A demonstrator holds a placard that read “France, the Gardener of Terrorism” to celebrate France’s announcement to withdraw French troops from Mali.
- Since December last year, at least 107 civilians have been killed by the military or jihadists in Mali.
- The withdrawal of French and European forces from a decade-long peacekeeping campaign has worsened the security situation.
- Human Rights Watch is calling on the government to investigate all reported cases.
The security situation in Mali has been deteriorating since December last year, with the French and its European allies withdrawing their troops after a decade of fighting armed Islamist extremists.
Their departure was partly due to the arrival of Russian mercenaries, the Wagner Group, in the country, resulting in what France called “multiple barriers”.
Mali’s military government reacted in late January by expelling the French ambassador in Bamako Joel Meyer.
Since then, it has been a conflict within a conflict as the military tries to seize power, defying civilian wishes, while the jihadists find their footing.
African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, in a high-level talks with United States officials on Friday last week, expressed concern about the negative impact on democracy and human rights of military governments.
He referred to countries in West Africa, which included Mali, leading a “misleading” narrative that citizens have no ability to govern.
“… it’s also making democracy look like a retreat, and if you look at West Africa, where there have been two, three, four coups. And the justification for these coups, which is delusional, is that civil rule ensures security. and therefore, the military can rule – which is not inherently true,” he said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) Sahel director Corinne Dufka says the situation in Mali has been surrounded by “dramatic” killings since then.
“There has been a dramatic increase in the number of civilians, including suspects killed by the Malian military and armed Islamist groups,” he said.
A new HRW report detailing the atrocities in Mali says that since December last year government forces have killed at least 71 civilians, while Islamic extremists have killed 36.
“At least 71 were linked to government forces and 36 to armed Islamic groups known as jihadists,” the report said.
‘I got the carnage… a scene no one can imagine’
The victims who were allegedly summarily hanged include traders, village heads, religious leaders and children.
Between January and March of this year, HRW telephoned people who had direct knowledge of some of the atrocities.
One of the interviewees cited by HRW in its report described how jihadists opened fire on a civilian bus, killing at least 32 people.
“I found the massacre… a scene that no one can imagine… Most of the dead were badly burned, making it difficult to know whether they were killed by bullets or by fire.”
The report said the killings were carried out by government forces during counter-insurgency operations.
The report said, “Around 2 March, soldiers allegedly nonjudicially killed at least 35 suspects whose charred bodies were found near the Danguere Votoro hamlet in the Segou region. This was in 2012. This is the most serious charge leveled against government soldiers since then.”
In a village called Tonau, 14 ethnic Dogan civilians were killed in what was believed to be a retaliation for the killing of two soldiers through a bomb attack.
An eyewitness told HRW how the two elders were taken to the spot where the soldiers died, only for them to meet their deaths.
“The soldiers in their 80s dragged two elders and four others, where the mine exploded, and killed them on the spot,” the witness is quoted as saying.
The HRW recommended that the Defense Ministry should suspend the rogue elements in the Army and that the State should conduct an impartial investigation into all alleged abuses.
The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hans Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through Africa Desk and the opinions and statements contained herein do not reflect the views of the Hans Seidel Foundation.