Mali attacks by armed groups violate international humanitarian law: HRW report News
Mali attacks by armed groups violate international humanitarian law: HRW report

Attacks by Islamist armed groups and ethnic militias in Mali violate international humanitarian law and are apparent war crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Wednesday. One such attack in January 2024, by an Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist armed group, killed at least 32 civilians, including 3 children and setting fire to over 350 homes in central Mali, forcing 2,000 villagers to flee the area.

The report also outlined an incident earlier in January 2024 when an ethnic militia perpetrated an attack in which 24 civilians were abducted and 13 were killed, including 2 children. The attack also involved widespread looting of property and livestock. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), attacks of these kind happen against a backdrop of retaliatory killings and communal violence in the West African country. HRW called on Mali’s transitional military authorities to promptly investigate the attacks and ensure the fair prosecution of those responsible, as well as enhance protection measures for civilians.

A witness to one of the attacks in January said that “they invaded the village, shooting at anything and anyone for more than an hour…They set the whole village on fire.” Another witness said, “the village was covered in smoke, and we could see dead bodies inside and outside homes. Some people had been shot while running, others were executed in their homes. Homes were still on fire.”

The fighting in Mali is considered to be a non-international armed conflict, which means that the relevant legal frameworks include Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and customary laws of war. These provisions explicitly prohibit a range of actions, including attacks on civilians and civilian property. War crimes are defined as grave violations of the laws of war, committed with criminal intent. It is incumbent upon governments to carry out impartial investigations and prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes fairly.

Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Sahel researcher at Human Rights Watch said:

The Malian transitional government’s failure to hold Islamist armed groups and ethnic militias to account only emboldens abusive forces to commit further atrocities…The authorities should ramp-up efforts to appropriately investigate and prosecute all those responsible for grave abuses.

Clashes in Mali between the ethnic Tuareg tribes and the Malian government have persisted since the nation gained independence from French rule in 1960. The Malian government had been fighting against Islamist armed groups, affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), for a number of years when the “Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali” was reached in 2015. It aimed to balance the aims of both the separatists who were seeking greater independence and the security concerns of the Malian state. In 2021, Mali underwent its third coup in a decade, resulting in Colonel Assimi Goïta assuming control of the nation. The military junta’s rule has been consistently met with international condemnation and has increased clashes in certain areas of the country.

In December 2023, the junta requested the withdrawal of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), prompting concerns over the security situation in the country and its impact on civilians. In January of this year, Mali, alongside Niger and Burkina Faso, withdrew from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which meant that victims of abuse no longer have the opportunity to seek justice through the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.