Beyond the headlines - some of the horrifying accounts from Mali
When we simply glance at news reports on Mali to keep up with current affairs, it’s easy to miss the horrific consequences of this conflict. The casual observer may note for example that President Hollande is heading to Mali and that the French military have taken Kidal, the last major city held by Islamist fighters in the north (but for how long?), and that Britain has vowed to send troops.
With such headlines, it’s easy to forget how this war has devastated the lives of men, women and children across the country.
Amnesty’s new short briefing really brings these atrocities to light. Our researchers have for example received reports that more than 20 people were arrested in the street or at the bus station in a town by the Malian army and were then unlawfully killed. According to one eyewitness, ‘soldiers got out [of their military vehicle], took bodies and threw them in to the well. The vehicle left and came back… They took other bodies, at least six and threw them into the well again. Once the bodies had been thrown into the well, they fired two or three bursts of machine-gun [sic] into the well.”
Another person described how three other people – two men and one woman – were executed in a similar way the following day. “A woman was with those arrested. She was with her husband. They are Hausa from Niger. The couple were taken to a well nearby. From where I stood, I noticed they were asked to sit before being shown and thrown into the well.”
Another story which haunts me is that of a young boy who had been forcibly recruited to become a child soldier and who now appears to be suffering from mental disabilities. My colleague Gaetan Mootoo described how, “the boy was silent and downcast, and wasn't able to talk to us - it was like his mind wasn’t fully there.”
A 16-year-old boy who was able to speak to our researchers said: “I used to study with 23 other pupils with a Koranic Master. Two months ago, the grandson of my master sold us to the Islamists. We joined a group of 14 other young people carrying firearms.” He went on to describe how “they were trained to shoot aiming at the heart or feet. Before the fighting we had to eat rice mixed with a white powder and a sauce with a red powder. We also had injections.”
I find these accounts not only heart-breaking, but also hard to believe that this is happening in 2013.
That children are being sold to others, and then forced to eat what may have been drugs is both horrifying and astounding.
With so many political stakeholders engaged in this war (ECOWAS, the AU, France and the EU to name a few), it is easy to see why perhaps the international community may not be giving due attention to these human rights violations.
It’s important that addressing these violations becomes an absolute priority.
Until January last year, Mali was one of the more peaceful countries across West Africa. It had experienced decades of peace and stability – and was hardly a country of concern for me as Amnesty’s Africa Press Officer. Yet in the space of 12 months, I am reading reports which bear the hallmarks of the level of atrocities committed in other regions. It is hard to read.
With reports emerging from Amnesty and others about such atrocities, it’s time the international community fully focuses on the human rights violations being committed by all parties.
Effective investigations must be carried out into reports of these unlawful attacks; every effort must be taken to put a stop to the forcible recruitment of child soldiers, and every effort must be made at all levels to hold those who have committed such atrocities must be held to account.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.