Malian authorities must release children detained in prison

The Malian authorities must immediately release five children that have been detained in a military detention centre for over seven months, says Amnesty International today as it releases a Human Rights Agenda for Mali, in the country’s capital. An Amnesty International delegation, led by the Secretary General, Salil Shetty, met the five children between the ages of 15 and 17 in the military detention centre (Gendarmerie Camp) in Bamako. One of the five children is a child soldier who joined the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO). The other four were arrested because of their suspected links to armed groups.  “We were horrified to see these traumatized young boys detained in poor conditions, along with adults,” says Salil Shetty. “This is a clear violation of national and international law and they must be released immediately”. “Children should rarely, if ever, be held in detention. In all actions concerning children the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration.”One boy (16) was arrested in Kidal by Malian security forces more than two months ago when he came out of a shop and a grenade went off across the road. The security officers accused him of throwing the grenade and beat him, blindfolded him, tied his hands and feet together and burnt him with a cigarette all over his arms.  Another boy (15) joined MUJAO as he was desperately poor and heard they were paying people. He left after months of not being paid and was arrested by Malian security forces in his home village of Kadji (near Gao). The Malian soldiers tied him up, beat him in the back and blindfolded him.“The Malian authorities assured us that they were not detaining any child soldiers but this is clearly not the case,” explains Salil Shetty. “The government signed a protocol with the UN in July 2013 for the release, transfer and protection of children associated with armed groups and they need to respect this.”Amnesty International’s Agenda for Human Rights, launched today, is calling for thorough and independent investigations into the grave human rights violations committed over the last two years by all parties to the conflict.Since the beginning of the crisis, Amnesty International has documented 14 unlawful killings by armed groups in the north of the country and other horrific human rights violations. They include a couple who were stoned for having sex outside of marriage in July 2012, and six people who had their right hand and right food amputated in front of a crowd in Gao in September 2012. The amputated limbs were later displayed in the police station.The report also documents the reported extra-judicial executions of at least 40 civilians accused of being close to armed groups. Amnesty International researchers spoke to a man who witnessed soldiers throwing bodies into a well in Sevaré in January 2013. The stench from the well was overwhelming.      The Sevaré prosecutor said he had ordered an investigation into these killings but, to date, Amnesty International has received no information about the results of this investigation.The Amnesty delegation met with the family members of the more than 20 soldiers who disappeared after being abducted from the Kati military camp in May 2012. They were suspected of supporting a counter-coup against General Amadou Haya Sanogo who led the coup in Mali in March 2012. The families of the victims were celebrating the detention of General Sanogo, who was arrested and charged with murder, assassinations and kidnapping on 27 November 2013. Sagara Binto Maiga, President of the wives and relatives of the disappeared Red Berets (soldiers), said: “Ever since our sons and husbands disappeared we have heard nothing. We want to know where they are, what has happened to them and whether or not they are alive.”She added: “We finally got a meeting with the Ministry of Defence this week. We told him that we would march naked if he did not tell us what has happened to our loved ones. We gave them a deadline of the arrival of the Amnesty International delegation. He told us to be patient and that they were doing what they can. The very next day Sanogo was arrested and charged.”“Amnesty International welcomes the efforts the government is making towards restoring justice and rule of law,” says Salil Shetty. “We urge the government to consistently ensure that all allegations of human rights violations are thoroughly and transparently investigated in line with international law.”Amnesty International has also documented cases of rape and sexual abuse against women and girls committed by armed groups including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA).A 16-year-old girl told Amnesty International researchers how she was repeatedly raped over a period of two days by members of an armed group who had captured her in her home-town of Gao. The organisation is calling for an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse, prosecutions of the perpetrators and aid programmes to provide medical and psychological care for the victims.“The Malian population is deeply traumatized by the events of the last two years,” said Salil Shetty. “Ensuring that all those responsible for human rights violations face justice is key to achieving lasting peace in Mali. It is the only way to help the country turn this painful page in its history.”The International Criminal Court announced in January 2013 that it would open an investigation into war crimes committed over the past year of the conflict. Amnesty International welcomes this decision but calls upon the Office of the Prosecutor to look at the full scope of alleged crimes in the country, including those carried out by Malian security forces.