Three armed Islamist groups in northern Mali are abusing the local population and employing child soldiers [press release], Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported Tuesday. According to interviews that HRW conducted over the past several weeks, three rebel groups, Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have repressed and abused the local population while enforcing Sharia law. HRW's report evidences that the three rebel groups have recruited hundreds of child soldiers to carry out executions, floggings and amputations in the region. In addition, the child solders have destroyed religious and cultural shrines under the orders of the rebel groups. The rebel groups began this military offensive in January and have maintained control over northern Mali since then. The report stated:
International humanitarian and human rights law prohibits any mistreatment of people in custody, including executions, torture, and pillage. The use of child soldiers and the deliberate destruction of religious and cultural property are also prohibited. Leaders of the rebel groups may be liable under international law for abuses committed by forces under their command.HRW called on the Islamist groups to end the mistreatment of the local population, to free the child soldiers and to abide by international law.
Last week UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned [JURIST report] human rights violations in Mali and called for international action to address the problems. Pillay stated that two militant Islamic groups, MUJAO and Ansar Dine, are recruiting child soldiers, committing cruel punishments such as amputations and stoning an unmarried couple to death, violating basic human rights, committing sexual violence against women, and executing individuals. In August officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC) were in Mali investigating [JURIST report] whether two Islamic groups, the MUJAO and Ansar Dine, had committed war crimes in Mali. According to Malian officials the Islamic groups had been committing human rights violations, including executing Malian soldiers, committing rapes, massacring civilians and recruiting child soldiers.