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.”

Contributor

Kaamil Ahmed

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sahel food crisis has been made worse by the widespread unrest in Africa

Gaddafi-armed Tuareg rebels in Mali and terrorist attacks in Nigeria are adding to the growing crisis in the Sahel region

Afua Hirsch

29, Mar, 2012 @2:16 PM

Article image
Aid alone won't stop refugees fleeing to Europe's shores from the Sahel | Tony Blair
An international alliance must create a plan for the fragile African states of the Sahel to prevent catastrophe in a region already buckling under the strain

Tony Blair

18, Sep, 2017 @1:03 PM

Article image
Almost 30 million will need aid in Sahel this year as crisis worsens, UN warns
Armed conflicts, the climate crisis and Covid-19 are contributing to chronic risk of food insecurity in the region, says Unocha report

Saeed Kamali Dehghan

28, Apr, 2021 @3:34 PM

Article image
Graphic: Sahel food crisis mapped

More than 13 million people are at risk of hunger in west Africa, as drought, high food prices and conflict have pushed malnutrition levels above emergency thresholds in some areas

Finbarr Sheehy

09, Mar, 2012 @1:45 PM

Article image
Isis and al-Qaida turf wars in Africa may push fragile states to breaking point
Power struggles and shifting allegiances between Islamist militant groups pose a formidable threat to the region’s security

Jason Burke, Africa correspondent

06, Oct, 2016 @11:59 AM

Article image
Call for urgent action in Sahel to prevent humanitarian emergency

Levels of malnutrition in areas of west Africa becoming dangerously high, warns Oxfam, as the NGO launches an emergency appeal

Liz Ford

09, Mar, 2012 @11:24 AM

Article image
Why are French soldiers in the Sahel? Protesters have an answer | Alexandra Reza
Macron’s autocratic attitude towards dissent in countries such as Niger and Mali is only stoking anti-French sentiment, says Alexandra Reza, research fellow at Trinity College, Oxford

Alexandra Reza

20, Feb, 2020 @6:13 PM

Article image
No 'magic wand' for Sahel as food shortages loom yet again
WFP says 2012's good harvest in Sahel not enough to alleviate deep-rooted poverty, as millions more face hunger this year

Celeste Hicks

10, Apr, 2013 @6:00 AM

Sahel food crisis: life in Burkina Faso – in pictures

Drought and conflict have left millions of people in the Sahel facing severe shortages of food and water. The situation is critical near the border between Mali and Burkina Faso

18, May, 2012 @10:39 AM

Article image
Violence forces 1.9 million children out of classes in west and central Africa
Unicef report points to three-fold increase in number of schools closed in the region in two years due to intensifying conflict

Saeed Kamali Dehghan

23, Aug, 2019 @8:00 AM