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

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.

Minorities targeted

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.

Last March a coup by junior officers toppled president Amadou Toumani Toure and caused the military to fracture into rival elements.

‘Very impoverished’

Speaking this week in Bamako, EUTM head Gen Lecointre said the EU should complement its training mission by providing equipment such as uniforms, vehicles and communications technology.

He argued that equipping the “very impoverished” and disorganised Malian army was as crucial as training it.

“I know the Malian state is poor, but the Malian army is more than poor,” the French general said. He added he would be raising the need to provide equipment in a report to EU member states next month.

This is not the first time Mali’s army has received foreign training. Several battalions that fled the rebel advance last year were trained by US military personnel. The leader of last year’s coup, Capt Amadou Sanogo, underwent training in the US.

But the chief of the Malian armed forces Gen Ibrahima Dembele said this week that US training had failed to bring cohesion to the military and he hoped the EU training would achieve this.

The Irish team will work alongside personnel from the first battalion of the UK’s Royal Irish Regiment, making the Mali mission the first time a joint UK/Irish military contingent has been deployed on any such operation.

Malian forces: Background

Official records state that the Malian defence forces comprise an army (Armée de Terre), the Republic of Mali air force (Force Aerienne de la Republique du Mali, FARM), and the national guard (Garde National du Mali).

They number in total 7,000 personnel and are under the political control of minister of armed forces and veterans.

However, the country’s military is also deemed to be “underpaid, poorly equipped, and in need of rationalisation”.

“Its organisation has suffered from the incorporation of Tuareg irregular forces into the regular military following a 1992 agreement between the government and Tuareg rebel forces,” according to one assessment.*

Four years ago, estimates of personnel between the services were: army 7,350, air force 400, navy of 50. The Gendarmerie and local police forces (under the ministry of interior and security) maintain internal security, with personnel estimated at 4,800 strong – 1,800 Gendarmerie (militarised police), 2,000 Republican Guard, and 1,000 police.

France, the colonial power up to 1960, has been involved in training Malian forces, as has the US and Germany.

* Sources: US Library of Congress country profile 2005; CIA World Factbook (based on information dating from 2008 and 2010); International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS, Military Balance, 2009).