Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the High Commissioner, I am introducing the report on the situation of human rights in Mali (A/HRC/22/33).
To collect the necessary information for this report, we deployed a mission to Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger from 11 to 20 November 2012. Staff from the offices of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict also participated in the mission, which followed a visit to Mali by Assistant Secretary-General Ivan Šimonović from 4 to 8 October 2012.
The report is based on the findings from these missions and covers the period from 17 January 2012 to 20 November 2012. The report highlights the human rights violations committed primarily by the various armed groups that controlled the three main regions of northern Mali — Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu— but also raises some issues of concern in the South.
During this period, the extremist armed groups, notably Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), imposed a strict application of sharia on the population. The outcome has been serious human rights violations, including summary executions, rape and torture.
The report documents allegations of extrajudicial killings and summary executions by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and other groups, and several cases of amputations, in the name of a particular interpretation of sharia. There are serious allegations of summary executions of hand-cuffed Malian soldiers who were captured by armed groups. The report indicates that armed groups have been recruiting children as young as 10 years old to participate in hostilities in Gao and Timbuktu, as well as in some neighboring countries.
The report also underlines violations of the economic, social and cultural rights of the population of the north, including the destruction by Ansar Dine and its allies of mausoleums and mosques. The food security situation in Mali, which was already dire due to drought, has worsened due to the conflict. Access to education in northern Mali has been undermined by the presence of armed groups, in particular because of the destruction and looting of schools and the departure of 85 per cent of teachers. The mass exodus of medical personnel and the destruction of health facilities led to a shortage of basic health services.
Various sources informed the November 2012 mission that the armed groups subjected people to ill treatments. Women who were not wearing the veil or were not properly veiled, as well as men involved in the sale or consumption of cigarettes and alcohol, were harassed and publicly flogged.
The report includes information on allegations of sexual abuse by the rebel groups, including punitive rape for failure to observe harsh and unreasonable rules such as a ban on riding motorcycles and the imposition of strict dress codes, requiring girls (from the age of 5) and women to be covered from head to toe. Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJAO reportedly forced families to marry off under-age girls as young as 12 or 13, many of whom were gang-raped in the camps and then abandoned.
The report also raises concerns and draws attention to human rights issues in the parts of the country that were under the control of the government in relation to the administration of justice, freedom of expression and the right to information. It refers to allegations that some members of the military and police force were detained and tortured, and notes that despite the assurances of the authorities, there has been little progress in investigating these allegations and prosecuting those who may have been responsible.
The report cautions against the risk of reprisals and inter-ethnic conflicts in the event of military intervention in northern Mali. Unfortunately, this appears to have materialized since January 2013. While the violations by the extremist groups have largely been stopped, there have been widely reported allegations of serious human rights violations in the recovered territories.
In order to substantiate these reports and provide the Council with updated information, the High Commissioner deployed a monitoring mission of human rights officers to Mali last 18 February. The team met with relevant national authorities, including government ministries, civil society organizations and UN agencies working in the country. It also conducted interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations, including IDPs in Bamako, Mopti, Sévaré and Timbuktu.
The preliminary findings of the mission suggest that the recent military intervention in the North of Mali was followed by a serious escalation of retaliatory violence by Government soldiers who appeared to be targeting members of the Peuhl, Tuareg, and Arab ethnic groups who are perceived to be supportive of the armed groups. The situation has been exacerbated by the propagation of inflammatory messages, including through the media, stigmatizing members of these communities, thousands of whom have reportedly fled out of fear of reprisal by the Malian army. Those who remain in the country are afraid of being targeted not for what they have done, but for who they are.
Among the human rights issues that require the most urgent attention are 1) the displacement of populations from Northern Mali, 2) an increase in incidences of ethnically motivated human rights violations, including violence, and 3) the continuing insufficiency of the government’s response to human rights violations, including the challenges in the administration of justice.
UNHCR estimates that there are currently 203,840 IDPs in Mali. Between 1 December 2012 and 4 March 2013, the number of IDPs increased by 5,282; and the number of Malian refugees in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger has increased by 44,813. It is believed that most of the refugees are from ethnic groups that fear reprisals by the population or the Malian Forces upon the recovery of control over previously rebel-controlled areas.
There have also been reports of gender-based violence. Women from the Bella ethnic group have been particularly targeted in Menaka. The culture of silence surrounding sexual and gender-based violence reinforces the already widespread impunity as does the real impossibility for women to identify perpetrators who usually cover their faces.
The Team also followed- up on some of the cases addressed by the mission in November, including the reported disappearance of 21 soldiers in early May 2012 and the reported execution of 16 Malian and Mauritanian preachers in Diabali on 9 September 2012, as well as the discovery of several dead bodies in wells in Sévaré. The mission met with families of victims as well as relevant authorities. Overall, the team found that there had been little progress in investigating these cases. The authorities informed that a commission of inquiry had been established to look into the September incidents, but it appears that the members of the commission are yet to be appointed.
I wish to acknowledge the public commitments made by the Government of Mali to fulfill its obligations under international human rights law and to fighting impunity, as well as statements by senior government and military officials condemning human rights violations and retaliatory violence. These commitments are, however, not yet sufficiently translated into concrete actions to ensure that prompt and independent investigations are carried out in order to identify and prosecute perpetrators and provide effective remedies to victims.
We call on the Malian authorities to protect the communities at risk and to ensure that their troops act in accordance with human rights law and international humanitarian law. The civilian population should be protected and the suspected rebels who have been arrested should be treated humanely and their due process rights respected. Allegations of involvement of the elements of the Malian army in acts of reprisals against civilians should be investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice.
During the recent escalation of the crisis in Northern Mali, OHCHR has remained a key actor, together with UN partners, in efforts to prevent violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, protect civilians at risk, and secure accountability and remedy for violations. Preparations are underway to reinforce the human rights capacity in Mali. As of February 2013, OHCHR has had an advance human rights team in the United Nation Office in Mali (UNOM) established under SC resolution 2085 with a mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation. Plans are underway to quickly reinforce the human rights team in UNOM to bridge the gap before a decision is made on the future UN presence. This will allow UNOM to perform its human rights mandate under SC resolution 2085.
It has been difficult to verify all the allegations of human rights violations given the limited time frame, the difficult security environment and the inaccessibility of areas of the north. In this connection, as this Council considers future response to the situation in Mali, it is worth looking at measures that would help strengthen accountability, protection of civilians and the capacity of rule of law institutions.