2016 : Increase in violence and terrorist acts in the North and the Center

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(Bamako, Paris) FIDH and AMDH are concerned about the increase in the number of attacks, violent outbreaks and grave human rights violations in the north and the center of the country. Our organisation’s assessment paints a worrying picture of 2016, and the recent events of January 2017 again demonstrate a clear aggravation of the security situation. FIDH and AMDH call for a change in the political and security strategy in Mali and the region as a whole that prioritizes justice and the fight against impunity to establish durable peace.

2016 was a dark year for human rights in Mali. FIDH and AMDH compiled a list of more than 385 attacks in the north and center of the country, which caused at least 332 deaths, including 207 civilians. In addition, there were at least 621 cases of acts of torture, kidnappings, arbitrary detentions and extortions of all kinds, involving 67 minors, that were perpetrated mainly by armed groups, but also by the Malian army (FAMA) and international forces (MINUSMA and Barkhane operation). These numbers have doubled since 2015 and reveal a very high level of violence and a clear aggravation of the security situation.

“In the absence of any real development in the implementation of the Peace agreement, one can observe the multiplication and fragmentation of armed groups, together with continuing violence in the north and developing violence in the center of the country. More than 200 civilians died from attacks in 2016. We must urgently act to protect civilian populations and to prosecute and punish perpetrators of such violent acts.”

Me Drissa Traoré, FIDH vice-president

In northern Mali, the multiplication of armed groups and their complex relationships has led to an unstable and unforeseeable situation, including the resumption of hostilities between some signatories of the Peace agreement – in particular between the CMA (Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad – rebel groups) and the GATIA (Groupe authodéfense touaregs Imghads et alliés – an entity of the Plateforme, pro-government groups) during the summer of 2016. Despite the presence of around 10,000 UN blue helmets and 1,500 French soldiers comprising the Barkhane operation, terrorism is not abating. On the contrary, its zone of influence is now expanding from the north to the center of the country.

In the center of the country, terrorist and violent extremist groups have been conducting attacks and targeted actions for more than a year against State representatives, public figures and local communities. This insecurity lead the State to withdraw its presence from these areas, where it is not able to provide basic services anymore (schools, health centers, etc). This, in turn, creates a favorable environment for terrorist groups, exacerbates violent outbreaks among local communities and creates a substantial increase in the number of opportunistic armed crimes.

The response of the Malian army to these new phenomenons has also been accompanied by numerous human rights violations, particularly in the center of the country, with dozens of cases of arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings. More than 300 persons were arrested in 2016 for reasons linked to the conflict, and our organisations estimate that several dozens among them are illegally detained, either without an arrest warrant or after the expiration of the pre-trial detention period. Local representatives or individuals perceived as cooperating with the Malian army or international forces are also victims of retaliation by terrorist or armed groups - demonstrated by the increase in the number of targeted killings of mayors and local public figures and numerous cases of threats and intimidations.

“Without the population’s support, the fight against terrorism will not be effective. It is therefore crucial to re-establish a relationship based on trust between local communities and security forces, which can only be done by protecting civilian populations and strictly respecting individuals’ rights, including those who have been arrested. Today, there are around 200 persons detained in Malian prisons for charges related to terrorism.”

Me Moctar Mariko, AMDH president.

Furthermore, our organisations note with concern that international forces remain preferred targets for terrorist and violent extremist groups. They are not able to guarantee their own security. MINUSMA is the most dangerous UN peacekeeping operation in the world, with the highest number of peacekeepers killed. In 2016, there were 187 attacks targeting MINUSMA, international forces and Malian forces, leading to the death of 35 blue helmets, 3 French soldiers and at least 84 Malian soldiers.

On 18 January 2017, an attack by Al-Mourabitoun, a terrorist entity affiliated to the AQIM (Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) hit the MOC (Mécanisme opérationnel de coordination) camp in Gao, leading to at least 77 killed and more than a hundred injured. This camp hosted troops from the Malian army, the CMA and the Plateforme, who intended to conduct the first mixed patrols as provided for in the Peace agreement. This terrorist act was the deadliest attack since the start of the conflict in Mali, and it was directed at a symbol of the implementation of the Peace agreement and the cooperation with international forces. The whole country was in a state of shock. The first month of 2017 confirms the trend observed in 2015 and 2016 of a continued and unprecedented level of violence in Mali.

In light of this, FIDH and AMDH call for change in the political and security strategy aimed at fighting armed and terrorist groups in Mali and in the region as a whole. Beyond reinforcing MINUSMA’s mandate and providing it with adequate means to fight terrorist and armed groups and protect civilians, the UN Security Council should also apply individual sanctions against individuals and/or groups of individuals opposed to the implementation of the Peace agreement, as well as against those who plan or order human rights violations. Ensuring the security of civilian populations from armed groups, organised crime and transnational trafficking must be a priority for the Malian forces and international forces, in order to create a new dynamic for peace and security.

This new political and security strategy must not only focus on security, but must also integrate justice and the fight against impunity as priorities. In this view, the fight against impunity for perpetrators of the gravest crimes must go beyond the framework of strictly a counter-terrorism justice system, which often ignores the victims of these crimes. This commitment to justice should also focus on the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.

“The fight against impunity is a winning strategy for peace and security. It provides truth, justice and reparations for the victims of the gravest crimes in order to re-establish trust with the population towards the Malian State, and also to remove the individuals responsible for the violence on the ground.”

Me Drissa Traoré, FIDH vice-president

Yet, the fight against impunity is struggling to make substantial progress, despite commitments by Malian authorities – with the exception for the trial against Sanogo and others accused. The trial against ex-putschist Sanogo and the 16 other accused which began on 30 November 2016, commonly referred to as the Red Berets case, is a crucial step for justice in Mali. It also demonstrates that such judicial proceedings can be conducted before Malian tribunals. However, cases related to the graves crimes committed in the north in 2012-2013 are still in the investigation phase, including those cases initiated FIDH and AMDH with 5 other Malian NGOs in relation to crimes in Timbuktu and sexual crimes in the north. Even more concerning, around 50 persons allegedly responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave human rights violations, who had been arrested, were released for political reasons or due to negotiations with the armed groups.


Northern Mali fell into the hands of rebel Tuareg independence groups and jihadi terrorist groups, connected to AQIM, between January 2012 and January 2013. During that period, the gravest crimes were committed in these regions: mass rapes and sexual violence, torture, amputations, executions, and destruction of the cultural heritage sites. This crisis in the north was also accompanied by a crisis in the South, where the president was overthrown by a coup in March 2012. At the beginning of January 2013, the French army (Operation Serval) intervened at the request of the Malian authorities’. In less than 3 months, the north of the country was ‘re-conquered’. The Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (issued from the Algiers peace process) was signed on 20 June 2015 between the Malian government, the CMA and the Plateforme, but it did not bring back peace in Mali, which continues is to be plagued by attacks from various armed and/or terrorist groups, including AQIM.

As of early July 2012, the Malian authorities have opened several investigations one of which was brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – which led to the judgment by the ICC that found one individual responsible for the destruction of mausoleums in Timbuktu in September 2016. FIDH and AMDH have been carrying out investigations documenting human rights violations in Mali since 2012 and represent around 150 victims before national and international tribunals, including victims of sexual crimes in northern Mali. FIDH and AMDH have submitted two complaints before Malian tribunals in relation to crimes in the North: one in November 2014 with 80 victims of sexual violence of all armed groups in northern Mali, another one in March 2015 with 33 victims from Timbuktu and have identified 15 alleged perpetrators among the senior leadership of AQIM and Ansar Dine (who occupied the region of Timbuktu in 2012).
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