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Mali: new briefing exposes 'appalling' human rights abuses in Bamako detention centres

French and West African forces have handed over detainees despite torture risk

Civilians are among dozens of people who have been tortured, killed and disappeared, including while in detention, since the launch of the French army’s intervention in the country five months ago, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published today. 

The briefing - Mali: Preliminary findings of a four-week mission. Serious human rights abuses , issued in the run-up to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in Mali next month - documents dozens of cases of detainees being tortured or ill-treated after being arrested for having alleged links with armed groups.

Amnesty has also documented more than 20 cases of extrajudicial executions or enforced disappearances.

Amnesty’s delegates, who have just returned from a lengthy visit to Mali, have been able to speak to more than 80 of the 200 detainees held in the capital Bamako, most of them charged with acts of terrorism and other offences. Many of the detainees said they had been tortured or ill-treated and some were reportedly denied medical treatment. A number of them had marks and scars of burnings and cuts - including on their backs, chests and ears. At least five detainees died in the facility in April, most of them apparently as a result of the appalling conditions of detention and lack of medical care.

For example, Akassane Ag Hanina was arrested in the city of Timbuktu and taken to Bamako’s Maison centrale d’arrêt on 4 April, where he died seven days later. Before his death, he told other detainees he had been beaten up by the military in Timbuktu. One of Ag Hanina’s co-detainees told Amnesty: “He told the prison guards that he was ill but never got any medical treatment. The night before he died, we asked for help, but no one came until the morning. When they arrived, he was dead.”

When Amnesty visited the detention centre, several child soldiers, some as young as 13 years old, were being held with adults. The authorities in Mali recognised that some human rights violations had been committed and said a number of cases were being investigated, but so far no one has been brought to justice.

Amnesty is also concerned that the French military, as well as West African (AFISMA) troops - including forces from Chad and Niger - have handed over prisoners to the Malian authorities when they knew or should have known the detainees were at real risk of being tortured or ill-treated.  

Amnesty International researcher Gaëtan Mootoo said:

“The Malian security forces’ human rights record since January is, simply, appalling. They continue to violate human rights with apparently no fear of being held accountable.

“Ensuring that all those responsible for human rights abuses face justice will not be an easy task, but it’s the key to a lasting stabilisation and rebirth of a country torn apart for more than 18 months.

“In the run up to the deployment of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Mali, it is essential to ensure that the Malian army and any other armed forces respect and protect human rights so people living in the north of the country can be reassured they will be safe.”

Extra-judicial killings
Mohamed Lemine and Mohamed Tidjani were arrested by the Malian security forces on 28 January, the day the French and Malian armies entered the city of Timbuktu.

Their bodies were found a few days later and a relative told Amnesty: “Both wore the same clothes and shoes they had on the day of their arrest, Mohamed Lemine had a white boubou [robe] and black trousers while his friend was wearing a boubou. We preferred not to displace the bodies and recovered the tomb with sand.”

Opposition force abuses
Amnesty has also collected testimonies of abductions and arbitrary killings committed by the armed opposition group Mouvement pour l’unicité du djihad en Afrique de l’ouest (MUJAO, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) against civilians accused of supporting the French and Malian armies.

Armed opposition groups, including MUJAO and the Tuareg Mouvement national de libération de l’Azawad (MNLA, National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) were also accused of sexually abusing women and girls, and using Children's rights to carry weapons, control checkpoints and cook. Some Children's rights were also sent to the front line.

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