NAIROBI, Kenya, -mareeg.com- Islamist armed groups in northern and central Mali have executed numerous people and are increasingly imposing restrictions on village life, Human Rights Watch said today. The Malian government has largely been unable to protect vulnerable civilians in northern and central Mali, while security forces summarily executed at least 10 suspected Islamists and tortured many others during counterterrorism operations in 2016.
In addition to abuses by the Islamist armed groups, civilians have suffered from bloody intercommunal clashes and surges in banditry. Despite a 2015 peace accord ending Mali’s 2012-2013 armed conflict, signatories have failed to implement many of its key provisions, notably the disarmament of thousands of combatants. United Nations peacekeeper fatalities reached 29 in 2016, double those in 2015.
“The human rights climate grew increasingly precarious over the past year, a result of execution-style killings and intimidation by Islamist armed groups, bloody intercommunal clashes, and surges in violent crime,” said Corinne Dufka, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to assert control and curtail security force abuses has added to the deteriorating situation.”
A 2013 French-led military intervention pushed back armed groups occupying Mali’s north, but lawlessness and abuses steadily increased from mid-2014, including by groups linked to Al-Qaeda. In 2015 and 2016, abuses worsened and increasingly spread to Mali’s central regions.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 70 victims and witnesses to abuses in central and northern Mali in April and August 2016 in Bamako, Sévaré, and Mopti, and by phone throughout the year. Those interviewed included members of the ethnic Peuhl, Bambara, Dogon, and Tuareg communities; detainees in government custody; local government, security, and Justice Ministry officials; and diplomats and UN officials. The findings build on Human Rights Watch research in Mali since 2012.
In 2016, Islamist armed groups executed at least 27 men, including village chiefs and local government officials, Malian security force personnel, and fighters from parties to the peace accord. Most were accused of providing information to the government or French forces engaged in counterterrorism operations.
Many of the executions took place in central Mali, where Islamist armed group presence and intimidation of the population steadily increased through the year. Villagers described how Islamist groups of up to 50 armed fighters, including teenage boys, occupied villages for hours and threatened death to anyone collaborating with French forces, the government, or UN peacekeepers.
In several villages, the groups imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law), threatening villagers not to celebrate marriages and baptisms. A villager described a wedding he attended in December in Segou region: “Our traditional customs are no longer allowed because of the presence of jihadist fighters from our own villages. Our way of celebrating is now haram [forbidden].” Another said that families are “pressured to give their children” to the Islamist armed groups in central Mali.
Armed groups carried out at least 75 attacks on UN forces in 2016, killing 29 peacekeepers with the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and wounding some 90 others. Groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took responsibility for many of these attacks, which largely targeted logistic convoys and UN bases. Particularly deadly incidents included a February attack that killed seven peacekeepers from Guinea, as well as two incidents in May that killed five peacekeepers from Togo and five from Chad.
Residents and community leaders described rising levels of banditry and violent crime. Human Rights Watch estimates that several thousand civilians in northern and central Mali were victimized during about 400 incidents of banditry in 2016. This assessment is based on interviews with victims, witnesses, and security sources, as well as media monitoring and security reports. Armed bandits killed at least eight people and wounded over 30, routinely targeting public vehicles and buses, animal herders, and traders. Victims alleged that government security forces were either unable or unwilling to protect them and rarely investigated the crimes.
A number of people said they had been robbed more than once. One trader had been robbed four times in as many months. “It can’t get any worse,” said another trader. “We can hardly move out of Gao without getting hit by bandits lying in wait,” said a third. The traders said the slow implementation of the peace accord – notably provisions for disarmament, the cantonment of armed groups, and joint patrols comprising Malian soldiers, pro-government militia and former rebels – had greatly contributed to the rise in criminality.
Insecurity also significantly affected basic health care, education, and humanitarian aid. At least 35 attacks on aid agencies took place in 2016, the vast majority by bandits in the north. At least six vehicles carrying health workers and the sick were robbed, with patients forced out of the vehicles in several cases. Several civilians were killed by landmines and improvised explosive devices planted by armed groups on major roads.
The Malian army and other government security forces conducted counterterrorism operations that on several occasions resulted in arbitrary arrests, executions, and torture and other ill-treatment. During 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the killing of 10 detainees, all in central Mali, and the torture or severe mistreatment of 20 others. Malian authorities made little effort to investigate and hold accountable those implicated in these violations.
International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, applies to all sides in the armed conflict in Mali. Applicable law includes Common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, and customary laws of war. Common Article 3 and Protocol II specifically prohibit the killing of captured combatants and civilians in custody.
Individuals who deliberately commit serious violations of the laws of war may be prosecuted for war crimes. Mali is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
“The authorities need to do much more to fulfill their responsibility to protect civilians in north and central Mali,” Dufka said. “After so many years of insecurity, civilians deserve to see more security dividends from the peace process.”
Distributed by APO on behalf of Human Rights Watch (HRW).