Situation in the Sahel: Strengthening sub-regional cooperation to address common security challenges

Press release
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Our organisations are deeply concerned by the situation prevailing in the Sahel, particularly in Mali, where the situation of human rights in the North remains a major concern while elections are scheduled for 28 July, and in Niger, where the recent terrorist attacks have raised fears of their multiplying in the entire sub-region.

Sunday, 2 June, Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) carried out a wave of arrests in Kidal within the black civilian population, on the pretext of looking for Malian army soldiers who had supposedly infiltrated the city. According to our information, these arrests were accompanied by harassment, looting and other forms of intimidation against civilians.

The arrests, conducted outside of any legal framework, constitute serious violations of human rights. Our organisations are concerned about the impact they may have on society and security, which are still very unstable in this northern city of Mali experiencing severe inter-community tensions.

According to a witness, MNLA members were going "door to door to question Songhai, Bella and persons of other black ethnic groups”. On 4 June, at least 25 people were arrested and expelled from Kidal, and finally transported by lorry heading to Gao, the main town south of Kidal.

These events occurred in a tense national context, especially after the execution, on 26 May, of two Tuaregs in Gossi (Gao region) attributed to the self-defense groups Ganda Koy and Ganda Izo. At the same time, the Malian army appears to be positioning itself on the outskirts of Kidal, in the town of Anefis, for a likely offensive to regain control of the city. Our organisations condemn violations of human rights which continue to be committed in this region of Mali, regardless of the authors of the crimes. We call on all stakeholders to strictly comply with international humanitarian law and to fulfill their commitments to search for a sustainable solution to establish the rule of law throughout the country.

Niger has also been the target of terrorist attacks. On Thursday, 23 May, an armed group attacked a military camp in Agadez and the Areva’s uranium mining site in Arlit, killing at least 24 people and injuring many others. The attacks were claimed by jihadist groups fighting in northern Mali: the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and the terrorist group "Those Who Sign by Blood", a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

More recently, on 1 June, 22 people escaped from Niamey prison, including persons imprisoned for terrorism. Two prison guards were killed during the escape. Such jailbreaks raise fears of an escalation of terrorist movements within the countries of the region and the continuation of violent actions.

"The situation in the Sahel is very worrying and should be the subject of everyone’s attention, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. Now that the Malian territory is largely secured and under Malian administrative control, it is important that terrorist elements do not become established, in order to avoid compromising lasting stability in this fragile region, he added.

Given the terrorist threat which is now present in the entire Sahel region, our organisations express their concern and call for the strengthening of sub-regional cooperation. It is the only way to effectively respond to this growing issue. The necessary fight against terrorism must be conducted in strict compliance with human rights, ensuring respect of individual freedoms, and in accordance with international commitments of States concerned. While many individuals suspected of belonging to terrorist groups have been arrested in recent months, the struggle includes the exercise of a fair and impartial justice, in order to curb the impunity that has prevailed so far.

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