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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track 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.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid