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February 06, 2013

Recording Rights Abuses in Northern Mali

by Joe DeCapua

The French-led military intervention in northern Mali has enabled a rights group to gather evidence of alleged abuses, killings and disappearances in the region. Human Rights Watch has been interviewing victims and eyewitnesses since the offensive began last month.


Corinne Dufka and her colleagues have talked to many people who gave personal accounts of rights abuses in northern Mali. Dufka is the senior researcher for West Africa for Human Rights Watch.

“The victims and witnesses from abuses by all sides were anxious to talk once we were able to find them – both those who had come to the south as displaced or also those who we interviewed by phone in the various different towns and villages in the north,” she said.

Dufka visited VOA following a recent trip to Mali and described some of the abuses the group has documented.

“First, the Tuareg separatist rebels, who engaged in extensive looting and pillage, as well as some sexual abuse against girls and women after they took over the towns and villages in the north. Then by the Islamist forces who engaged in flogging and beating, as well as amputation of limbs and a few cases killing, as they implemented their particular world view and their version of sharia,” she said.

Dufka alleged the Islamist groups executed 70 Malian soldiers early in the war in the town of Aguelhok. The groups are also blamed for the destruction of Malian cultural icons, especially in Timbuktu. But she said that the abuses do not fall on the Tuaregs and Islamists alone.

“For their part, the Malian army engaged in a number of extrajudicial executions, both of rival soldiers during a counter-coup in April. And then more recently against individuals accused of [collaborating] with or [being] members of the Islamist groups. The most recent mission we conducted we found that Malian soldiers in the aftermath of the Kona attack detained and then executed at least 13 individuals, most of whom were detained at the bus station in Severe and then marched about a hundred meters down the road, executed, and put in one of four wells,” she said.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine what happened to six other individuals, who had been detained by Malian troops.

Dufka added that there are “dangerously high ethnic tensions” in the north.

“With the pro-government forces, both the militias, as well as the Malian army, having the worrying human rights record that they do, we are extremely concerned that there will be reprisal killings by them, as well as by the local population as they return home to the northern town and villages. There is a worrying ruler-of law vacuum in the north. The institutions, the police, the gendarmerie, the judiciary, which is supposed to protect and ensure rule-of-law, largely fled. And so people are returning to an area which lacks proper safeguards to protect human rights,” she said.

Human Rights Watch is urging the Malian government, French and ECOWAS troops and the international community to monitor human rights abuses. The group praised the government for immediately bringing back mayors to towns and villages to help restore calm. The government is also using local radio stations to appeal to the population not to seek revenge, but to turn over any suspected Islamists to authorities.