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Rights Group: 2 Tuaregs Died in Mali Detention

  • Anne Look

Human Rights Watch says two ethnic Tuareg men - arrested in February and tortured by Malian soldiers near Timbuktu - have died in detention at the Central Prison in Bamako. Human-rights advocates are calling for the Mali government to investigate reported abuses and ensure humane treatment for all detainees.

Human Rights Watch says the two men died during the night of April 6 - April 7 as a result of excessive heat in their non-ventilated cell.

Who's Who in Mali

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

  • Formed in the 1990's to fight Algeria's secular government
  • Wants to rid North Africa of western influence and impose sharia
  • Estimated to have amassed $100 million in kidnapping ransoms
  • Most members are from outside Mali

Ansar Dine
  • Formed in Mali in 2012
  • Wants to impose strict sharia law
  • Many members are Tuaregs who fought in Libya
  • Founder Ag Ghaly attempted to become leader of MNLA

Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA/MUJAO)

  • Members broke off from AQIM in 2011
  • Wants to establish Islamic law across west Africa
  • Most members are from outside Mali
  • Has abducted aid workers and diplomats for ransom

National Movement for Liberation of Azawad (MNLA)
  • Ethnic Tuareg group formed in northern Mali
  • Fought in Libya with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi
  • Seeks to establish a secular state called Azawad in northern Mali
  • Was allied with Ansar Dine; pushed from power after northern takeover

Boko Haram
  • Based in Nigeria, where it wants to impose Islamic law
  • Has killed more than 1,000 in attacks in Nigeria
  • Believed to be sharing funds and training with AQIM
  • Its fighters have been seen with Islamists in Mali
HRW says the deceased were among seven Tuareg men detained on February 15 and then severely tortured and beaten by Malian soldiers in the town of Lere in the Timbuktu region, soon after that area was liberated from Islamist militants by French and Malian troops.

The men told HRW that soldiers accused them of supporting armed Islamist groups.

HRW West Africa researcher Corinne Dufka interviewed the seven men at the Gendarme Camp 1 in Bamako where they had been transferred on March 5 before being moved to the Central Prison later that month.

She said the men showed "visible signs of torture," including broken bones, burn wounds and a missing eye.

"I observed the gendarmes changing their dressings and giving them some medication, but these men really required special medical care," she said. "That is what they needed. Instead when they went to the Central Prison, they were stuffed inside a small room. Recall that this is the hottest time of the year in Bamako. These men deserved to be treated humanely irrespective of what they were accused of having participated in, and instead they were essentially killed because of gross negligence and mistreatment."

HRW called for the Malian government to investigate the torture of the seven men on March 26. Dufka said the government does not appear to have taken action.

Authorities in Bamako told VOA that they are still looking into the circumstances of the reported deaths of the two detainees.

Since French and Malian army forces launched their offensive in the north in January, Malian authorities have repeatedly denied accusations the army has illegally detained or killed civilians belonging to ethnic groups perceived to support Islamist rebels.

Security forces in the north continue to round up suspected militants. Suspects are supposed to be turned over to the gendarmes, or military police, who determine whether to release a suspect or transfer him to Bamako for further inquiry.

The state prosecutor responsible for cases related to northern Mali conflict said more than 100 suspects have been transferred to the capital.

HRW's Dufka said the rapid influx of detainees is straining the already overcrowded and under-supplied prison facilities.