Malian forces sre reported to have tortured children – as young as 13 – in detention centres across Bamako for reported involvements or having links to armed militant groups, Amnesty International said in a release Friday.
The children are suspected of being recruited as child soldiers by armed groups fighting the Malian military forces and its allies for control of the northern part of that country.
Their ages ranged between 13 to 17 years and once arrested, they are kept in a general population area together with adult prisoners – an international law violation.
“Under international law, children should be detained separately from adults, and Malian law also prohibits detaining them with adults. The Malian authorities should give notice to 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,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Mali Researcher at Amnesty International.
A group of Amnesty International officials returning from a four-week visit to Mali, said they spoke to nine children being detained alongside adults at two detention camps of the gendarmerie in Bamako; and were told of horrific stories of abuse.
“A 15-year-old shepherd, was arrested by Chadian forces in Intouké – in the northern Kidal region – and handed over to French forces. He 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 his hands and feet tied. Some of the children said they had being victims of torture or other ill-treatment by the Malian forces,” the release stated.
Another child told the delegation that he was hung on a ceiling for about 15 minutes and threatened with electric shocks and execution, according to Amnesty International.
The children being detained face numerous serious charges including but not limited to; acts of terrorism and undermining internal and external state security.
However, some of the children arrested for links to armed groups, were handed over to UNICEF via the Malian gendarmerie and French forces, the rights group acknowledged.
Whilst some children have surrendered or arrested, others remain unaccounted for and are believed to be hiding in their communities with links to armed groups; fearing retaliations should they venture out.
Human rights watchdog organisations have condemned both the armed groups and government supported self-defence militias, for recruiting and enabling the participation of children as child soldiers in the conflict.
Amnesty International says it is urging Malian authorities, the MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) and other UN agencies to facilitate the reaching out to local communities, in ensuring care for children believe to be in hiding.
“They must also develop programmes to reinsert and reintegrate former child soldiers,” Amnesty International advised.
It also urged armed groups to release all children being held in captivity – including the Mouvement pour l’unicité du djihad 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-defence militias.
The U.N. Secretary-General’s 2012 Report on Children and Armed Conflict, released this week, for the first time has unambiguously named the parties involved in the conflict as being responsible for sexual violence against children; and the recruiting and use of children as child soldiers.
“It is critical that the leadership of the MINUSMA prioritize the issue of child soldiers and other children associated with armed forces,” said Gaëtan Mootoo.
The Malian conflict started in April 2012 when armed groups launched sustained attacks on government positions in the north thus, taking control of that region.
Malian troops aided mainly by Chadian and French troops, recaptured the region when they sprung a military counter offensive in January.
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