Mali is currently facing a civil war.
A coalition of 10 Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, on Thursday warned that a military offensive in northern Mali would have serious humanitarian consequences.
The coalition stressed the need for serious safeguards to be put in place to protect the people.
The warning came as the UN Security Council is considering a resolution to authorise an international military force to restore territorial integrity in the region.
The groups called on the UN Security Council to give high priority to finding a peaceful political solution to achieve long-term stability in Mali, while ensuring that any military action would come with strong measures to mitigate harm to civilians, a statement in New York said.
“The deployment of a military operation could have significant humanitarian consequences as many families have already been badly affected by fighting and the severe food crisis.
“We fear any intensification of violence could affect the civilian population with an increase in humanitarian needs and the continued displacement of people,’’ the statement said.
“Throughout its decision-making process, the UN Security Council must make sure that any military planning includes humanitarian consideration to minimise harm to civilians at all stages,” Michael Quinn, the Country Director of Oxfam in Mali, said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, said a total of 412,000 persons had been forced to flee their homes.
The figure includes some 208,000 refugees who are currently hosted in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania, the Niger and Togo.
It also said that an additional 204,000 Malians have been internally displaced and living in tough conditions, reliant on humanitarian assistance as well as the solidarity of host communities.
Also, Chance Briggs, National Director of World Vision in Mali, said “Women and children are among the most vulnerable groups when military operations are launched.”
The 10 agencies also called on the UN Security Council to implement a series of recommendations, including the need to give high priority to negotiating a peaceful solution to the crisis.
They also said Council should link any authorization for the deployment of armed forces to “a clear and feasible long-term strategy focused on strengthening social cohesion and inclusive governance in Mali.”
Others are that any military force authorised by the Council should receive training on international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law and would take all measures necessary to prevent harm to civilians and their property during hostilities.
They also stressed the need to ensure the authorised forces would report to the Council in a timely and transparent way on steps they take to comply with international law and mitigate civilian harm.
They also called on donors to increase their support for humanitarian assistance to meet urgent needs, currently estimated at 214 million dollars, and be prepared to provide further support as necessary.
The NGOs further urged the UN to ensure humanitarian contingency planning, and requested sufficient additional funding to meet all the needs of affected civilians, including additional needs arising as a result of military operations.