Amnesty International says Islamist militias have committed many abuses against civilians in northern Mali, including the use of child soldiers, amputations and stonings. It’s calling on the international community to help deploy human rights monitors.
Amnesty’s Salvatore Sagues says child soldiers – forced into service by anti-government forces – have seen combat in northern Mali.
“We have already learned that some child soldiers were sent to the front line. Some of them have been wounded and killed,” he said.
He said that even government-backed militias in the south are reported to be recruiting children.
“It is forbidden under international law if child soldiers are under 15 it is a war crime. And as you know, the International Criminal Court has opened [an] inquiry into Mali. So people who are using children below the age of 15 will have to account to the International Criminal Court,” he said.
Amnesty is also warning of civilian causalities as French forces pound Islamist militia positions.
“The main problem is that Islamic armed groups are intermingled with civilians in the north. And when the French are bombing towns in the north they may unwittingly wound and even kill civilians. So we are reminding the French and the Malian army to take all the measures necessary to avoid targeting civilians,” he said.
Sagues said there’s also the issue of possible reprisals against those suspected of collaborating with the militias or the Tuareg rebels.
“So we are calling [on] the Malian authorities also to ensure that the armed forces are abiding by humanitarian and human rights law,” he said.
Amnesty is receiving reports of atrocities from human rights defenders and others in the north, who, it said, are risking their lives to get the information out. Sagues gave some examples.
“They imposed their own interpretation if Islam. Flogging couples, for example, who had sexual relationships without being married. They stoned to death a couple, unmarried, who had a child. They amputated several people accused of theft without any trial. They destroyed cultural buildings,” he said
He said before the rise of the militias in the north, Mali had been a very tolerant Muslim country. What’s more, he said, the militias are holding hostages.
“Currently to our knowledge, 13 people are being held in Mali, among whom six are French and four are Algerian nationals. And of course we are very much concerned that these hostages might pay the price of retaliation or reprisal as a consequence of this intervention,” he said.
Amnesty International said that the international community has a responsibility to prevent a fresh surge in abuses.