to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). S/Res/2100 (2013), 25 April 2013. Since then, MINUSMA has been active in the country, helping the government to tackle armed violence conducted by the opposition groups. In 2018, the UNSC renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2019 with the Resolution 2423. S/Res/2423 (2018), 28 June 2018.

MINUSMA has been described as ‘the world’s most dangerous U.N. mission’. ‘The World’s Most Dangerous U.N. Mission’The Washington Post, 17 February 2017. Indeed, over the past years it has been the target of attacks by various armed groups in 2018. For instance, the UN camp in Aguelhok, in northeast Mali, was attacked twice by non-state armed groups in April and May 2018; two peacekeepers died, while 13 were wounded. On 16 April 2018, a UN base in Timbuktu was attacked by opposition groups, leading to the death of 15 rebels and 1 peacekeeper. ‘Militants Disguised as Peacekeepers Attack French and UN Bases in Mali’, News Corp Australia Network, 16 April 2018. Furthermore, on 27 October 2018, an armed attack against MINUSMA in the Timbuktu region killed two peacekeepers and injured several others. ‘Mali – Attacks Against MINUSMA (27 October 2018)’, France Diplomatie, 27 October 2018. It is worth mentioning an attack which took place in january 2019, conducted by the group AQIM, which killed at least 10 peacekeepers and wounded 25 more. Armed confrontations have continued during 2020 and are still ongoing. Notably, in January 2021 suspected ISGS or JNIM combatants killed four peacekeepers belonging to the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA and wounded 5 more. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, Mali.

 

France

France has been involved in the conflict in Mali since 2013. At the request of the Malian Government, ‘Operation Serval’ was deployed in response to the Touareg offensive in the north of the country. ‘Fin de l'opération Serval au Mali, la France lance au Sahel l'opération "Barkhane" contre le terrorisme’, Huffington Post, 5 October 2016. Following the rapid territorial expansion of non-state armed groups in northern Mali, the UNSC unanimously passed Resolution 2085, sanctioning France to support the Government of Mali in its efforts to retake territory controlled by the non-state armed groups. S/Res 2085 (2012), 20 December 2012. MINUSMA’s mandate explicitly welcomes the efforts of French forces in Mali, and authorizes French forces to intervene in support of MINUSMA when the mission is under imminent and serious threat, and upon the request of the Secretary General. ‘Security Council Extends Mandate of Mission in Mali, Unanimously Adopting Resolution  (2017)’, UN Press Release, 29 June 2017

On 1 August 2014, a new French operation came into existence: ‘Operation Barkhane’, in which 4,000 soldiers were sent to Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in order to engage in regional ‘counterterrorism’ operations. See ‘Opération Barkhane’, French Ministry of Defence, 19 June 2018. The Government of France has provided soldiers, equipment and finance to train the Malian forces. Since then, it has been engaging in armed confrontations against the armed groups operating in the country. Human Rights Watch, ‘Mali: Events of  2017’, World Report 2018. In particular, in 2020 a number of clashes have been reported. In June 2020, several suspected jihadists killed within the counter-terrorism operation Barkane. Between October and November, the Operation killed at least 50 militants belonging to the group Ansarul-Islam and 30 other suspected jihadists. More recently, in January 2021, the operation led to the killing of at least 15 fighters belonging to the JNIM. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, Mali. In February 2021, French President Macron said the operation Barkhane reached its military objective for 2020, since it was able to prevent and neutralize several attacks conducted by jihadist groups. A. Mazoue, France touts military successes to win allies in G5 Sahel operations, France24, 16 February 2021.

Joint Force of the G5 Sahel (FC-G5S)

The Joint Force of the G5 Sahel (FC-G5S) was founded in March 2017 by G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), with the support of France and with the aim of countering terrorism and tackling organized crime in the Sahel. It is formed of approximately 5,000 soldiers. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Joint Force of the G5 Sahel (FC-G5S)’, Armed Conflict Database. The mandate of FC-G5S encompasses: ‘fighting terrorism, organised crime and human trafficking; restoring state authority; helping displaced persons to return home; contributing to humanitarian operations; and helping to implement development projects’. International Crisis Group, ‘Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force’, Africa Report no 258, 12 December 2017, p 2. The FC-G5S gained a number of victories, in particular against Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen (JNIM); however, it has also been the object of armed attacks. Notably, on 29 June 2018  JNIM attacked the headquarters of the Joint Force in Sévaré. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Mali (The Sahel), Military and Security Updates – 2017’, Armed Conflict Database. In light of the low intensity and number of armed confrontations between the FC-G5S and the non-state actors active in Mali, it is possible to conclude that the Joint Force is not party to the conflict.

In January 2020, protests took place in the country against the foreign military presence. Consequently, the former Malian president met with French president Macron and the other heads of State of the G5 Sahel in Paris to discuss the issue. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, Mali.

All parties to the conflict are bound by Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which provides for the minimum standards to be respected and requires humane treatment without adverse distinction of all persons not or no longer taking active part in hostilities. It prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, hostage taking and unfair trials.

Mali is also a party to Additional Protocol II (AP II) applicable to non-international armed conflicts. The ability of certain armed non-state actors to exercise territorial control over parts of Mali suggests that they fulfil the required criterion for the applicability of AP II, namely the ability to carry out sustained and concerted military operations, impose discipline and implement AP II. The Protocol therefore also binds all armed groups fighting against the Malian government, as long as a nexus exists between their fighting and that of groups exercising the required territorial control.

All parties are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflict. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law.

In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Under human rights law, the territorial state has an obligation to prevent and investigate alleged violations, including by non-state actors. Non-state armed groups are increasingly considered to be bound by international human rights law if they exercise de facto control over some areas.

State parties

  • Mali
  • France
  • United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)

Non-state parties

Last updated: Wednesday 3rd March 2021