Feeding an entrenched cycle of violence and reprisal, 580 civilians have been killed in Mali so far this year, as worsening security conditions and widespread impunity undermine efforts to protect people caught in intercommunal fighting, the UN Human Rights chief said on Friday.
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said violent disputes between the Peulh and Dogon communities have risen in recent months, with community-based militias - initially formed to defend communities - becoming increasingly involved in attacks against others.
From 1 January to 21 June, 83 incidents of fighting across communal lines were documented in the restive central region of Mopti by the UN Stabilization Mission's (MINUSMA) Human Rights and Protection Division.
Community-based militias from the Peulh community, who are primarily herders, were responsible for at least 71 of these incidents, leading to the deaths of 210 people. Those from the Dogon community, who are mainly farmers and hunters, carried out 12 attacks, leaving at least 82 people dead. People were also abducted, forced to join community-based militias or displaced.
Armed groups expand to central regions
These attacks across community lines have also been fuelled and instrumentalized by militant Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, who have bolstered their presence in Mali's central regions following push back in the north by national and international armed forces.
These groups are responsible for 105 human rights abuses that have occurred in Mopti, including 67 killings, since the start of 2020.
As well, members of the Malian Defence and Security Forces sent to the area to counter such violence, have themselves been involved in human rights violations, mostly targeting members of the Peulh community.
The Human Rights and Protection Division documented 230 extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions attributed to members of Mali's security forces in the central regions of Mopti and Ségou. Forty-seven of these killings - which occurred
in five incidents in March 2020 - are attributed to these forces presumably acting under the command of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel).
Instances of enforced disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment have also been documented.
"All these violations and abuses have been perpetrated in a context of overwhelming impunity," said Bachelet. The lack of accountability is eroding confidence in State institutions.
"The vicious cycle of retaliatory attacks between Dogon and Peulh militias, coupled with the violations and abuses committed by Malian Defence and Security Forces and armed groups, has created a situation of chronic insecurity for the civilian population, who are not able to count on the protection of the Malian forces", she asserted. "This needs to stop."
Bachelet called on national forces to restore State authority across the country, and on Malian authorities to establish "prompt, thorough, impartial and independent" investigations into all alleged human rights violations, and to ensure proper accountability processes are established.
"People need justice, redress and reparations," she said. "This is the only way to reverse this trend of continuing violence."