Soldiers loyal to Mali’s coup leader have forcibly disappeared at least 20 soldiers allegedly linked to an April 30, 2012 counter-coup, and committed torture and other abuses against dozens of others, Human Rights Watch said today. The security forces of Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who led the March 22 coup against President Amadou Toumani Touré, have also engaged in a campaign of intimidation against journalists, family members of detained soldiers, and others deemed a threat.
Human Rights Watch called on the interim Malian government to investigate the disappearances and other abuses, hold those responsible to account, and take urgent measures to exert control over the security forces. The 20 soldiers whose forcible disappearances were documented by Human Rights Watch are feared dead.
“Malian authorities have a duty to the victims of torture and the families of the disappeared to ensure these crimes are investigated and those responsible brought to book,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Even at this chaotic and difficult time in Mali, authorities should ensure that the horrific treatment and other violations should be promptly addressed.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed about 30 people with detailed knowledge of the abuses, including eight people who witnessed torture and enforced disappearances and 13 family members of the detained and disappeared.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the abuses were committed by members of the security services, including soldiers, policemen, and national guardsmen who have supported Sanogo since the March 22 coup. Two described seeing Sanogo at the military base in Kati, 15 kilometers north of Mali’s capital, Bamako, when torture and other ill-treatment took place. One witness said he saw Sanogo kick one detainee who has since disappeared, and heard him threaten several others.
Nearly all the witnesses to the abuse who spoke to Human Rights Watch identified officers responsible for the detention facility at the base and believed they reported directly to Sanogo. Torture was also reported at a police camp known as the Mobile Security Group (Groupement Mobile de Sécurité, orGMS).
The mother of one disappeared soldier said that her son had gotten access to a phone and called her on the afternoon of May 1. She said, “My boy sounded so frightened. … He said the military were arguing among themselves about whether or not to kill my son and the others being held with him. … He was very afraid.”
Most of the disappeared and victims of torture formed part of an elite unit of paratroopers known as the Red Berets, who were detained after being accused of involvement in the April 30 counter-coup. During the counter-coup, the Red Berets attacked the state radio and television building and airport in Bamako, and the Kati military camp. After soldiers loyal to Sanogo put down the counter-coup, they rounded up dozens of people they believed had supported it.
Sanogo and other military officers ousted Touré in March in protest of his handling of a separatist rebellion by ethnic Tuareg in northern Mali. Following international pressure, notably from the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), Sanogo in April agreed to hand over power to a transitional government that would organize elections and return the country to democratic rule. However, with the backing of security forces loyal to him, he has continued to exert considerable influence, meddle in political affairs, and marginalize members of the military who did not support the coup.
Last week, the government of Mali, as a state party to the International Criminal Court (ICC), referred “the situation in Mali since January 2012” to the ICC prosecutor for investigation. The prosecutor’s office will determine at a future date whether it can take jurisdiction of the situation.
“ECOWAS and other governments that have voiced their concern about abuses committed in the context of the armed conflict in the North and the March coup shouldn’t go silent now,” Bekele said. “Mali’s partners should insist the transitional government take concrete and urgent steps to stem any further deterioration in respect for the rule of law.”