News / Africa

Rights Group: Mali Islamists Using Child Soldiers

A victim of forced hand amputation by al-Qaida-linked Islamist group Movement for Unity and Jihad under Sharia law as punishment for stealing livestock, Alhader Ag Mahamoud, 30, attends a news conference organized by Amnesty International in Bamako, Mali,
A victim of forced hand amputation by al-Qaida-linked Islamist group Movement for Unity and Jihad under Sharia law as punishment for stealing livestock, Alhader Ag Mahamoud, 30, attends a news conference organized by Amnesty International in Bamako, Mali,
Anne Look
International human rights groups say the al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants in control of northern Mali are intensifying human rights abuses against civilians, recruiting minors as young as 11 years old and systematically destroying important cultural and religious sites.

International watchdog group Human Rights Watch [HRW] condemns what it says are serious human rights abuses, and violations of international law, by the three armed Islamist groups in control of northern Mali since early April.

HRW says militants have carried out at least two executions by stoning, numerous floggings and at least eight amputations as punishments under their hardline interpretation of Sharia law, which HRW senior Africa researcher Corinne Dufka called a "cruel parody of justice."

  • Amnesty International says it has documented 'horrific abuses' against civilians in Islamist-controlled northern Mali, including the recruitment of child soldiers, sexual violence, extra-judicial executions and amputations.
  • The North Liberation Forces, which is a part of a militia which trains youths from all over the country, operates in government-controlled areas run by current and former Malian soldiers.
  • Youths attend a training session at the North Liberation Forces camp in Sevare, Mali on September 24, 2012.
  • Young people run during a training session at the North Liberation Forces camp in Sevare, Mali on September 24, 2012.
  • Local residents, including many children, look on as Islamist group Ansar Dine prepares to amputate the hand of a young man found guilty of stealing rice, in Timbuktu, Mali.

Sharia law harshly enforced

She said the militants have set up an organized system of "Islamic courtrooms" where they hold regular trials once or twice a week.

"Complaints are brought by the local population and some of the complaints involve problems that took place even before the Islamists took over. They then arrest an individual, bring him or her in," said Dufka. "They are then detained in the Islamist police headquarters and then they are brought out for a so-called trial, which involves sitting in front of a group of judges, many of whom are foreigners, in which the person is basically given a chance to tell their version of events. And then a decision is very hastily made about their guilt or innocence."

The sentence, Dufka said, whether it be amputation or flogging, often is carried out immediately.

Amnesty International says the number of these speedy "sham trials" is increasing, as is the severity of the punishments.

Amnesty's Mali director, Saloum Traore, said they know of about 20 people, some at risk of amputation, currently waiting in detention centers in Gao.

Infractions vary from drinking and smoking, to alleged crimes like highway robbery and theft.

Upside, downside to rule of law

HRW's Dufka said residents credit the Islamists with filling a "rule of law vacuum" in the north, though they criticize the Islamists' methods.

"A number of people credit the Islamists with helping to restore security, particularly along the highways and byways of northern Mali, which for many years has been the subject of a lot of famous highway bandits," she said. "They really criticize the Malian police and gendarmerie, who of course have now left, for failing to address the problem of rising criminality."

HRW says the armed groups have recruited hundreds of adolescents into their ranks to serve as spies, guards, cooks and patrol officers. Dufka said witnesses say many youth also are carrying out punishments.

"Really in some cases taking the lead, in meting out particularly floggings and beatings, and particularly for things like people listening to music on their cell phones, for women not covering their heads and for smoking," she said.

Recruiting children through family

Dufka said HRW did not document any forced recruitment. The children, she said, appeared to be the younger relatives of current militants.

"We also documented many of the children and adults coming from villages, which for many years have practiced a much more conservative form of Islam, usually described by the local population to be a wahabbist form of Islam," said Dufka.

There are indications that settling disputes via Sharia law is not a completely foreign concept to northern Mali.  

A leader of the Arab Berabiche community in Timbuktu told VOA that he saw "sharia courts" ruling on economic disputes, like land use and inheritance, as early as 2010 in some far-flung communities.

Amnesty's Traore said Mali's government must work quickly to liberate the north.

Traore said the Islamists have found fertile ground in the devout populations of northern Mali. He said the population appears ready to use whatever means possible to curb criminality, in particular theft. He said some are still resisting the Islamists, but the longer this goes on, the more adjusted the population will become and the more entrenched the Islamists will be.

Davastating cultural destruction

Regardless of what happens, Dufka said the landscape of northern Mali appears to have been forever changed. Sports, public congregation and festivities associated with births and weddings are now forbidden.

Timbuktu residents, she said, told her about their heartbreak as Islamists destroyed cemeteries, religious shrines and mausoleums, many of which were protected as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Their destruction, HRW says, constitutes a war crime.

"The saints that they prayed to for good health, for children, for a safe voyage, to do well in an exam. Praying to those saints which are such an important part of Timbuktu's heritage, as well as cleaning and taking care of and praying over the graves of their departed are extremely important to them," said Dufka.

Music, she said, has not been spared either.

"I spoke to one witness who described Islamists coming to a radio station in Timbuktu and filling up four rice bags full of recordings of local music that evidently a local music journalist had gone around and recorded over the last decade or so," said Dufka. "They described feeling extremely distraught knowing that this music, which is such an important part of Malian culture and had given so much to Africa and the world, has been lost forever."

Mali's interim president, Diouncounda Traore, said the government will try to negotiate a solution to the crisis in the north. Force, he said, is a last resort.  

The armed groups say they are willing to negotiate, but not on the issue of Sharia law.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: user from: us
September 26, 2012 9:27 AM
mali will not negotiate. we will not negotiate with the terrorists. we will shove your sharia law up yours and any one that disagree along. you have no place in the world.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid