Mali Army Engages in Executions and Abuses, Rights Group Says
The offensive is backed by France and other international allies, including the US
Ingrid Formanek, Laura Smith-Spark and Joseph Netto CNN
January 24, 2013BAMAKO, Mali (CNN) -- Malian soldiers have carried out a number of summary executions as they seek to drive back Islamist militants who have been advancing from the north, a human rights group claimed Thursday.
Mali's military offensive against the militants, which include al Qaeda-linked jihadists and ethnic Tuareg rebels, has gathered pace in the past two weeks, with backing from France and other international allies.
Refugees tell harrowing stories of life under the Islamist militants who hold northern Mali in an iron grip.
But the French-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said it was "very alarmed" by reports that Malian soldiers are themselves carrying out extrajudicial killings and abuses as they counterstrike.
FIDH claims the victims of these abuses have been anyone "accused of complicity with the jihadists or infiltrated elements, persons in possession of weapons, people who have no proof of their identity during military patrols or simply people targeted because of their belonging to certain ethnic groups."
The group said it had confirmed that Malian forces have carried out numerous executions in the key conflict area between the north and south, particularly in the towns of Sevare, Mopti and Niono.
"In Sevare, at least 11 individuals were executed in the military camp, near the bus station and near the hospital," the FIDH said. Reliable information indicates "close to 20 other executions in the same area where bodies are said to have been buried very hastily, in particular in the wells. In the Niono region, Malian soldiers killed two Malians of Tuareg origin."
The group says it has also been told of other summary executions in central Mali, and documents the pillaging of Tuareg homes by government soldiers.
A Mali military spokesman declined to comment on the record about the rights group's allegations.
The FIDH called for the immediate establishment of an independent investigation commission "to assess the scope of these abuses and sanction the perpetrators."
Although Malian and French politicians and military officials have repeatedly called for respect of international humanitarian law and human rights, the FIDH says it is concerned by the lack of scrutiny of these alleged violations.
"This series of grave abuses confirms the concerns that we have been expressing for several weeks," said the group's president, Souhayr Belhassent.
"These acts of revenge together with the extreme tensions that exists between the communities constitute an explosive cocktail leading us to fear that the worst could happen, especially in the context of the reconquering the North."
Ethnic Tuaregs who returned to Mali well-armed from fighting for the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi staged a military coup last year against the Malian government.
Islamic extremists capitalized on the chaos, carving out a large haven in Mali's north and imposing a strict interpretation of Sharia law. The Islamists banned music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television. They also destroyed historic tombs and shrines.
Fellow rights group Amnesty International also has voiced concern over the actions of Mali's army.
"Particularly troubling is that among the Malian forces -- as well as pro-government militia -- are individuals who enjoy impunity for egregious human rights violations," wrote Scott Edwards, managing director of Crisis Prevention and Response at Amnesty International USA last week.
Among other abuses, an Amnesty report last year accused the Malian army of "indiscriminately" bombing the civilian population in response to the rebellion by armed Tuareg groups.
A CNN crew on the ground in Mali has heard anecdotal reports of abuses. It has encountered widespread hatred of the Tuareg in Mali, with many in the population blaming them for bringing the current conflict into Mali.
The CNN crew has heard reports that the houses and possessions of Tuareg families have been destroyed by either citizens or Mali's military.
Many Tuareg are in hiding or keeping a low profile for fear of retribution from the public and military. Tuareg in refugee camps have repeatedly said they had to flee Mali because of violence against them.
France's involvement in Mali began the day after militants said January 10 that they had seized the city of Konna, east of Diabaly in central Mali, and were poised to advance south toward Bamako.
Those events stoked fear among global security experts that Mali could become a new hub for terrorism.
The FIDH is a multinational human rights body made up of 164 groups across the world, with delegations at the United Nations in Geneva, the European Union in Brussels and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
CNN's Ingrid Formanek reported from Mali and Joseph Netto from Atlanta, and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London.