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Mali rights situation ‘poisonous’: UN expert

The human rights climate in Mali is "poisonous", the UN's expert said Monday after witnessing evidence of "atrocious, cruel and barbaric torture" by its security forces.

An activist of the Yerewolo (standing on the ramparts in Bambara) movement waves a Malian flag during an impromptu meeting of different pan-Africanist groups in Mali after Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on Mali, on January 10, 2022, in Bamako. – After the heavy sanctions decided by ECOWAS against the transitional government and its electoral timetable, the Malian capital did not experience any outbreak of violence. However, the sanctions include, among other things, the closure of ECOWAS borders, the freezing of Malian financial assets and a halt to export-import. (Photo by FLORENT VERGNES / AFP)

The human rights climate in Mali is “poisonous”, the UN’s expert said Monday after witnessing evidence of “atrocious, cruel and barbaric torture” by its security forces.

He also referred to reports that Russian “foreign military personnel” had, working alongside members of Mali’s armed forces, been involved in rights violations.

Following a 10-day visit to Mali, Alioune Tine welcomed steps to restore constitutional order and civilian rule, but voiced grave concerns about the resurgence of extremist violence and a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation.

“There is a poisonous climate marked by suspicion and mistrust, with a continuous narrowing of civic space, the hardening of the Malian transitional authorities, and a malaise,” Tine added.

“This poisonous climate led several actors to self-censor, fearing reprisals from the Malian transitional authorities and/or their supporters,” he said.

The Senegalese expert is mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council, but does not speak on behalf of the UN.

Tine noted the resurgence and frequency of attacks and violence committed by violent extremist groups in Mali’s north, centre and around the capital Bamako.

“Violent extremist groups continue to be the main alleged perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in Mali, but the high number of violations attributed to the Malian defence and security forces is of great concern,” the expert said.

“I was particularly shocked to see with my own eyes victims with visible signs on their bodies of atrocious, cruel and barbaric torture they had suffered at the hands of Malian security forces,” Tine added.

“Their testimonies were unbearable.”

Russian presence
Tine also said credible sources had reported that some violations had been committed by Malian forces, “accompanied by foreign military personnel described as Russian military officials”.

Malian authorities continue to deny reports that a Russian private military company is operating alongside Malian security forces, he said.

They insist Russian military personnel in Mali are military trainers deployed as part of bilateral state-to-state cooperation.

Tine’s statement came as French chiefs of staff said Monday the last soldiers belonging to France’s Barkhane operation in Mali had left the country.

French forces have been supporting Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after France and the Malian junta fell out in the wake of a military takeover in August 2020.

The junta snubbed French appeals for an early return to civilian rule and then turned to Russian military operatives — “mercenaries” from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group, in France’s view — to help its anti-jihadist fight.

Tine said Mali must ensure that victims of rights violations receive just and effective remedies for the harm they have suffered.

Tine has been the UN’s independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali since May 2018.

He will present his annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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