Soldiers track their kills

Mali: killings, 'disappearances' in military operations

(Bamako) - Malian soldiers allegedly killed at least 34 villagers, violently disappeared at least 16 more people and severely ill-treated prisoners in counterterrorism operations in the central Mopti region, according to Human Rights Watch.

Mali's interim government should conduct credible and independent investigations into these incidents. They have been committed since the interim government took power on August 18, 2020 following a coup.

"Mali's security forces have shown virtually no consideration for human life in recent counterterrorism operations," said Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch. "Committing serious human rights violations in the name of security only encourages recruitment by violent, armed groups and undermines the trust of local people."

The government said it was investigating the incidents in the cities of Libé and Kobou, but family members of victims told Human Rights Watch that the authorities had not contacted them. Mali's military prosecutors should investigate the allegations independently and suspend officers involved in serious assaults. The Department of Defense should ensure that military policemen are present in all operations with a mandate to promote discipline and protect the rights of prisoners.

Human Rights Watch spoke to 43 on-site and by phone to report seven incidents in which security forces committed serious human rights abuses. The interviews took place between November 2020 and April 2021. Human Rights Watch spoke to witnesses, local community leaders, government officials, and foreign diplomats. The incidents took place between October 2020 and March 2021 in and around the towns and villages of Boni, Feto Hore Niwa, Kobou, Libé, Solla and Sokoura.

The Malian security forces reportedly carried out the attacks as part of military operations in response to the presence of Islamist armed groups, most of which are linked to Al Qaeda. The results build on research by Human Rights Watch in central Mali since 2015. Human Rights Watch also documents serious assaults by armed Islamist groups and ethnic militias in central Mali over the same period, including the civilian convictions and the indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices. These results will be published in an upcoming report.

Witnesses described how soldiers detained, blindfolded, and severely beaten dozens of bus passengers in Boni on March 23 after finding suspicious material in the luggage compartment. At least 13 of the passengers made the soldiers disappear.

Ten witnesses described an army operation in and around the village of Libé on October 22, 2020, in which security forces allegedly killed 25 villagers, including women, children and the elderly, many of them trying to escape.

One villager described how soldiers executed six men they had arrested minutes earlier. "The soldiers took the men to an empty shop," he said. “One [of the soldiers] who had taken position at the door opened fire. They lay there and died. The whole floor was full of blood. "

All parties involved in the armed conflict in Mali are bound by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and other contractual and customary laws of war. These provide for humane treatment of prisoners and civilians in custody. People who commit serious violations of the laws of war, including civil executions and torture, may be prosecuted for war crimes. Mali is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which opened an investigation into alleged war crimes in Mali since 2012.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Malian government on April 7th detailing the alleged human rights violations. In a reply dated April 13, the Secretary General of the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs said that "investigations have been initiated and are ongoing" into all the incidents identified in the report. Some members of the army were also questioned. Finally, the Secretary General added that the investigation into the incidents in Libé and Kobou was being hampered by the precarious security situation and the unwillingness of some witnesses to testify.

"The promise to investigate human rights abuses is a positive step, but the Malian government has failed to keep many of the earlier such promises," said Dufka. "The Malian authorities should curb units that commit human rights abuses and do much more to ensure discipline in the field, bring perpetrators to account and prevent further atrocities."