Malian military accused of torture and executions ahead of EU mission arrival
A Malian soldier fixes a rocket during fighting with Islamists in Gao, Mali. photograph: joe penney/reuters
Human rights groups have accused Mali’s military forces of abuses including torture, summary executions and enforced disappearances ahead of the imminent deployment of an EU mission, which will include Irish troops, to train the country’s forces.
The EU mission, formally launched this week, will comprise a 500-strong multinational training force that will give military instruction to Malian soldiers for an initial period of 15 months, at an estimated cost of €12.3 million.
The deployment comes on the heels of the French-led military intervention in Mali, which has routed al-Qaeda allied militants from the country’s main northern towns and into the remote Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the border with Algeria, where French and African troops continue to fight the militants.
Concerns have grown in recent weeks that Malian forces operating alongside the French have targeted minorities, including Arab and Tuareg families, whom they accuse of collaborating with the militants.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has documented the summary execution of at least 13 men and enforced disappearance of five others by government soldiers in January.
It has also cited reports that government soldiers tortured two men, summarily executed two, and forcibly disappeared at least six others.
“The Malian government needs to act now to put a stop to these abuses by their soldiers and appropriately punish those responsible,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Restoring security in the north means providing protection for everybody, regardless of their ethnicity.”
In light of these concerns, French general François Lecointre, appointed to head the EU training mission known as EUTM, has said the programme will include instruction in human rights.
Beginning in early April, EUTM plans to train four new battalions of 600-700 members each, formed from existing enlisted troops and new recruits. The mission is mostly made up of German instructors, but also has French, British and Polish personnel.
The Irish contingent will consist of two staff officers, one of whom will be based in EUTM headquarters in Mali’s capital Bamako, the other in its training camp around 100km away, and a six-person training team.
The eight soldiers, which include male and female officers, were selected last week and began pre-deployment training this week.
All have experience in support operations overseas, including in Chad, Liberia, Lebanon, Uganda and Afghanistan.
According to a Defence Forces spokesman, the training they will provide to the Malian troops will include basic military skills like map-reading and marksmanship, but also subjects like rule of law, cultural awareness, human rights and law of armed conflict.
Human Rights Watch has called for EUTM to incorporate a “meaningful mentoring component” that would place instructors in the field alongside Malian forces.
Mali’s army collapsed and fled from the country’s north last year in the face of Tuareg separatist forces who arrived heavily armed with looted weaponry after fighting on the side of Muammar Gadafy during the Libyan revolution.