Extra-judicial killings, rape, arbitrary arrests of many people are some of the human rights abuses being directed at the people of Mali; with hundreds of thousands more driven from their homes by the fighting in the northern region, Amnesty International said in a release, recently. The worsening human rights situation is dubbed as the worst in 50 years in Mali with a mixture of an acute food shortage – affecting about 15 million of inhabitants living in the Sahel region. “After two decades of relative stability and peace, Mali is now facing its worst crisis since independence in 1960. The entire north of the country has been taken over by armed groups who are running riot. Tens of thousands of people have fled the region, creating a humanitarian crisis in Mali and in neighbouring countries.” said Gaetan Mootoo of Amnesty International.
Gaëtan Mootoo, an Amnesty International West Africa researcher, was part of a two-man delegation that visited Mali for three weeks on a research mission; assessing the deplorable conditions of the people. The delegation, according to Amnesty International, spent three weeks in the region – with two weeks spent in Mali and a week in Niger – they were given full cooperation from both governments; though at the time of their visit, Mali was in a tumultuous state following the overthrow of President Amadou Toumani Toure by the military. They visited Bamako (capital city of Mali) and neighbouring Niger – where four refugee sites are been established, about 200km from the capital Niamey.
All parties to the conflict are said to be committing human rights violations; testimonies from refugees in Menaka and Gao, painted a picture of rape and sometimes gang-rape being propagated at the females by armed men and also members of the National Movement for the Liberation Azawad (MNLA). MNLA is a political and military organisation that fought to extricate three regions (Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu) of Mali from the control of the central government with the sole purpose of Azawad independence – a feat they accomplished sometimes in April 2012 but the latter.
International communities, the world over, have condemned MNLA’s declaration of independence and urged them to relinquish control of the occupied towns, back to the central government of Mali. Amnesty International stated that, a 19 year old female student, fleeing the conflict to Bamako, narrated that, on the way to a friend’s house with a colleague at night, a motorcycle and a car with many armed men stopped beside them. One of the two Tamasheqs (Tuareg) on the motorbike wore military fatigue and ordered that, they go to their military camp with them because they needed women, the young woman continued, “We refused. My friend lied and said she was pregnant. One of the Tamasheks then made me go into an empty house. I told him I was menstruating. He ordered me to show him. I showed him the blood. He said: ‘What’s that?’ And he raped me.”
The brutalities of government soldiers – beatings and extrajudicial executions – as recorded by Amnesty International, highlighted the beatings and extrajudicial killings of three unarmed people in Sevare in April, a northern region 630 km from Bamako, accusing them of been MNLA spies. Others are also held in areas not designated as detention centres. Correspondingly, government soldiers captured as prisoners by armed rival factions are treated inhumanely with some been ill treated and sick, whilst others were summarily executed. This was divulged by two Malian soldiers taken prisoners in January and later released as part of a prisoner swipe; they described how captured soldiers were maltreated, abused and in some instances, their throats slit, the release stated.
The two-man Amnesty International delegation also reported to have unearthed proof of participation or presence of child soldiers amongst the rank-and-file of armed Tuareg and Islamists groups – who are in control of the north after their swift advance and subsequent overrunning of the region. There are also reports of immense pressure on the residents to change their behaviour so as to conform to fundamental interpretations of Islam – as believe by the armed group Ansar Eddin. According to witnesses talking with Amnesty International, the quest to try and change the behaviours of the people so they can conform to Islamic norm, has been followed by intimidations.
Witnesses said that the imposition of these new behaviours has been accompanied by daunt and physical violence with intentional and arbitrary killings. “Five days after the rebels took control of the city, a car was stopped at the edge of town by armed men. One of the car’s occupants then phoned the number given out by Ansar Eddin. They arrived immediately on the scene, they shot at the thieves, one was injured, the other ran off, a third was stopped and his throat slit,” a Gao resident was quoted as telling Amnesty International. Amnesty International urges armed factions in the north to respect international humanitarian law and to stop the sexual violence on women and young girls. Also, to cease the conscription of child soldiers and endeavour to protect civilians and soldiers captured in the conflict.
Equally, the organization calls on the Malian government to cease the harassing of human rights pioneers – peacefully striving for the return of normalcy thus, a return to the rule of law. “Without coordinated action to protect human rights, uphold international humanitarian law and the assistance of displaced and refugee populations, the entire sub-region risks destabilisation through the effects of political instability, armed conflict in the north and the food crisis which affects the whole of the Sahel,” said Gaëtan Mootoo. In an earlier statement, the US government expressed deep concerns about the continuing violence in northern Mali and condemns armed groups attacks against northern towns. “These actions, taken by groups who purport to defend the rights of Malians, instead threaten the well-being of all Malian citizens. We call for a resumption of dialogue toward a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict,” Victoria Nuland, spokesperson at the State Department said in February.
The United States further criticised retaliatory attacks on members of ethnic groups linked to the situation in the north. Deputy Programme Director for Africa, Paule Rigaud in Paris told Newstimeafrica that, there are still instances of ongoing rape happening in northern Mali and that they are asking the armed factions to desist from such human rights abuses. She also hinted that the atrocities that are been inflicted on the populace will be investigated and maybe prosecuted at the international courts. “Indeed, all these violations of human rights on the people, since the start of the conflict, need to be investigated. Right now, we haven’t approach any international body for possible prosecution yet, because we are still documenting the numbers of human rights abuses,” Rigaud concluded.
In conclusion, the organisation advised the Malian government and armed groups to permit the United Nations and humanitarian agencies unhindered access to refugees and internally displaced people. Comments from the Mali embassy in Washington, DC – when contacted – were not immediately available at press time.
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