Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes and many civilians have been killed amid increased fighting between Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Malian armed forces and allied armed groups, as the conflict in northern Mali escalates.
The ISGS and two other armed groups signatories of the 2015 peace agreement, the MSA (Movement for the Salvation of Azawad) and GATIA (Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group and Allies), have been fighting in the Menaka Region since March 2022. The ISGS perpetrated attacks against villages, deliberately killing civilians and depriving them of their means of survival – which constitute war crimes. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the city of Menaka has increased dramatically since then, plunging the region into a dire humanitarian situation.
Thousands in the Menaka Region are fleeing from their homes as ISGS is deliberately targeting civilians, destroying homes and water points, and seizing livestock. The Islamic State must stop committing these war crimes and all parties to the conflict must respect international humanitarian law, including protecting civilians,Samira DAOUD, Amnesty International's West and Central Africa Director
Forced to flee
Amnesty International spoke with 15 people based in Menaka, including IDPs, their hosts, civil society activists and humanitarian workers.
“People have been steadily flowing to Menaka since March. Many of my relatives arrived from Anchawadi but more than 70 people from my village have been missing since the attacks by ISGS. They destroyed homes and other properties (homes, sales outlets, etc) to drive us away from Inekar and Emis-Emis. They control the wells and water points and collect the cattle as they like,” said Khalil* an IDP from Anchawadi.
According to eyewitnesses, the villages of Tamalat and Inchinane were targeted during the fighting in March:
“I was in Tamalat when ISGS fighters attacked us in March. It was a Tuesday and they attacked between the Zohr (2pm) and Asr (4pm) prayers. When they arrived, they immediately started firing at people. This continued until dusk. I managed to flee with several villagers but many others are still unaccounted for. We heard that the fighters continued to attack other hamlets and water points near Menaka,” said Adnane*, a community leader from Tamalat.
“More than 703 households from Tamalat came to Menaka in March just after the attacks. All of the city is filled with IDPs these days and there are many civilians still scattered in the wild,” said Ahmad*, a native of Tamalat who is residing in Menaka and helping IDPs.
The ISGS attack on Inchinanane followed a similar pattern:
According to Ibrahim*, a survivor of the attack: “The assailants came in the afternoon and when they started firing, they killed women, children, old people irrespectively. Armed groups [MSA] tried to fight them, but they were overwhelmed since ISGS fighters were more numerous. ISGS fighters took all our livestock and anything they found useful to take; many people fled to Menaka, others to Algeria. After that, we heard that the ISGS fighters were at the water points, denying access to people and taking all the livestock they could take”.
Under international humanitarian law, all parties to an armed conflict must make the distinction between civilians and combatants at all times, and they are prohibited from conducting attacks directed against civilians or against objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.
“There were attacks in which civilians were killed and goods destroyed. Many of the inhabitants came to Menaka city while others are still scattered in the desert or trying to find refuge further north. The humanitarian support to the IDPs has been lacking. It is not enough and it’s the same situation since the first attacks in March. All of the IDPs have not been receiving humanitarian assistance,” said Mubarak* a member of a civil society organization in Menaka city.
Worsening humanitarian situation
People interviewed told the organization that those forced to flee have lost almost everything and are facing a severe lack of humanitarian assistance as humanitarian organizations are overwhelmed.
The flow of displaced persons in Ménaka has heightened food insecurity and many of the new arrivals do not have proper shelter, with several residing in schools and even in open air. According to the UN by June 2020, humanitarian workers have assisted 1,539 displaced households in IDPs camps in the commune of Inekar and 3,079 households in the commune of Menaka with food, non-food items and shelters.
ISGS must stop attacking civilians and destroying their homes. We reiterate the same call to all warring parties. All armed groups, as well as the Malian armed forces and the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA, must protect civilians. Malian authorities and their partners should also coordinate humanitarian assistance to displaced people in Menaka, and those stranded in Anderamboukane and Inekar, to ensure that the civilian population has adequate access to water, food and shelter” said Samira DAOUD, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Director.Samira DAOUD
An armed conflict has been raging in Mali since 2012 and is still ongoing despite the peace agreement signed in 2015 between Malian government and some armed groups. Attacks against civilians have increased along with ISGS offensives against the MSA and GATIA, two armed groups allied with the government, in the Menaka Region since January 2022. In May 2022, the ISGS renewed its onslaught against MSA main camps, taking over Emis-Emis, Igandou and Anderamboukane along the Niger border.
This comes as French soldiers of Operation Barkhane are withdrawing from Mali. The Barkhane camp in the city of Menaka was handed back to the Malian government on 13 June 2022 as part of their withdrawal from the country. As of June 2022, the Malian authorities were preparing another counter-offensive against the ISGS with support from allied armed groups. An offensive by the Malian army, GATIA and MSA against ISGS in Anderamboukane began on 4 June 2022 and is still ongoing.