21 November 2018

Mali: Civilians 'Caught Between Terrorism and Anti-Terrorism'

Photo: Le Pays
Mali military.

An explosive cocktail of jihadist groups, militias and the Malian army fighting each other has contributed to making central Mali one of the most dangerous regions of the country. A recent report documents serious human rights violations and violence in this area spiralling out of control.

The report titled "Central Mali: Populations caught between terrorism and anti-terrorism" published by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH) indicates that, in the past two years, 1,200 people were killed in central Mali and 30,000 people fled the region.

It's a region which the state does not appear to control nor does it provide the services and security a population could rightfully expect from its government. The void has enabled the emergence of various violent armed groups.

Jihadists & militias

40 per cent of all attacks in Mali took place in the central area of the country. The Katiba Macina jihadist group, linked to Al Qaeda, controls dozens of villages where it applies its laws, including closing down schools and imposing taxes. According to the report, the group is responsible for summary executions and sexual violence.

Armed militias have appeared, set up along ethnic lines. The Dogon, Bambara and Fulani ethnic groups each have their own. The report documents 500 people being killed between January and August this year and 50 villages burnt down as a result of ethnic clashes.

Army abuses

The Malian Army led a number of anti-terrorist operations in the central regions of Mopti and Segou this year, leading to 100 people being executed without a trial in February.

FIDH and AMDH investigated killings attributed to the army in Sokolo, Dioura, Finadje, Nelbal, Dogo, Boulikessi and Nantaka between February and July 2018. The two human rights groups allege that 67 people were summarily executed by the army and made their bodies disappear in mass graves. Others have been arrested, tortured and jailed.

"People who have been arrested by the army, even if they were informants or supporters of jihadist groups - and this has not been proved - are civilians without arms. The Malian army came with a list of names, selected the people, arrested them and executed them just outside the villages and they put them in mass graves. We found them. We only [uncovered] six operations but there are many others," explains Florent Geel, the Africa desk director at FIDH.

A different approach to counter-terrorism

FIDH and AMDH believe that strong military action is not the best response to violence. Geel says that the army and the government have to re-build the trust of the Malian people.

"The state needs to give the population social services, a real justice [system], provide security, schools, [help with] economic activities. It is also very important to support women's rights as they are subjected to sexual crimes."

Geel says it is not too late for the government to win back the trust of the people. And that, with the help of the international community, it needs to change its strategy adding social and economic measures to a military response.

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