GENEVA - The U.N. Human Rights Office is calling for an investigation into the excessive use of violence by an elite counter-terrorism force in Mali against anti-government protestors last weekend, causing many civilian casualties.
MINUSMA, the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Mali, has confirmed at least 14 protestors were killed and another 154 injured during a violent clampdown by FORSAT, a special anti-terrorism unit operating in Mali.
Rights monitors believe this elite special force may have violated its anti-terrorism mandate by suppressing civilians protesting endemic government corruption, alleged electoral fraud and other grievances. Witnesses report the special forces fired lethal ammunition during clashes with demonstrators that erupted July 10.
During the protests, at least 200 people were arrested. All have been released pending trial. Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, says his administration will investigate the violence. Spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Liz Throssel welcomes the announcement.
“It is essential that all alleged human rights violations and acts of violence committed during the demonstrations are the subject of prompt, thorough, transparent and independent investigations and that those responsible are held to account," she said. "In line with its mandate, the MINUSMA Human Rights and Protection Division has launched a fact-finding mission to examine allegations of serious human rights violations perpetrated in connection with the protests.”
Throssel notes demonstrations across Mali have been generally peaceful, though there have been incidents of protestors destroying and looting private and public properties.
Thousands of people have been killed since 2012 when a Jihadist insurgency erupted in Mali. The Central region of Mopti is a major hotspot. Escalating violence between the Bambara and Dogon ethnic groups has increased. More civilians are being killed. Instability is rising.
Throssel tells VOA another issue of concern is the proliferation of fake news and messages online inciting violence.
“I think in many ways, it is important not to actually repeat what kind of fake news is being put out there. But suffice to say it is something that the Human Rights and Protection Division of MINUSMA have highlighted and is very concerned about precisely because there are these tensions it risks enflaming tensions further," she said.
The U.N. Human Rights Office is calling on both the Government and opposition groups to show restraint and to resolve differences through dialogue, warning ongoing confrontation risks spiraling out of control.