Forced disappearances, summary executions … The accusations of atrocities on the local populations are increasing against the soldiers of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger engaged against the jihadists in the Sahel, raising the concern of the UN.
“I urge the G5 Sahel Joint Force and its member states to spare no effort” to respect human rights, said Friday the deputy secretary general of the UN for peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, during ‘a Security Council video conference on the Sahel.
The concern has been expressed emphatically for several months, at the same time as the denunciation of jihadist acts and intercommunity violence.
In early April, the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) denounced the “multiplication” of the wrongdoings attributed to the national armies.
The UN counted 101 extrajudicial executions by the Malian army between January and March, and about thirty others by the Nigerien army on Malian soil. “These figures, names and circumstances have been documented,” said Guillaume Ngefa, director of the human rights division of Minusma.
Twelve people arrested for complicity with the jihadists died in gendarmerie cells in mid-May in Burkina Faso. Relatives and NGOs say they were civilians, summarily shot. Justice has promised investigations.
– “Very serious allegations” –
In Niger, 102 people were reportedly killed by the army in the Tillabéri region (west), according to a list of missing persons which circulated in April. The Defense Ministry said that an investigation would be carried out, while praising the “professionalism” of the troops.
Each time, human rights organizations publish lists of names and photos, deploring the disappearance of those concerned after the passage of soldiers. Most of the disappeared are Fulani, readily assimilated to the accomplices of the jihadists.
“It is fine to make reports, to denounce that so many Peuls have been killed and thrown into a well, or to show the world a mass grave, nothing is done afterwards”, deplores a part of the Malian Fulani association Tabital Pulaaku on condition of anonymity.
“It is undeniable that a few Fulani have taken the path of jihadism, but it is to be naive to reduce jihadism to a single ethnic group,” for his part, the president of Tabital Pulaaku, Abu Sow, told the press.
Sahelian governments have always united behind their armies, which, often under-equipped and under-trained, pay a heavy price in the fight against jihadism.
Speaking before the Security Council on behalf of the G5 Sahel (Mauritania, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali), the head of Mauritanian diplomacy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, declared that “the achievement of a full capacity of the Joint force was understood by its capacity to fully grasp the human rights dimension “.
Mauritania “is taking action to enforce the law,” he said. “We fully adhere to human rights,” added Niger’s ambassador, non-permanent member of the Council, Abdou Abarry, while countries like Belgium were worried about “very serious allegations”.
– “Related objective” –
In a statement issued Friday after its meeting, the Security Council said “it has taken note of the measures announced by several governments in the Sahel in response to these allegations of human rights violations, and encourages their finalization”.
The national armies are involved at a pivotal moment for the Sahel.
The UN, first of all, faces the skepticism of certain members of the Security Council on the scale of its mission in Mali (13,000 men in mid-June).
France, for its part, has reviewed the conditions of its engagement in the Sahel after the death of 13 of its French soldiers in November.
Its presence and that of Minusma, whose mandate must be renewed, like that of the new joint force of the G5 Sahel created in 2017, have failed to stem the tide of violence that has left thousands of people dead and hundreds of thousands of displaced since 2012.
For Ibrahim Maïga, of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Bamako, “the protection of civilians is only an objective related” to “priority number 1 of the military forces (which) is to put out of ‘state of harming’ the jihadists.
Questioned in May by AFP on the abuses attributed to the national armies, General Pascal Facon, commander of the French anti-Jihadist force, had described them as “intolerable” and could “pose a problem in terms of the credibility of the forces”.