Mali jihadists, army commit rights abuses

2016-02-19 21:18
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Bamako - Malian jihadists and security forces alike have committed appalling abuses against civilians in the last year, rights groups said on Friday, as Islamist groups make new inroads into the west African country.

Reports by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) document jihadists murdering, raping and assaulting Malian citizens, while soldiers were accused of torture and arbitrary detention.

The encroachment of armed groups beyond the country's troubled north and into the centre and south of the country along its borders with Mauritania and Burkina Faso was also raised as a new area of concern in the HRW report.

"The French-led military intervention in 2013, continuing operations to drive out the Islamist forces, and the June 2015 peace agreement between the government and several armed groups resulted in some stability in the north," the HRW report said.

"At the same time, Islamist armed groups have carried out operations deeper in Mali's south."

Malian, French and UN forces are attempting to maintain order over vast stretches of desert where extremist groups roam after being ousted from key northern towns in 2013.

Highlighting the scale of the problem, the FIDH said 150 people were killed in attacks by armed groups in Mali in 2015, half of them civilians.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known by the acronym Minusma, lost 29 members last year, it added, with more than 80 injured.

Islamist groups including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Mourabitoun and the Macina Liberation Front killed dozens of people, including assaults on army posts and a high-profile attack on a Bamako hotel and nightclub.

Residents of one central Malian village woke to find the severed head of a shopkeeper outside his store after he was accused of informing for the Malian army by Islamist fighters, HRW reported.

In another case, four women were raped in August 2015 at an isolated farmhouse near the central garrison town of Sevare by jihadist fighters.

Meanwhile, government operations against jihadists "frequently resulted in arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, and torture", according to HRW.

Interviews reveal the complexity of a conflict with overlapping tribal dimensions, with the majority of the fighters in the new areas of conflict belonging to the Peuhl tribe, according to witnesses.

"In 2015, the presence of jihadists has grown; people are joining them as a result of their ability to protect us, our animals, and our possessions, especially from Tuareg bandits," one Peuhl chief told HRW.

Tuareg rebels joined the 2013 Islamist insurgency but are also accused of criminality and causing tensions with other ethnic groups.

A tribal leader in central Mali told the rights group: "An Islamist can also be a bandit, and a bandit a jihadist."

Read more on:    un  |  minusma  |  mali  |  west africa

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