News / Africa

HRW Accuses Malian Soldiers of Targeting Civilian Ethnic Groups

A young girl's face is engulfed in smoke as Malian soldiers patrolling with Tuareg Malian soldiers under the command of Colonel El-Hadj Ag Gamou stop for a cigarette break in the streets of Gao, northern Mali, Feb. 16, 2013.
A young girl's face is engulfed in smoke as Malian soldiers patrolling with Tuareg Malian soldiers under the command of Colonel El-Hadj Ag Gamou stop for a cigarette break in the streets of Gao, northern Mali, Feb. 16, 2013.
Jennifer Lazuta
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Mali's government to put a stop to alleged torture, execution and the disappearance of suspected Islamist rebels by the country’s armed forces.  In a statement Thursday, HRW said there is evidence Malian soldiers have been acting outside the law and that they appear to be targeting members of specific ethnic groups.  Mali's Defense Ministry denies the accusations.

As the hunt for Islamist militants in northern Mali continues, an investigation by Human Rights Watch has found that Malian soldiers are executing, torturing and facilitating the forced disappearances of suspected rebels based on ethnicity.

“There have been a number of abuses, and many of them seem to have been committed by soldiers who appear to be responding to the fall of Konna [a key city in Mali] and the concern that Sévaré and several other towns were being infiltrated.  So they went out and detained people on what appears to be very flimsy evidence, based on their ethnic group or how they were dressed and so on,” said Corinne Dufka, a senior West Africa researcher at HRW.

She said it appears that soldiers have specifically been detaining members of the Peuhl, Tuareg and Arab communities in the north and accusing them of fighting with or supporting the Islamist rebel groups that once occupied the area.

In response to the allegations, Mali’s Defense Ministry spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Diarran Kone, said his soldiers do not target specific ethnic groups.

Kone says it’s not about Tuareg or Arab.  He says he is not racist or focused on any ethnic group.  It's about fighting terrorism, he says.  He says he is fighting terrorists and criminals.

However, in January, HRW documented the cases of at least 13 men who were executed without trial and another five cases of suspected rebels who disappeared after being detained by soldiers.

HRW says witnesses have also recounted an additional two cases of Malian soldiers torturing suspected Islamists, six cases of forced disappearances and two executions without trial. 

Most recently, HRW reported that two Peuhl men went missing after being detained by Malian soldiers in the Boni area on February 9.  They say that four Arab men and a Songhai man also disappeared after soldiers detained them in Timbuktu on February 14.

Dufka said that while the Malian government is currently facing a very serious security threat and that while they do have a right to detain people they suspect of being a threat, there is a proper judicial process to follow.

“The procedure is that those individuals who are suspected, they should be handed over to the gendarme [police], who are legally mandated to question those individuals.  And that appears not to be happening in several different places,” she said.

HRW says it is believed that such reports have led to an exodus of more than 22,000 ethnic Tuareg and Arab civilians, who have fled their homes out of fear of being targeted by soldiers.

Dufka says there is now an urgent need for the Malian government to investigate and prosecute the soldiers responsible for such abuses.

She says that Malian authorities have been made aware of the abuses and that they have agreed to take action.  No soldiers have been punished.

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