Mali: Rising Ethnic Tensions Threaten New Violence, Says HRW


Mali’s newly appointed prime minister, Diango Sissoko, should take urgent measures to end rights abuses by the security forces and address rising ethnic tensions linked to the occupied northern provinces, Human Rights Watch said today. Sissoko was appointed prime minister of the country’s transitional government on December 11, 2012, a day after the military forced Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra – in office since April –to resign.

The occupation of the north and lack of accountability for abuses by all sides has increased ethnic tensions, Human Rights Watch said. Pro-government militias and ethnically allied youth groups have prepared lists of people in the north who would be targeted for reprisal once the government forces retook control, people who helped prepare the lists told Human Rights Watch. Those listed allegedly include combatants and supporters from factions that participated in the conquest of the north, as well as their “collaborators.”


“Mali’s new prime minister needs to tackle an array of human rights problems, but an abusive military and rising ethnic tensions in the country should top the list,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If not addressed, these abuses will seriously interfere with organizing national elections and worsen conditions in the north.”

Human Rights Watch has conducted four research missions to Mali since April, most recently in November. Human Rights Watch has interviewed victims, witnesses and displaced residents from the Tuareg, Songhai, Peuhl, Bella, and Arab ethnic groups; members of the Ganda-Izo and Ganda-Koi militias; and members of the warring factionsas well as government representatives, political and religious leaders, diplomats, journalists, and members of civil society.

The human rights situation in Mali has drastically deteriorated in 2012 following a separatist Tuareg rebellion and Islamist occupation in the north, and political upheaval generated by a March military coup, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch research in Mali since April found that security forces loyal to coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogohave been implicated in numerous serious abuses including torture, enforced disappearance, and the intimidation of opposition voices. Outside the capital, the Malian army has arbitrarily detained and executed mostly Tuareg and Arab men for their alleged connections to rebel groups in the north. Ethnic Tuareg separatists from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Islamist armed groups that have controlled northern Mali since early 2012 have also been implicated in numerous serious abuses. The Islamist groups have committed executions, floggings, and amputations as punishment, recruited children into their forces, and destroyed religious and cultural shrines.

People from various ethnic groups also told Human Rights Watch that they were concerned that ethnic tensions were being fueled by the political manipulation of ethnicity by some political and military leaders. They feared that if the tensions remained unaddressed, it could result in incidents of deadly collective punishment and ethnic violence.

On October 12, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution No. 2071 in response to Mali’s request for an international military force to recover control over the north. Many northern residents and militiamen who spoke to Human Rights Watch expressed concern that such an intervention might be a catalyst for acts of collective punishment, particularly against the Tuareg. One said, “The danger will come from the moment the intervention kicks off.”

The Malian government should acknowledge and promptly adopt programs to address the risk of ethnic violence. One Tuareg elder said, “The state must make measures to bury the hatchet. If not, people could kill each other and no one will be able to stop it.”

The government of Sissoko should take all necessary steps to end abuses by the security forces and to investigate and appropriately prosecute security force members, irrespective of rank, responsible for recent abuses, Human Rights Watch said. These steps will entail bolstering the capabilities of the civilian and military criminal justice systems. The government should also urgently adopt initiatives to address rising ethnic tensions in the country, including by monitoring speech that incites violence and by addressing the grievances of all groups in the north, not just those that have taken up arms.

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