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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid