Mali [CIA backgrounder; JURIST news archive] interim president Dioncounda Traore [BBC profile], while under pressure from Mali's military, declared a state of emergency on Friday after Islamist rebels on Thursday captured the town of Konna. Traore called for [CNN report] Mali to engage in a general mobilization to defend against the rebel's advance. France's President Francois Hollande issued a statement saying that France would aid Mali [text, in French]. Hollande said France would not watch the rebels push south [Reuters report] toward the capital, Bamako, and assisted the government of Mali by providing air strikes against the rebels. After France's intervention and the assistance of troops from Senegal and Nigeria, the government of Mali was able to retake Konna. Peace talks between the government and some of the Islamist rebel groups were scheduled to occur in Burkina Faso on Thursday but have been postponed until January 21 because of the Konna conflict.
The crisis in Mali has drawn a great deal of international scorn and scrutiny. The prime minister of Mali, Cheick Modibo Diarra, was forced to resign [JURIST report] in December on state television after junta soldiers arrested him for attempting to leave the country in light of the ongoing humanitarian crisis threatening the nation. In September Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that three armed Islamist groups in northern Mali are abusing the local population and recruiting child soldiers. Earlier that month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] condemned [JURIST report] human rights violations in Mali and called for international action to address the problems. Pillay noted that two militant Islamic groups are recruiting child soldiers, committing cruel punishments, violating basic human rights, committing sexual violence against women, and executing individuals. In August, officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] were in Mali investigating [JURIST report] whether the same two Islamic groups had committed war crimes in Mali.