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(NEW YORK) – Children in Mali as young as 13 who were recruited as child soldiers by armed groups are now being detained by Malian forces alongside adults and have been tortured, Amnesty International said today.
Amnesty International researchers in Mali spoke to nine children between the ages of 13 and 17, who were held with adults at the Maison centrale d’arrêt and at Camp I of the gendarmerie of Mali’s capital, Bamako, on suspicion of association with armed groups.
One of them, a 15-year-old shepherd, was arrested by Chadian forces in Intouké – in the northern Kidal region – and handed over to French forces. The boy said they did not ask for his age and did not interview him in his mother tongue, Tamasheq (a Tuareg language), before handing him over to the Malian gendarmerie in Bamako. During the plane transfer, he was blindfolded and had both his hands and feet tied.
Some of the children said they had being victims of torture or other ill-treatment by Malian forces. The children in detention have been charged with offences such as association with wrongdoers, rebellion, undermining internal and external state security, and acts of terrorism.
“They hung me up to the ceiling for 15 minutes and they threatened to give me electric shocks. They threatened to kill me,” one told Amnesty International.
“Under international law, children should be detained separately from adults, and Malian law also prohibits detaining them with adults,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Mali researcher at Amnesty International. “The Malian authorities should give notice to the UNICEF when arresting children suspected of association with armed groups so that their families can be identified and their cases handled by child protection professionals.”
Other children arrested for alleged links with armed groups were handed over to UNICEF via Mali’s gendarmerie and French forces. A number of children surrendered or were arrested by Malian, French, or Chadian armed forces following the military operation launched in January this year to retake northern Mali from armed groups that took control of the region in April 2012. Some children have yet to be located, prompting concerns they might still be linked to armed groups or hiding in their communities for fear of reprisals or of being detained.
Since the beginning of the Malian conflict in January 2012, human rights organizations – including Amnesty International – have denounced the recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups and self-defense militias supported by the Malian authorities.
Amnesty International urged the Malian authorities, MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) and other U.N. agencies to reach out to local communities to ensure care for children now in hiding after allegedly joining armed groups. They must also develop programs to reinsert and reintegrate former child soldiers.
The organization also called for the release of all children held by armed groups – including the Mouvement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) and the Tuareg Mouvement national de libération de l’Azawad (MNLA,National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) and Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as well as self-defense militias.
The U.N. Secretary-General’s 2012 Report on Children and Armed Conflict, which was released this week, has for the first time, explicitly named parties to the conflict in Mali as being responsible for the recruitment and use of child soldiers and for sexual violence against children.
“It is critical that the leadership of the MINUSMA prioritize the issue of child soldiers and other children associated with armed forces,” said Mootoo.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists, and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth, and dignity are denied.