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Rights Group Calls for More Accountability Among Sahel Governments

FILE - Children displaced by attacks gather in a makeshift camp for the displaced in Youba, Yatenga province, Burkina Faso, April 20, 2020.
FILE - Children displaced by attacks gather in a makeshift camp for the displaced in Youba, Yatenga province, Burkina Faso, April 20, 2020.

Human Rights Watch has released its World Report for 2022, which gives a country-by-country review of human rights in more than 100 states over the last year.

In the HRW report released Thursday, which cites reporting by VOA at times, the monitoring group criticizes governments in the western Sahel region and their international partners, including France, the EU and the U.S., for reluctance to hold security forces to account for human rights abuses.

Ida Sawyer is the deputy director of HRW’s Africa division.

“We’ve seen how international partners have regularly issued statements to denounce abuses by Islamic armed groups, but they remain reluctant to denounce abuses by pro-government forces or to publicly press the national authorities to investigate the allegations of abuse,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer added that some international partners offering military support in the region were also failing to hold their own armed forces to account for alleged abuses.

“We have specifically called for a thorough investigation into allegations that a French airstrike killed 19 civilians in Bounti village in central Mali last January,” Sawyer said.

France has denied the findings of a U.N. report into the incident, saying the people killed were combatants and the report is “biased.”

Meanwhile, Sahel governments have rejected accusations by HRW that their armed forces are committing atrocities. For example, Burkina Faso’s government denied a HRW report in 2020 saying that more than 180 people were executed and buried in a mass grave in the northern town of Djibo.

Mali — and later Niger and Burkina Faso — has been embroiled in a conflict with armed groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida since 2012.

According to data by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, more than 8,000 civilians died in the conflict in those countries during that period.

The report says that Sahel governments and international partners have taken steps to engage security forces in human rights training.

The report also expresses concerns for the human rights of people displaced by the conflict. The United Nations refugee agency says there are almost 3.5 million displaced people in the western Sahel.

Alexandra Lamarche, senior advocate for West and Central Africa at Refugees International, spoke with VOA.

"Numerous reports of atrocities and human rights violations, including murder, rape, torture and violent persecution based on ethnic and religious grounds," Lamarche said. "All of which fuels intercommunal violence and continues to force people to flee their homes and the temporary displacement camps they sought refuge in.”

Lamarche added that little effort has been made by governments to protect the displaced from such abuses.