Human Rights Monitors Also Document Use of Child Soldiers
(New York) – The Malian army has committed serious human rights violations including extrajudicial executions and arbitrary arrests of civilians, according to evidence documented by Amnesty International over the last ten days in Mali. The rights group, in a new briefing, also found Islamist armed groups carrying out extrajudicial executions and forcibly recruiting child soldiers as young as ten years old.
The human rights organization issued its report based on monitoring from the crisis zone, where it collected eyewitness testimonies in the towns of Ségou, Sévaré, Niono, Konna, and Diabaly during the ten-day mission.
“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 researcher in Mali.
During their visit, the Amnesty International delegation documented that on January 10, on the eve of French intervention, the Malian army arrested and extrajudicially executed more than two dozen civilians, mainly in the northern city of Sévaré.
Eyewitnesses 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,” said one.
People spoke of how the Malian security forces apparently targeted people they suspected of connections 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 militant ties. Amnesty International spoke to several detainees who reported being beaten or otherwise ill- treated while in custody.
The rights group also found reports of Islamist armed groups carrying out extrajudicial executions. Eyewitnesses described how militants summarily killed five injured Malian soldiers as well as one civilian in the town of Diabaly on January 14 and 15.
There is mounting evidence that Islamist militants have been forcibly recruiting and using child soldiers in their ranks. Several people in Diabaly described how they had seen children, some as young as ten years old, armed with rifles together with Islamist fighters.
In Ségou, Amnesty International 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 that five civilians – including a mother and her three young children – were killed in an airstrike launched in the context of a counteroffensive carried out jointly by the French and Malian armies.
The strike occurred on the morning of January 11, the first day of French intervention in the town of Konna.
French officials have told Amnesty International that they did not carry out any attacks at that time in Konna, while a senior member of the Malian government and a high-ranking Malian military official confirmed 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,” said Mootoo. “Any findings have to be fully disclosed so it can be determined if there has been any breach of international law.”
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.