A report released on Tuesday by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH) citing testimonies from civilians and local leaders said that Mali is facing a severe jihadist threat and has become one of the deadliest regions in the world.
A mix of jihadist violence, communal conflict and suspected army abuse have rendered central Mali the country’s deadliest region as the influence of Islamist insurgents and separatist rebels in the north is spreading, the report titled Central Mali: Populations caught between terrorism and anti-terrorism said.
Mali’s government has been struggling to restore state authority in the north and center since a 2012 Islamist insurgency that’s reverberated across West Africa. More than 500 people have been killed in attacks or mass executions in the central Mopti region during the first six months of the year, the International Federation for Human Rights said in a report published Tuesday, citing testimonies from civilians and local leaders.
Soldiers were involved in at least six of the attacks, the Paris-based group said in the report. In one incident, several of 67 people escorted by soldiers were later found in a mass grave. The recent violence has forced an estimated 34,000 people to flee their homes and aid organizations are struggling to provide food, the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement Wednesday.
A loose alliance of Tuareg rebels and Islamist insurgents seized large swathes of the north in 2012. A French military intervention succeeded in pushing back the insurgents a year later, but they’re now moving into Mali’s more densely populated center, where they stoke ethnic tensions through the targeted assassinations of local leaders.
In some villages, jihadists have enforced Sharia law, closed public schools and are forcing women to cover their heads, Amy Dicko, an activist from the nomadic ethnic Peul group, said by phone Monday from Mali’s capital, Bamako.
Since the 2015 emergence in the Mopti region of a jihadist movement led by the Peul preacher Amadou Koufa, disputes between herders and Bambara and Dogon farmers have repeatedly turned violent. Already tense relations between ethnic groups have been exacerbated by accusations of the military cooperating with self-defense militias in the fight against the jihadists, who recruit mainly among young Peul herders, said Florent Geel, head of the rights group’s Africa desk.
The Malian Army led a number of anti-terrorist operations in the central regions of Mopti and Segou this year, leading to 100 people being executed without a trial in February.
FIDH and AMDH investigated killings attributed to the army in Sokolo, Dioura, Finadje, Nelbal, Dogo, Boulikessi and Nantaka between February and July 2018. The two human rights groups allege that 67 people were summarily executed by the army and made their bodies disappear in mass graves. Others have been arrested, tortured and jailed.
“People who have been arrested by the army, even if they were informants or supporters of jihadist groups – and this has not been proved – are civilians without arms. The Malian army came with a list of names, selected the people, arrested them and executed them just outside the villages and they put them in mass graves. We found them. We only [uncovered] six operations but there are many others,” explains Florent Geel, the Africa desk director at FIDH.
FIDH and AMDH believe that strong military action is not the best response to violence. Geel says that the army and the government have to re-build the trust of the Malian people.