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They executed some and brought the rest with them: Human rights violations by security forces in the Sahel

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Sahel: Soldiers rampage through villages killing people under guise of anti-terror operations

  • Nearly 200 people including IDPs unlawfully killed or forcibly disappeared between February and March 2020.

  • Arbitrary arrests sweep up dozens at a time, some aren’t seen again

  • Impunity and the desire to produce “victories” fuel violations in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso

Soldiers rampaging through villages in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have unlawfully killed or forcibly disappeared at least 199 people between February and April 2020, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published today. Some of the killings amount to extrajudicial executions and among the victims, are internally displaced persons.

The briefing They Executed Some and Brought the Rest with Them: Civilian Lives at risk in the Sahel’ calls on the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to put an end to the impunity around the regular violations committed by their security forces against unarmed populations, and to ensure that military operations are in conformity with human rights and international humanitarian law. In Mali and Burkina Faso where the situation amounts to a non-international armed conflict, the deliberate killings of unarmed civilians by security forces could meet the qualification of war crimes.

“Insecurity is rife in the Sahel where the general population is trapped between attacks by armed groups and ongoing military operations. While arbitrary arrests by security forces sweep up dozens of people at a time, some aren’t seen again, and the true scale of the violations committed by the armies is unknown,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director.

“So far pledges by the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to address these violations have rung hollow. The authorities in these countries must urgently and rigorously investigate these incidents, many of which could amount to war crimes, and ensure the general population is protected during military operations against armed groups.”

The briefing highlights violations committed during the military response to the insecurity in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, as the three countries confront the threat posed by armed groups such as the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). The violations occurred in the wake of the 13 January 2020 Pau summit in France reuniting the G5 Sahel of which the three countries are members and France, in which they recommitted to their partnership in addressing insecurity in the Sahel.

Villagers arrested and unlawfully executed in Mali

In Mali, the military launched sweeping operations in the communes of Diabaly, and Dogofry in the region of Segou leading to several human rights violations following attacks against security forces by the armed groups.

Amnesty International was able to corroborate that at least 23 people were either extrajudicially executed or otherwise unlawfully killed and 27 others were arrested and then forcibly disappeared by the Malian army in the communes of Diabaly and Dogofry between 3 February and 11 March 2020.

On 16 February in Belidanedji, security forces extrajudicially executed five individuals, who were later buried by the villagers, and arrested 18 other ones who have been unaccounted since then.

One relative of the victims told Amnesty International:

“When the soldiers arrived in the village, most people fled to escape from their fury. But they arrested several villagers and executed four of my relatives. Afterwards, they seized some of the fertilizers, the supplies and many other wares in the market”.

Extrajudicial executions in Burkina Faso

Amnesty International also documented gross human rights violations committed by the security forces of Burkina Faso between March and April 2020. In at least two instances, security forces forcibly disappeared individuals, including IDPs, before killing them.
On 29 March, Issouf Barry, local councillor in Sollé, Hamidou Barry, the village chief of Sollé, and Oumarou Barry, a member of the princely family of Banh were abducted in their homes in Ouahigouya.

According to a relative of one of the victims, the three individuals were arrested in their homes by gendarmes. All three of them were IDPs who had relocated to Ouahigouya, the regional capital, from their original settlements, due to the insecurity. Their dead bodies were found by villagers on 2 April, at the outskirts of the city, on the road leading to Oula.

In another incident documented by Amnesty International, 31 residents of Djibo, including 10 IDPs, were arrested and executed on 9 April by the Groupement des Forces Anti-Terroristes (GFAT). On 20 April 2020, the government acknowledged that extrajudicial killings had taken place. In a statement, it said the Direction de la Justice Militaire had been mandated to investigate these allegations since 10 April 2019.

More than 100 villagers forcibly disappeared in Niger

In Niger, 102 people from the south-west region of Tillabéry were arrested and forcibly disappeared by the army as part of operation Almahou between 27 March and 2 April 2020.
Witnesses told Amnesty International that 48 people were arrested on their way to and from a market fair in Ayorou between 27 and 29 March 2020 by Nigerien soldiers. The 54 others were arrested by security forces in several villages on 2 April.

Five witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International stressed that all these individuals have been unaccounted for and that many mass graves were found in several places in the department of Ayorou. Many of the locals feared for their fates if they were to venture near the mass graves or inquire about the forcibly disappeared. The military crackdown has forced people to flee to urban areas for safety.

“Inates has been deserted by its residents and most of them have moved south, closer to the urban centers due to the insecurity”, a witness told Amnesty International.

“The authorities in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso must ensure the cessation of the unlawful killings and enforced disappearances committed by their security forces. They must immediately ensure the release of all arrested and abducted persons unless they are brought before a court and charged with a recognizable criminal offence. They must investigate these incidents and prosecute those found responsible for the violations. Impunity has only led to further violations and abuses,” said Samira Daoud

“It is important for regional actors and international partners to take a firm stand against these violations and exhort the authorities of the three countries to ensure that all measures are taken before, during and after operations to prevent civilian harm and further abuses.”