Sahel: civilians, first collateral victims

Long considered “collateral victims”, have civilians become targets of armed conflict? This Wednesday, June 10, Amnesty International published an extremely detailed report which directly accused soldiers from three Sahelian countries, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, engaged in the fight against jihadists, of “sowing terror” in the villages, where they caused the death or disappearance of nearly 200 people between February and April, according to the NGO. Figures that constitute a downward estimate.

Read also Sahel: the defense and security forces, a new threat for populations?

The will of the defense and security forces to obtain “victories” and to prove results is not unrelated to this acceleration of human rights violations in the area. Whether in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, “soldiers are spreading terror and killing in villages under the guise of counterterrorism operations,” writes the human rights organization. “Dozens of people have been arbitrarily arrested, and a number of them remain unknown. “

This implication joins the numerous denunciations of abuses attributed to the armies of these three countries. Above all, they occurred in the wake of the Pau summit in France, which on January 13, 2020 brought together the G5 Sahel countries, including the three countries mentioned above and during which these countries reaffirmed their commitment to the fight against insecurity in the Sahel. The author of the Amnesty International investigation, the researcher Ousmane Diallo, sees a direct link since, in response to requests for results made by Paris, the armies of these three countries are keen to demonstrate that they have taken ancestry over the ongoing insurgency in the region.

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Abuses increase, disappearances too

Concretely, what does the NGO say? Between February and April, at least 57 villagers were killed and 142 others disappeared at the hands of soldiers from the regular armies. Amnesty bases its report on interviews with 33 witnesses, as well as “photos of the bodies of the victims and the alleged location of mass graves [et] lists of missing persons ”.

The testimonies collected describe civilian populations targeted by the security forces for being accused of complicity with the jihadists. The vast majority of the victims are Fulani, according to the report.

The killings, some of which amount to “extrajudicial killings”, could “constitute war crimes,” said Amnesty. It calls on governments to “end the impunity” enjoyed by the security forces.

Read also Anti-terrorism: the G5 Sahel decided to step up its efforts

Repetitive abuse

“Insecurity reigns in the Sahel, where the population is trapped between attacks by armed groups and ongoing military operations. We know that the army makes dozens of arbitrary arrests each time, and that some of those arrested never reappear, but we do not know the real extent of the violations committed by the security forces, “said Samira Daoud, Director for West and Central Africa at Amnesty International.

“So far, the commitments of the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger promising to remedy these violations have not been followed up. The authorities of these countries must urgently investigate rigorously the violence, many of which could constitute war crimes, and ensure that the population is protected during military operations against armed groups, ”she concluded.

Read also Sahel: accusations of abuses are increasing, the UN is alarmed

Unsuccessful investigations

The Malian and Nigerian armies were singled out in early April by the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) for more than a hundred abuses attributed to their soldiers in Mali. Amnesty International’s report denounces violations committed as part of the military response to insecurity in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, all three countries facing the threat of armed groups, such as the Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS).

The UN Security Council debated the subject on Friday and said “to have taken note of the measures announced by several governments in the Sahel in response to these allegations of human rights violations”.

On the same day, around 30 people were killed in the attack on a predominantly Fulani village in central Mali. NGOs claimed that the attackers were Malian soldiers. The Malian government has said it is “concerned about these serious allegations” and has announced investigations.

For its part, France, which is engaged in the Sahel in particular alongside these three armies, with its military force Barkhane (more than 5,000 men), welcomed these “openings of investigation”. “France makes the fight against impunity a priority subject in its dialogue with the countries of the region,” said the spokeswoman for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It calls for those responsible for such acts to be identified and brought to justice,” she added.

Jihadist violence, mixed with inter-community conflicts, which affects this entire part of the Sahel claimed a total of around 4,000 lives in 2019 in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, according to the UN.

Read also Jihadist violence: the long way of the cross in Burkina Faso

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