For background information on the French intervention and human rights situation in Mali, see here.
The French Defense Minister on Thursday said publicly that the “French intervention has succeeded.” Insofar as armed opposition and armed Islamist groups have either abandoned areas in the north of the country or tactically retreated—and this is a measure of success—that statement may be true.
Also released Thursday were initial findings from a ten day research mission in Mali by Amnesty International. In an unfortunate confirmation of the realization of Amnesty International’s fears raised in December, the findings from this mission tell of the executions and disappearances of civilians, arbitrary arrests, beatings and ill-treatment, inter alia.
In addition to the deaths of civilians—including children—as a result of helicopter attacks, the mission findings told of horrific abuses by the Malian armed forces participating in the offensive made possible by French intervention and the logistical support of other countries. I found personally disturbing findings reminiscent of crimes committed in Darfur and elsewhere: the bodies of executed civilians thrown in water wells of Waïlurdé neighborhood of Sévaré; civilians being stopped, arrested, and executed based on what appears to be their clothing or ethnicity.
“From where I stood, I noticed that they were asked to sit before being shot down and thrown into the well. I do not know where the other ones were taken.” –Witness testimony provided to AI researchers
The horror of these crimes is made worse only by the likelihood they will continue. As is generally acknowledged, the fighting in Mali is likely not over despite the ousting of Islamist and other armed opposition groups from towns in the north. Indeed, the UN-mandated force—whose deployment has been accelerated—will be faced with the same unconscionable proposition: to operate under a mandate from the United Nations, and to do so alongside some Malian forces that are responsible for the crimes noted above, and a long history of others.
It strains credulity to call the events in Mali over the last month a success, save by the narrowest assessment, and with the security, dignity, and most fundamental rights of the civilians left out of the equation.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court warned the Malian government that it must investigate and prosecute those responsible for the crimes committed by Malian forces since the French intervention. The rest of the international community must—as a matter of urgency—do the same. Should those responsible for these crimes be allowed impunity, and allowed to participate in the UN-mandated force, any moral authority of that mandate and the credibility of contributing states will be at grave risk.
In this latest briefing, Amnesty International’s makes these and other urgent recommendations:
- Malian authorities must immediately open a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into these allegations and remove from duty any of the persons suspected of carrying out or ordering such acts. Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, suspected perpetrators should be prosecuted in fair trials.
- United Nations human rights observers must immediately be deployed, in sufficient numbers and well resourced, to monitor and report publicly on the human rights situation in the conflict areas. Particular attention should be given to situation of children affected by the conflict, including the use of child soldiers, as well as gender and sexual-based violence.
- Strict compliance should be given to the United Nations Human Rights Due Diligence Policy. Support for any military unit or other entity must be denied if there are substantial grounds for believing individuals may commit grave violations of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.
The human rights crisis in Mali remains yet far from new, and far from over.