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In the news: Sahelian security forces accused of hundreds of extrajudicial killings

‘The security forces are mandated to protect, and protect equally.’

A Republic of Mali Air Force vehicle and crew at Bamako Airfield in 2013. (United Kingdom Ministry of Defence © Crown Copyright 2013)

Security forces in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso have been accused of committing a rising toll of extrajudicial killings in their battle against jihadist groups in the Sahelian region.

In Mali, soldiers allegedly conducted 101 executions, 32 forced disappearances, and 32 cases of torture in the first three months of the year, the UN Mission in Mali reported – an overall increase compared to the end of 2019.

Most of the violations occurred in heavily contested central Mali. In Niono Circle, in the Ségou region, the army reportedly killed 53 people on 27 January. The executions followed an attack by the jihadist group Nusrat al-Islam the day before that left some 20 gendarmes dead in Sokolo, in the same region. The army was also accused of summarily executing 46 people in Mondoro, in the Mopti region, near the border with Burkina Faso. Nigerien forces in Mali, under the umbrella of the multinational G5, were also responsible for 34 executions, the UN said.

On home soil, the Nigerien military are accused of killing 102 people and burying their bodies in a mass grave in an area between Inates and Ayorou in the northern Tillabéri region. Defense Minister Issoufou Katambe denied the incident, which allegedly occurred between 27 March and 2 April. Inates, close to the Malian border, is where 71 Nigerien soldiers were killed in a jihadist attack on their base in December last year.

In Burkina Faso, Human Rights Watch reported the alleged execution of 31 detainees by the security forces on 9 April in the northern town of Djibo. The men were apparently killed just hours after being arrested – unarmed – during a government counterterrorism operation.

Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at HRW, labelled the incident a “brutal mockery of a counterterrorism operation that may amount to a war crime and could fuel further atrocities”.

The region’s security forces are struggling to contain a surge in jihadist attacks across the Sahel, which last year killed more than 4,000 people – up from 770 people in 2016. Inter-communal violence, in which some communities are labelled as jihadist sympathisers, has added to the toll, and sky-rocketing numbers of displaced people.

“The security forces are mandated to protect, and protect equally,” Dufka told The New Humanitarian. “And yet we see them far too often engaging in collective punishment, in retaliatory attacks against communities for their real or perceived affiliation with armed Islamist groups.” 

– Obi Anyadike

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