International human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the ongoing conflict in Mali, saying it is accompanied by widespread looting, rape, murder and the use of child soldiers by rebels and soldiers.
Amnesty International has accused Tuareg rebels and Islamists who took over a large part of northern Mali of looting, rape and the use of child soldiers. In a report released on Wednesday May 16, the UK-based rights group said that northern Mali is facing the worst crisis in 50 years.
"After two decades of relative stability and peace, Mali is now facing its worst crisis since independence in 1960," said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International's West Africa researcher, who has just returned from a three week research mission to the country.
Women and girls were raped, sometimes collectively, by armed men including members of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) particularly in the towns of Menaka and Gao, the report says. Azawad is the name given to northern Mali by the Tuaregs.
Testimonies collected by the rights group point to the presence of child soldiers within the ranks of the armed Tuareg and Islamist groups in three large Northern towns and within the Arab militia inTimbuktu.
The armed rebels who control the north have also been using intimidation and violence in their bid to implement Islamic Sharia law.
Amnesty quotes an unnamed internally displaced person from Kidal.
“Before, women didn't cover their heads, only the elderly women did that. Now, all women and young girls are forbidden to wear skirts that show their legs or to have braids with hair extensions. They are forced to go out veiled and to wear socks to hide their feet. Men have to shorten their trousers to show their ankles,”
Soldiers are accused by the rights group of committing human rights violations. In one example, the report describes the beating and extra-judicial killing of three unarmed people said to have spied for the MNLA.
“Without coordinated action to protect human rights, uphold international humanitarian law and the assistance of displaced and refugee populations, the entire sub-region risks destabilisation through the effects of political instability, armed conflict in the north and the food crisis which affects the whole of the Sahel,” said report author Mootoo.
in January 2012, when rebel Tuareg separatists returned from Libya, the MNLA and Islamic fundamentalist group Ansar Eddin launched an attack against Malian soldiers. The aim was to make the northern part of Mali an independent state for the Tuaregs.
The fighting left dozens dead and ten of thousands fled to the south and to neighboring countries.
Disaffected soldiers then mounted a coup and overthrew President Amadou Tomani Toure on March 22. The move was condemned by West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the international community.
Taking advantage of the power vacuum left by the coup, the MNLA and Ansar Eddin seized three major cities of northern Mali, Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. A few days later the MNLA declared the independence of Azawad.
Amnesty International has called on the Malian authorities and armed groups to allow United Nations and other humanitarian agencies unrestricted access to refugees and internally displaced people, particularly in northern Mali.
Author: Asumpta Lattus (AFP, AP)
Editor: Susan Houlton