The Malian Army summarily executed several people for allegedly helping Islamist rebels and threw the bodies into nearby wells, according to eyewitnesses independently interviewed by the Associated Press (AP) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
The Malian army has denied the allegations, but the French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian admitted that “There’s a risk” of human rights violations in the current French-Malian military operation in North and Central Mali in an interview with the France 24 television station. France is counting on the Malian army to prevent abuses, Mr. Le Drian said.
Since early 2012, the Malian government has lost nearly two-thirds of its territory, an area larger than France, to self-identified Islamist rebels like the Movement for Unity and Jihad (MUJAO); Ansar Dine; and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM). The current conflict began as an uprising of the Tuareg ethnic minority, but has since broadened into a multi-ethnic insurgency.
While the rebels have been condemned for destroying sacred shrines and for amputating the limbs of thieves and stoning a couple accused of adultery, the AP and FIDH reports have highlighted the violence perpetrated by the Malian army against members of the Tuareg community.
The actions of the Malian army, human rights organisations have warned, feed into a combustible cycle of violence, counter-violence and collective punishment targeted at vulnerable minorities.
According to the FIDH, the executions occurred in the military controlled towns of Sevare, Mopti and Niono around the time that the rebels took control of the key town of Konna on Janaury 10 this year.
“In Sevare, at least 11 individuals were executed in the military camp, near the bus station and near the hospital… Reliable information report close to 20 other executions” said a FIDH press release, “The victims of these executions are people accused of complicity with the jihadists…or simply people targeted because of their belonging to certain ethnic groups, commonly called ‘light skins’.”
Despite officially denying the allegations, the Malian army has thrown a cordon around Sevare and has refused to allow journalists into the town, citing security concerns.
Aggressive gun-toting soldiers at a checkpoint near Sevare turned this correspondent away on three separate occasions.
Since 2012, human rights organisations have repeatedly called on the Malian army to desist from executing or “disappearing” [causing to disapper] its opponents without due process. On April 4 last year, four Tuareg members of the Malian security services were “disappeared” [caused to disappear] and possibly executed by the military in Mopti, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In another well-documented incident on September 8 2012, 16 Islamic preachers en route to a religious conference in Bamako were detained, accused of supporting the rebels and executed in a military camp in Diabaly, 430 km from the capital city. On October 21 2012, Human Rights Watch said, “at least 8 Tuareg herders were executed in by soldiers, also in Diabaly”. The army is even accused of executing 20 of its soldiers for opposing the military coup that toppled the Malian government in March 2012.
Earlier this month, Diabaly was overrun by the Islamists and subsequently reclaimed by French and Malian forces. On Tuesday, a day after French soldiers reclaimed Diabaly from rebel control, an old man ran through the main square with blood pouring from deep cuts on his bald head.
Aldjoumati Traore told this correspondent that he was sitting by himself when a Malian soldier asked him for his identity card.
“I didn’t have my identity card…so the soldier took off his belt and whipped me with the steel buckle,” he said, an account corroborated by several eyewitnesses.
Mr. Troare has lived in Diabaly for more than two decades but hails from Timbuktu, a town now controlled by the rebels.
The same soldier also allegedly whipped a manual labourer, originally from the rebel-controlled city of Gao. “I think the soldier was drunk,” said the labourer, staunching the blood flowing from his neck, “He didn’t say anything, he just started beating me.”
As Mr. Traore spoke to reporters, a soldier of the Malian army walked up and refuted his claims, “A crowd of villagers were beating [Traore] because they thought he helped the rebels,” the soldier claimed.