Mali war crimes report sparks outcry
By Bakari Gueye for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 23/07/12
Mali asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week to investigate alleged war crimes committed in the nation's north, a move that drew praise from rights groups.
"The referral of these crimes by government of Mali to the ICC is an important action towards both the authors and the victims of most serious crimes, in order to ensure that these crimes immediately cease and that they do not remain unpunished," said Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
Together with the Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), the FIDH had earlier detailed a series of abuses by armed groups in northern Mali in a joint report published July 12th.
The report's authors expressed their grave concerns "about the on-going abuses in northern Mali that could constitute crimes against humanity" and urged the international community "to intensify its efforts to reinstate legitimate institutions in Bamako and speed up the process of political transition, which is the only way to stop international crimes perpetrated with total impunity against civilians in northern Mali".
"This report presents the findings of the study and evidence gathered in northern Mali showing that dozens of rapes, summary executions and systematic looting were perpetrated during the capture of large towns in the north by armed groups," Belhassen said.
She added: "Having suffered violence at the hands of the MNLA, civilians in northern Mali are now subject to arbitrary rule and harassment by armed Islamists who are behaving unacceptably and destroying symbols of the history of humanity."
The report presented evidence and "verified" information about the campaign of rapes perpetrated in Gao and Timbuktu since the cities were captured by rebel fighters.
"Islamist groups are also targeting children in order to recruit them as soldiers," the report said. "Dozens of cases have been documented by our organisations, which are concerned about the recruitment drive currently being conducted by Ansar al-Din as there are children aged between 12 and 15 currently at their training camps a few kilometres away from Gao."
The rights groups also detailed "the summary execution of 153 Malian soldiers who were taken prisoner" at Aguelhok on January 24th.
"These abuses are serious violations of international humanitarian law which we have assessed as being tantamount to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and which are in any case a matter for the International Criminal Court," said Patrick Baudouin, the co-ordinator of the FIDH Legal Action Group.
The report also underlines that "all of these abuses were perpetrated during the four months of the conquest of northern Mali by the allied Touareg forces of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Islamist forces of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Din and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and to a lesser extent by groups of vigilantes and soldiers from the Malian army."
Having ousted the MNLA from Gao on June 27th, Islamist groups Ansar al-Din and MUJAO now control all of northern Mali along with their al-Qaeda allies.
"Mali does not have the military capacity to restore security in the north of the country single-handedly, much less the judicial capacity to prosecute and try the perpetrators of these crimes," according to AMDH president Moktar Mariko.
In Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Ansar al-Din has destroyed seven of the sixteen mausoleums of Muslim saints as well as the sacred entrance of a fifteenth-century mosque.
"In these circumstances, Mali must refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, which was created to deal with this kind of situation," said Brahima Kone, the President of the Inter-African Union of Human Rights and an honorary president of the AMDH.
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