Mali self-defence groups should be held to account – UN

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The UN wants Malian authorities to speedily provide justice for victims and survivors of attacks by so-called self-defence groups, responsible for horrific inter-communal violence in central Mali.

This call comes after a weekend assault that claimed the lives of more than 150 people, including at least 50 children.

The attack in Ogossagou in the Mopti region is the latest in a series of raids since March 2018 resulting in the deaths of some 600 women, children and men, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR).

“We urge government to conduct prompt investigations with a view to justice and accountability to break this circle of impunity,” OHCHR’s Ravina Shamdasani said.

“We deployed a team with crime scene investigators as well as human rights officers and they will conduct interviews in the affected villages to establish what happened.”

OHCHR maintains Fulani women, men and children were deliberately targeted.

“Traditional disputes have always been there,” Shamdasani explained, often fuelled by disputes over access to land and water. “Lately it has taken a deadly turn because entire Fulani communities – and we are talking about millions of people – are painted as violent extremists simply because they are Muslim.”

Survivor testimonies indicated victims were thrown down wells and homes and warehouses burned, destroying the livelihoods of an entire community.

Traditional hunters carried out the raid apparently using automatic weapons, hunting rifles and other weapons, according to OHCHR. Government has dissolved the Dan Nan Ambassagou militia, suspected of committing some atrocities, Shamdasani urged “prompt investigations” of alleged crimes committed by all groups.

Another attack was reported in Welingara village, west of Ogossagou that led to the death of one person. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) condemned the violence, noting injuries sustained by children were gunshot-related, burns and fractures.

Huge displacement

Spokesperson Christophe Boulierac warned thousands of people have fled the increasing violence, with 56,400 internally displaced people in Mopti region at the end of 2018, compared with 2,000 in 2017.

“First assessments speak for themselves: a third of people killed are children, half of the injured are children,” Boulierac said, referring to the Ogossagou attack. “Schools are increasingly threatened, so the threat against children is clear and children are paying the highest price for this crisis in Mali.”

To assist Malian authorities, a team of 10 human rights officers, a child protection officer and two crime scene investigators from the United Nations Police (UNPOL) of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) deployed to Mopti to conduct a special investigation into the attacks.

Some investigations have been conducted by the authorities, “but they largely fail to result in trials” Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva.

Defence groups ‘taking law into their own hands’ on violent extremism

Mali is struggling with fighting violent extremism.  Many communities use this as a pretext for intercommunal violence, or paint themselves as so-called self-defence groups and take the law into their own hands to get rid of what they perceive to be the threat of violent extremism,” Shamdasani said.