Mali Conflict: Army And Islamist Groups Are Violating Human Rights
04 February, 2013
The people in Mali are facing suffering and destitution. There are serious human rights violations by the Mali army and the Islamist armed groups. There are extrajudicial executions also.
The Malian army, according to evidence gathered by Amnesty International during a 10-day mission to Mali, has committed serious human rights breaches plus violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) during the ongoing conflict against armed groups in the country, including extrajudicial executions of civilians .
A new briefing based on the mission also outlines concerns that Islamist armed groups have committed of serious human rights abuses and violations of IHL including unlawful killings and the recruitment of child soldiers.
There is evidence that at least five civilians, including three children, were killed in an air strike carried out as part of a joint operation by the French and the Malian armies in order to stop the offensive of the Islamist armed groups.
“As fighting is continuing in Mali, all parties to the conflict must ensure that they respect international humanitarian law – and in particular to ensure the humane treatment of captives while taking all necessary precautions to minimize harm to civilians,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s Mali Researcher.
During its visit, the AI delegation conducted research in the towns of Ségou, Sévaré, Niono, Konna and Diabaly.
Amnesty International collected witness testimonies that on January 10, 2013, on the eve of the French intervention, the Malian army arrested and extrajudicially executed more than two dozen civilians, mainly in the northern city of Sévaré.
Eye witnesses in Sévaré described how they saw soldiers dump the bodies of several people into a well in the Waïludé neighborhood.
“Once the bodies had been thrown and were in the well, [the soldiers] fired two or three bursts of machine gun fire into the well,” one witness said.
People spoke of how the Malian security forces apparently targeted people they suspected of ties to Islamist armed groups – often on very tenuous grounds, such as the clothes they were wearing or their ethnic origin.
"Many people are genuinely afraid of being arrested, or worse, by the military. The security forces must ensure that people are protected from any reprisals based on ethnicity or perceived political sympathy," said Mootoo.
“The authorities should also immediately launch an independent and impartial investigation into any reports of extrajudicial executions by the armed forces, and suspend any security personnel suspected of involvement in human rights violations.”
The Malian army has additionally carried out arbitrary arrests of people suspected of ties to the militants. AI spoke to several detainees who reported being beaten or otherwise ill-treated while in detention.
Amnesty International documented reports of Islamist armed groups carrying out extrajudicial executions.
Eye witnesses described how militants summarily killed five injured Malian soldiers as well as one civilian in the town of Diabaly on January 14 and 15, following its capture by militant groups.
There is mounting evidence that Islamist militants have been forcibly recruiting and using child soldiers in their ranks.
In Diabaly, several people described how they had seen children, some as young as ten years old, armed with rifles together with Islamist fighters.
In Ségou, AI was able to interview two captured child soldiers – one of whom showed signs of mental illness.
“The boy was silent and downcast, and wasn't able to talk to us – it was like his mind wasn’t fully there,” said Mootoo.
“The recruitment of child soldiers has to stop immediately, and any still in the ranks of the Islamist armed groups should be released.”
There is also disturbing evidence to indicate that five civilians – including a mother and her three young children – were killed in an air strike launched in the context of a counter offensive carried out by the French and Malian armies.
The strike occurred on the morning of January 11, 2013, the first day of the French intervention, in the town of Konna.
French officials have told AI that they did not carry out any attacks at that time in Konna, while a senior member of the Malian government and a Malian high ranking military official confirmed to the organization that a joint operation had begun targeting the town in the morning of January 11 with the participation of the French military.
“It is absolutely imperative that France and Mali launch investigations into who carried out this attack. Any findings have to be fully disclosed so it can be determined if there has been any breach of international law,” said Mootoo.
The recent fighting and troop movements compelled thousands of people to move within Mali or to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Some of them are now starting to return home, but they are totally destitute and living in extremely precarious conditions. The ICRC and the Mali Red Cross continue to provide them with assistance, in particular food .
"We're seeing that the displaced are starting to go home, especially in certain parts of central and northern Mali," says Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of the ICRC regional delegation for Mali and Niger. "Returning families, like those that are still displaced, have no food or basic necessities. As for the families who never left, they have no more resources to share."
Displaced persons and returnees in urgent need
"The people who fled Konna for Mopti and Sévaré are starting to return," observes Philippe Mbonyingingo, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Mopti, who is on the spot. "But their situation is precarious and we distributed food to them yesterday." In all, more than 7,200 people have received food aid from the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross.
On January 30 and 31, over 3,300 displaced people still in Mopti and Sévaré also received food assistance from the local branch of the Mali Red Cross.
Population movements have also been reported in the Kidal area, in north-eastern Mali. On 31 January, an ICRC team traveled to Tinzauatine, near the Algerian border, to assess the needs of the displaced there, who are said to number several thousand.
"We've already provided assistance to over 15,000 people since the fighting resumed, and we will continue our emergency activities for as long as needs exist," says Jean-Nicolas Marti. "We now have greater access to the areas affected by the recent hostilities and we're trying to respond as quickly as possible to the most urgent needs."
In terms of medical assistance, the priority now is to ensure displaced civilians and returnees can obtain care. To that end, the ICRC is providing support to the hospitals in Gao and Sévaré and to six health centers between Ansongo and Timbuktu.
Families separated by the conflict
Because of the conflict, many families have been separated and scattered within Mali and beyond its borders. Their situation has been exacerbated in recent days as telephone networks have been cut in the main towns in the north of the country. The ICRC and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in neighboring countries are working to reunite family members or to help them re-establish contact.
Respect for International humanitarian law
The ICRC continues to remind all the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular as regards the protection of the civilian population and people who are no longer fighting. "Our field teams are monitoring the situation closely, and we're taking all reports of violations of international humanitarian law very seriously", says Jean-Nicolas Marti. "When the allegations we receive are confirmed, we raise the matter without delay with the parties concerned, as part of our strictly bilateral and confidential dialogue with them."
 Amnesty International News, Feb 1, 2013,
“Mali: Civilians at risk from all sides of the conflict”, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/mali-civilians-risk-all-sides-conflict-2013-02-01
 International Committee of the Red Cross (Geneva), press release, allafrica, Feb 1, 2013, “Mali: The Humanitarian Situation in the North, Hovering Between Hope and Doubt”,
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