The discovery of a mass grave in central Mali amid growing concerns of alleged abuse by military forces is the latest confirmation that the region has reached a crisis point. Local witnesses in the village of Dogo recognized the six bodies as the people who have been arrested and blindfolded by the Malian military only days before. The grave, uncovered on March 25th, marks the most recent wave of arbitrary arrests, disappearances, and killings ahead of the July 29th presidential election. Human rights groups argue that the military forces are committing these violent acts against suspected sympathizers of extremist groups.
A spokesman for Mali’s army, Colonel Diarran Koné, responded to the allegations that armed forces were responsible for this mass grave, arguing that “the international community is trying to justify its presence in Mali. The facts in question took place in an area of great community tension and it may be civilians who killed each other.” Despite Col. Koné’s promise that justice will be served, this discovery comes after months of escalating violence in Mali, leaving innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.
In addition to the discovery of this mass grave, the Malian military has committed other crimes against humanity, with multiple reports revealing extrajudicial killings, mysterious disappearances, and arbitrary arrests. The United Nations reported that at least 43 people have been victims of “enforced disappearances” by the Malian military forces during anti-extremist group operations last year. For instance, during a February baptism ceremony in the village of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Malian military forces arrested and blindfolded nine men and took them to an undisclosed location. Despite the families’ attempts to get information, they have not returned.
In addition to these violent acts committed by the military, communities are living in fear of roadside bombs and abductions by extremist groups. Even though the French-led military intervention pushed back extremist insurgents who had seized control of Mali’s northern desert, the factions have since regrouped, leading to escalated attacks and renewed recruitment efforts. The increasing presence of these extremist groups, mainly Ansar Dine and GSIM (Groupe de soutien à l’Islam et aux musulmans), are intensifying the recruitment of members and local supporters, exacerbating tensions between different ethnic groups. Amnesty International’s report found that 65 civilians since the beginning of 2018 have been killed by armed groups who used explosive devices, counting the January bus attack which resulted in the deaths of 26 civilians, including many women and children. This showed how quickly violence is escalating in Mali. As a consequence, 715 schools have been forced to close, leaving over 200,000 children deprived of an education. This highlights the urgent need for measures to protect civilians from more attacks and halt further human rights violations. Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, who is responsible for improving Mali’s insecure situation, has vowed to disarm and charge these extremist groups.
Mali’s political uncertainty, increasing presence of extremist groups, ongoing ethnic tensions and slow recovery from previous conflicts will continue to diminish chances for long-lasting peace and security. The Malian authorities must make good on their promise to investigate these disappearances and extrajudicial killings, bringing all of those responsible to justice. With the upcoming July presidential elections, these violent attacks and indiscriminate killings could further escalate if appropriate measures are not taken.