Mali: Mass grave discovered as security crisis deepens

214,000 students affected as schools close due to insecurity
65 people killed already in 2018 by improvised explosives
Mass grave uncovered following military violations

A mass grave uncovered in central Mali is the latest grim confirmation that the security situation in the region has reached crisis point, Amnesty International said today. Local witnesses in the village of Dogo identified on 22 March six bodies as people who had been arrested by the military three days earlier.
Amnesty International also documented an increase in attacks on civilians by armed groups including Ansar Dine and GSIM (Groupe de soutien à l’Islam et aux musulmans), and confirmed that 65 people, including children, have been killed by improvised explosives since the beginning of the year.
“This macabre discovery comes after weeks of escalating violence which has left civilians in central Mali caught in the crossfire, facing enforced disappearances and unlawful killings by the military on one side, and roadside bombs and abductions by armed groups on the other,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.
“The increase in attacks has also resulted in the closure of hundreds of schools, leaving more than 214,000 children deprived of education. When bodies are thrown into mass graves, children are killed in rockets attacks and fear forces teachers and students to abandon their classrooms, there is an urgent need for measures to protect civilians from these crimes under international law and prevent further human rights violations.”
Amnesty International researchers carried on a ground research in the region of Mopti in February and March. Researchers interviewed 70 persons, including officials, who confirmed the increase in attacks in the central region of Mopti. The increased presence of armed groups, which intensifies the recruitment of local supporters and members, exacerbates tensions between different ethnic groups.
Amnesty International received information on 65 people killed in attacks by armed groups using improvised explosive devices since the start of the year, with the largest number of attacks now taking place in the central regions of Mopti and Segou. An example includes 26 people, including women and children killed in January when their bus was attacked.
In the region, at least eight people, including three women abducted in the last three years, are known to be still held hostage by armed groups. Two others were kidnapped in February and held hostage for over a month before being released.
One of them told Amnesty International:
“I was abducted by three members of an armed group, they tied my hands behind my back and I was blindfolded. They put me on a motorbike and drove for more than three hours. I was then detained in a forest for over a month, they threatened to kill me if ever I tried to escape.”
More than 200,000 students deprived of education
Insecurity and intimidation of teachers by armed groups have forced 715 schools to close across the central and northern regions of the country, affecting more than 214,000 students.
Regions affected by the crisis include Gao, Kidal, Ségou, Mopti and Timbuktu. In February 2018, 440 schools were closed in the Mopti region alone. These closures are partly due to insecurity and intimidation of teachers by armed groups, and also the lack of presence of the State authorities.
One school head teacher told Amnesty International:
“Six members of an armed group came by foot to the village and asked my deputy where I was. Then they went to the school to ransack my office, my books, and all my education materials. Before leaving, they said they do not want schools or teachers in the village. We packed up all our stuff and left as there is no school.”
Violations committed by military forces
Military forces fighting armed groups have also committed crimes under international law, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.
For example, on 21 February during a baptism ceremony in the village of Daresalam, military forces arrested nine men – two of whom were from the Bambara ethnic group, and seven of whom were Peulh – and took them to an unknown location. They have never been seen since, despite attempts by the families to seek information from the authorities, who have ordered an investigation.
An eyewitness told Amnesty International:
«The military showed up in several vehicles and arrested nine men who were taken, blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their back, to a checkpoint. The two Bambara men were later released while the seven others, who all are Peulh, are not yet back.”
Searches by the military, which people told Amnesty International were carried out to obtain information about the whereabouts of members of the armed groups, resulted in further violations.
An eyewitness described an operation in the village of Finadje in February: “The soldier took my sister by her hair and rounded up those in our compound, asking her where the armed groups were. Another person was beaten with a baton until his head and mouth were bleeding.”
Mass grave
Amnesty International has also interviewed witnesses who confirmed that the six bodies found in a mass grave on 25 March had been arrested by the military three days earlier in the village of Dogo and taken away to an unknown location. A photograph of the bodies show that the victims appear to have been blindfolded prior to being killed.
A villager told Amnesty International how their bodies were discovered:
“One of the elders of the village, who was among the first to be informed, ordered us and the imam to go and check. There were almost one hundred villagers searching, and they uncovered six bodies in a grave. The bodies were identified by the villagers as being among those arrested on 22 March.”
These are not the first allegations made against the Malian security forces. MINUSMA has verified other cases of extrajudicial executions by the security forces in 2017. In a report in February, the UN’s independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali also reported that at least 43 people had been victims of enforced disappearance by the Malian security forces during anti-terrorist operations in May and June 2017.
“Civilians in Mali are living in fear. We are urging the Malian authorities to investigate reports of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of civilians in the central region, and bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice, before ordinary civilian courts,” said Gaetan Mootoo.
“They should also ensure that all necessary measures are taken to allow students to return safely to school.”
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