Mali: Islamist Group Abuses, Banditry Surge

slamist armed groups in northern and central Mali have executed numerous people and are

increasingly imposing restrictions on village life, Human Rights Watch said today. The

Malian government has largely been unable to protect vulnerable civilians in northern and

central Mali, while security forces summarily executed at least 10 suspected Islamists

and tortured many others during counterterrorism operations in 2016.

In addition to abuses by the Islamist armed groups, civilians have suffered from

bloody intercommunal clashes and surges in banditry. Despite a 2015 peace accord ending

Mali’s 2012-2013 armed conflict, signatories have failed to implement many of its key

provisions, notably the disarmament of thousands of combatants. United Nations

peacekeeper fatalities reached 29 in 2016, double those in 2015.

The human rights climate grew increasingly precarious over the past year, a result of

execution-style killings and intimidation by Islamist armed groups, bloody intercommunal

clashes, and surges in violent crime,rdquo; said Corinne Dufka, associate Africa director

at Human Rights Watch. The government’s failure to assert control and curtail security

force abuses has added to the deteriorating situation.rdquo;

A 2013 French-led military intervention pushed back armed groups occupying Mali’s north,

but lawlessness and abuses steadily increased from mid-2014, including by groups linked

to Al-Qaeda. In 2015 and 2016, abuses worsened and increasingly spread to Mali’s central

regions.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 70 victims and witnesses to abuses in central

and northern Mali in April and August 2016 in Bamako, Seacute;vareacute;, and Mopti, and

by phone throughout the year. Those interviewed included members of the ethnic Peuhl,

Bambara, Dogon, and Tuareg communities; detainees in government custody; local

government, security, and Justice Ministry officials; and diplomats and UN officials. The

findings build on Human Rights Watch research in Mali since 2012.

In 2016, Islamist armed groups executed at least 27 men, including village chiefs and

local government officials, Malian security force personnel, and fighters from parties to

the peace accord. Most were accused of providing information to the government or French

forces engaged in counterterrorism operations.

Many of the executions took place in central Mali, where Islamist armed group presence

and intimidation of the population steadily increased through the year. Villagers

described how Islamist groups of up to 50 armed fighters, including teenage boys,

occupied villages for hours and threatened death to anyone collaborating with French

forces, the government, or UN peacekeepers.

In several villages, the groups imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law),

threatening villagers not to celebrate marriages and baptisms. A villager described a

wedding he attended in December in Segou region: Our traditional customs are no longer

allowed because of the presence of jihadist fighters from our own villages. Our way of

celebrating is now haram [forbidden].rdquo; Another said that families are pressured to

give their childrenrdquo; to the Islamist armed groups in central Mali.

Armed groups carried out at least 75 attacks on UN forces in 2016, killing 29

peacekeepers with the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)

and wounding some 90 others. Groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took

responsibility for many of these attacks, which largely targeted logistic convoys and UN

bases. Particularly deadly incidents included a February attack that killed seven

peacekeepers from Guinea, as well as two incidents in May that killed five peacekeepers

from Togo and five from Chad.

Residents and community leaders described rising levels of banditry and violent crime.

Human Rights Watch estimates that several thousand civilians in northern and central Mali

were victimized during about 400 incidents of banditry in 2016. This assessment is based

on interviews with victims, witnesses, and security sources, as well as media monitoring

and security reports. Armed bandits killed at least eight people and wounded over 30,

routinely targeting public vehicles and buses, animal herders, and traders. Victims

alleged that government security forces were either unable or unwilling to protect them

and rarely investigated the crimes.

A number of people said they had been robbed more than once. One trader had been robbed

four times in as many months. It can’t get any worse,rdquo; said another trader. We can

hardly move out of Gao without getting hit by bandits lying in wait,rdquo; said a third.

The traders said the slow implementation of the peace accord � notably provisions for

disarmament, the cantonment of armed groups, and joint patrols comprising Malian

soldiers, pro-government militia and former rebels � had greatly contributed to the rise

in criminality.

Insecurity also significantly affected basic health care, education, and

humanitarian aid. At least 35 attacks on aid agencies took place in 2016, the vast

majority by bandits in the north. At least six vehicles carrying health workers and the

sick were robbed, with patients forced out of the vehicles in several cases. Several

civilians were killed by landmines and improvised explosive devices planted by armed

groups on major roads.

The Malian army and other government security forces conducted counterterrorism

operations that on several occasions resulted in arbitrary arrests, executions, and

torture and other ill-treatment. During 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the killing

of 10 detainees, all in central Mali, and the torture or severe mistreatment of 20

others. Malian authorities made little effort to investigate and hold accountable those

implicated in these violations.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, applies to all sides in the armed

conflict in Mali. Applicable law includes Common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva

Conventions, Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, and customary laws of war. Common

Article 3 and Protocol II specifically prohibit the killing of captured combatants and

civilians in custody.

Individuals who deliberately commit serious violations of the laws of war may be

prosecuted for war crimes. Mali is a party to the Rome Statute of the International

Criminal Court.

The authorities need to do much more to fulfill their responsibility to protect civilians

in north and central Mali,rdquo; Dufka said. After so many years of insecurity, civilians

deserve to see more security dividends from the peace process.rdquo;

Source: Human Rights Watch (HRW).

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