The UN Security Council is set to pass a resolution that will ultimately lead to the authorisation of a military force to reconquer Northern Mali.
It is part of a wider diplomatic push to restore order in the West African country, which lost control of more than half of its territory when a failed military coup resulted in a power vacuum that allowed for a rebellion by Northern Tuareg separatists. Islamist fighters, some of whom have links with al-Qaeda, later took control of much of the North.
Nearly 400,000 people have been displaced since fighting began, and human rights violations are reportedly widespread.
"Civil and political rights are being severely restricted as a result of the imposition of a strict interpretation of Sharia law, and systemic cruel and inhuman punishments are being implemented, including executions, mutilations and stonings,” said Ivan ?imonovi?, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, in a statement emailed to reporters this week.
The government of Mali, the African Union and the regional West African group ECOWAS requested the Security Council to authorise the deployment of a military force to reclaim the North. But many Council diplomats told me they have concerns ECOWAS isn't yet up to the task.
The Council is dragging its feet on a full authorisation until the regional group provides more clarity on how the mission would unfold - and what support the international community would need to provide.
"To try and go to the North and try to reconquer, if you will, you have to make sure ECOWAS is well-equipped," said a Western Security Council diplomat on condition of anonymity. "I don’t want to say it’s not possible but I also don’t want to belittle the challenge.”
One big concern is how to monitor the armed intervention once the requested 3,300 West African soldiers arrive in Mali. Human rights advocates point to the case of Somalia, where they say peacekeeping soldiers that were sent to provide stability ultimately committed human rights violations themselves.
"The Security Council should not write a blank check to an international force unless the UN can properly monitor the human rights compliance of all the parties involved, including the international force itself, from day one," said Philippe Bolopion, UN Director for Human Rights Watch.
The Chapter 7 resolution (the original draft is available here) calls on the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, ECOWAS, the African Union and other groups to submit written details of any plans for a deployment within 30 days.
It asks UN member states to send military planners and equipment to assist Mali's armed forces to "restore the authority of the State of Mali over its entire national territory."
US Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon met his French counterpart recently in Paris to discuss the crisis. The UN also recently appointed former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi as the Special Envoy to lead mediation in the Sahel and help define the parameters of the intervention.
On October 19, the African Union, ECOWAS, the UN and other leaders are scheduled to meet in the Mali's capital, Bamako, to try and hash out military plans.
After that, diplomats hope they will have enough clarity to give the mission a green light.