Militant crackdown in Sahel leads to hundreds of civilian deaths – report

Amnesty records 200 state killings and forced disappearances in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, state members of internationally-backed G5 group

Hundreds of civilians have been killed by their own governments in Africa’s Sahel region since countries pledged a surge against militant groups at a regional meeting held by France in January.

Amnesty International said on Wednesday that it had documented 200 cases of unlawful state killings and forced disappearances in February and March in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, which are members of the internationally backed G5 force set up to fight militants in the Sahel.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) said as of last week there had been 600 reported killings by state forces since the Pau meeting in January, which was called by France with the G5 after a series of losses to groups with links to Islamic State and al-Qaida.

“You see a series of militant attacks and authorities who are inclined to show some kind of response carry out abuses and frame it as counter-terrorism success,” said Héni Nsaibia, senior researcher for ACLED.

Nsaibia said some of the violence may be down to soldiers seeking vengeance for attacks they had witnessed, but that there was also a culture of impunity.

“You don’t know who is sanctioning this state violence, at what level, but you see it happens across the [military] theatre, so because of that it seems the authorities have given a carte blanche,” he said.

The Fulani pastoralist community had suffered in particular, Nsaibia said, because they have been accused of supporting and even joining the armed groups, which themselves attack and intimidate the community.

More than 288,000 people were displaced in Burkina Faso from February to April and are having to live in overcrowded tents. The UN refugee agency warned this week of a humanitarian crisis.

Even as the UN’s security council discussed abuses by the G5 Sahel group of armies on 5 June, Malian forces reportedly raided the village of Binedama, where 26 civilians were killed.

Rights groups have also demanded Burkina Faso launch a credible investigation into the deaths of 12 men in custody, shortly after they were arrested, who witnesses said all had gunshot wounds to their heads.

William Assanvo, senior researcher for the Institute for Security Studies Africa, said state violence strengthens militant groups, which are able to pose as protectors for the Fulani against the army.

“There’s a need to change a mentality that is gaining some traction about the Fulani community as complicit or involved in this insecurity, there’s really a need to work on that,” he said.

“Beyond the Fulani community we are seeing a lack of trust between the [other] communities and the defence forces that is one of the consequences of the violations.”

He said the G5 force’s anti-militancy remit is being undermined by the lack of accountability, but also that pressure on troops to deliver victories could be a cause of the violence.

“There is a feeling that this state violence has multiplied, we are seeing more and more violence committed by defence forces. One of the explanations is that there’s more pressure put on them to deliver some results as a result of the Pau summit,” he said.

Nsaibia said the international community had offered only limited criticism of violations by the G5, especially France, which has troops fighting with the coalition.

The UN security council’s report on the G5’s activities in May made no mention of the alleged killings by government forces.

Amnesty said impunity for violence against civilians has fuelled abuses and potential war crimes.

“Arbitrary arrests by security forces sweep up dozens of people at a time. Some aren’t seen again, and the true scale of the violations committed by the armies is unknown,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International west and central Africa director.

“So far pledges by the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to address these violations have rung hollow. The authorities in these countries must urgently and rigorously investigate these incidents.”


Kaamil Ahmed

The GuardianTramp

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