Mali: Recent killings in central region could fuel humanitarian disaster

Deadly attacks of civilians by armed groups in central Mali could fuel a humanitarian disaster, Amnesty International said today.

The organization is calling for an immediate investigation into the killings of at least 32 villagers by armed assailants on 1st July in the cercle of Bankass, and for greater protection for civilians. The continuation of attacks during the rainy season which peaks in July and August could affect the right to work and to life of many farmers.

A substantial part of the population in central Mali depends on the work done during the rainy season to sustain their livelihood. The failure to protect civilians, including farmers, from these brutal attacks could lead to a humanitarian crisis.

Ousmane Diallo, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.

“A substantial part of the population in central Mali depends on the work done during the rainy season to sustain their livelihood. The failure to protect civilians, including farmers, from these brutal attacks could lead to a humanitarian crisis,” said Ousmane Diallo, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.

“Deliberate attacks against civilians amount to war crimes and must not be tolerated. Authorities in Mali must investigate these killings and prosecute those suspected in order to deliver justice to the victims. They must also act on their commitment to fight against impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations committed in the country and punish accordingly those found responsible”.

The attacks occurred in the villages of Panga Dougou, Djimdo, Gouari and Dialakanda in the communes of Tori and Diallassagou in the cercle of Bankass. According to witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International, the assailants were in a convoy of at least 60 motorbikes and armed vehicles. They attacked first Panga Dougou causing at least one death. They then continued to Djimdo where they left 15 deaths and to Gouari with 16 others and four injured. The attacks went on from 4 to 7 Pm on 1st July. Cattle and motorbikes were also allegedly seized by the assailants in these villages according to relatives of the victims interviewed by Amnesty International. At the time of these attacks, the Malian army was not present in these locations.

A survivor of the attack in Gouari told Amnesty International:

“The assailants came in a convoy of dozens of motorbikes and armed pick-ups. We believed them to be the army, because the men on the pick-ups were dressed in military fatigues. They were initially hailed by the villagers working in their fields, but when they entered in the village, they started firing on them. Some of the villagers fired back but many were killed while others fled. Assailants stayed in the village until 7 Pm and the soldiers only arrived around 8 Pm”.

The rainy season is the most important time of the year for agriculture in Mali. Many of the crops on which the livelihoods of the farmers depend, are sown and tended to, during this period. Intercommunal violence between pastoralists and sedentary communities, initially over access to land and water resources, but increasingly in a cycle of reprisals,  negatively impacted the agricultural cycle during the previous years. 

Amadou Guindo, the mayor of Diallassagou told Amnesty International:

“Many farmers in the Diallassagou and Tori communes did not cultivate their fields last year because of the persistence of these attacks. This is likely to be the case this year. Some have been killed while in their fields and this may make the humanitarian situation even more difficult. We are calling for the return of military and gendarmerie posts, which have been redeployed elsewhere since January. The absence of the defense and security forces compromises the situation for the populations of Diallassagou, who are exposed to attacks by these assailants on motorbikes and who are rarely identified”.

Analysis done by third parties have shown a strong correlation between violent incidents and the abandonment of cultivated areas in central Mali between 2016 and 2019. The cercle of Bankass where the 1st July killings occurred, is one of the areas most affected by cropland abandonment (22 per cent) in the region of Mopti.

The victims of the Gouari killings were buried in the afternoon of 2nd July. After this, the assailants returned to Gouari to burn down the village, according to witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International. The village was completely burnt afterwards, and many residents fled to Diallassagou and Tori.

The security situation has worsened over the past years and the cercle of Bankass where the killings occurred is one of the most affected. Armed groups such as the GSIM or Dan Na Ambassagou, and the Malian security forces have committed abuses and human rights violations with impunity.

The 1st July  attacks occurred in the wake of the renewal of the MINUSMA mandate on 29 June, in which Malian authorities were urged to prioritize the fight against impunity for human rights and humanitarian law violations in central Mali, by initiating proceedings against individuals suspected of having participated in the massacres which have caused hundreds of deaths since the start of the conflict.

On 30 June, the final communiqué of the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, stressed their commitment to prevent violence and to protect civilians in their regional space. The heads of state committed to investigating all allegations of violations by members of the defense and security forces, and to taking sanctions if appropriate. As of May 2020, the conflict has caused the displacement of 250,000 people within Mali.