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Mali: Worst human rights crisis in 20 years following Tuareg clashes

Amnesty International today expressed concern at the escalating violence in the north of the country following clashes between Mali’s military and a Tuareg armed group, saying the situation, is causing a human rights crisis.

Dozens of people have been killed since the violence erupted last month, and thousands of people have fled across the border into neighbouring Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Amnesty International West Africa researcher, Gaëtan Mootoo said:

“This is the worst human rights crisis in northern Mali for 20 years.

“The rule of law has been markedly absent in this part of the country for years, and the region could be plunged into chaos if the fighting continues.”

The most serious fighting to date took place in Alguelhoc, some 460 miles north-east of the capital Bamako, on 18 January.  In the following days, dozens of soldiers and fighters were killed in clashes between the Malian armed forces and the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), a Tuareg armed opposition group.

A few days later, photographs were circulated which showed the corpses of Malian soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs, prompting the authorities to accuse the MNLA of carrying out extrajudicial executions. The armed opposition group denied this, saying that the Malian troops died during the fighting and that these photographs were fabricated. The Malian authorities have said a commission of inquiry had been sent to investigate the incident.

Gaëtan Mootoo continued:

“In view of the contradicting stories about how the soldiers depicted in these images were killed, there is an urgent need for an independent and impartial inquiry into what happened.

“The MNLA should reveal the names of any captives they are currently holding and allow the Red Cross unrestricted access to them.”

Amnesty International is also calling on the Malian authorities to charge or release four people, including two women, who were arrested in the northern town of Kidal, for their alleged support of the MNLA. These four people were transferred to the town of Gao early on Thursday, and were reportedly blindfolded and handcuffed during this transfer. 

The release of the images of dead soldiers angered their families, who protested in Bamako on 1 and 2 February. During the demonstrations, the Malian security forces failed to prevent an angry mob from attacking homes and properties owned by Tuaregs and other ethnic groups – including Arabs and Mauritanians – living in the capital. 

The security forces’ failure to act resulted in thousands of Tuaregs and others, targeted because of their lighter skin color (“teint clair”) to flee Bamako, with many seeking refuge in neighbouring Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Gaëtan Mootoo added:

“All reports indicate that the Malian security forces were unwilling or unable to protect the Tuareg population and others targeted when the Bamako protests turned violent. The authorities must take immediate measures to ensure that anyone at risk is granted protection.”

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