THE HAGUE, Netherlands - The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court launched an investigation Wednesday into war crimes committed in Mali since an armed uprising plunged the West African nation into chaos a year ago.
"International crimes committed in Mali have deeply shocked the conscience of humanity," prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.
Bensouda's decision to open a full-scale investigation came about seven months after she launched a preliminary probe into allegations of crimes in Mali, following a request by Mali's government.
She said initial investigations suggest crimes including murder, rape, mutilation and summary executions have been committed.
"At each stage during the conflict, different armed groups have caused havoc and human suffering through a range of alleged acts of extreme violence," she said.
The ICC investigation will focus on northern Mali, where radical Islamist fighters seized a huge chunk of territory last April in chaos that followed a coup in Mali's normally stable capital.
"My office will ensure a thorough and impartial investigation and will bring justice to Malian victims by investigating (those) who are the most responsible for these alleged crimes," Bensouda said.
Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the investigation as "an important message to all forces, including separatist rebels, Islamist fighters, government soldiers and foreign troops that serious human rights abuses will not go unpunished."
"The recent intensification of the fighting makes this message especially important," she added. "What the ICC now needs from its member countries is the diplomatic and financial support, so it can do its job in this difficult environment."
French troops in Mali on Tuesday night began heading toward rebel strongholds in the north. The ground assault reverses France's earlier insistence that it would provide only air and logistical support for a military intervention, which would be led by African troops.
French President Francois Hollande authorized airstrikes in Mali last Friday after the Islamists began a push southward toward the capital from the northern half of Mali that they control.
The Mali probe is the Hague-based court's eighth investigation — all of them in Africa.
The 10-year-old court also has opened investigations in Libya, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Congo, Central African Republic and Kenya.
Suspects indicted so far include Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. The court also indicted former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, but closed the case when he was killed by rebels who toppled his four-decade regime.
The court has finished only two trials so far, convicting one Congolese rebel and acquitting another.
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