Populations at Risk Serious Concern


Populations in central and northern Mali are at risk of potential atrocity crimes as a result of ongoing conflict between ethnic militias and armed self-defense groups. Attacks perpetrated by armed Islamist groups also continue to threaten populations.
Inter-communal violence has been growing in the northern and central regions of Mali. Ethnic militias and armed "self-defense groups" have targeted civilians in attacks that have resulted in more than 600 deaths since March 2018. The violence has also included the deliberate destruction of food sources. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), over 56,400 people were internally displaced as a result of violence in the Mopti region of central Mali as of December 2018.

Most fighting has taken place between Dozos – traditional hunters recruited mainly from the Dogon ethnic community – and members of the Fulani ethnic group. Dogon and Fulani communities have historically clashed over access to land, water and grazing rights. Dozos, some of whom affiliated during 2016 under the Dan Na Amassagou group, have also targeted Fulani communities for their perceived sympathy with armed Islamist groups that have recruited Fulani fighters in Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso. Some Dogon villages have also been targeted in attacks. According to the UN, 18 civilians were killed in two separate attacks on a Dogon community between 29 April and 4 May.

Violence has escalated since January. The UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) documented seven incidents between 1 January and 16 February that resulted in the deaths of 49 civilians in the Bankass area of Mopti alone. On 23 March Dozos reportedly killed at least 150 people, including 50 children, in an attack on Ogossagou village in the Mopti region.

The Ogossagou massacre occurred amidst growing instability as a result of Mali's stalled peace process. Following a 2012 military coup, Tuareg separatists and armed Islamist groups seized territory in northern Mali. Despite the presence of MINUSMA and a French-led force, as well as the 2015 signing of the "Bamako Agreement," violence between government forces and various armed extremist groups – including Ansar Dine, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and others – has continued. MINUSMA has frequently been attacked by these groups, with 17 peacekeepers killed in malicious acts so far this year.

Malian security forces and Islamist armed groups have been implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated since 2012. Various parties to the conflict have also violated the Bamako Agreement or impeded its implementation.

Ongoing attacks targeting particular ethnic groups demonstrate that any response to the security crisis in Mali should take mass atrocity risks into consideration in addition to counterterrorism and countering violent extremism. Weak state institutions in central Mali and arms proliferation via the country's porous borders has exacerbated conflict.

The volatile operating environment in Mali has restricted the capacity of MINUSMA to uphold its civilian protection mandate. The inability of the government to provide adequate protection to vulnerable populations from the threat posed by Islamist armed groups has resulted in the proliferation of ethnic militias and armed self-defense groups. Violence between such groups has been on the rise throughout the Sahel region, including in neighboring Burkina Faso.

The government of Mali, MINUSMA and other forces in Mali are struggling to uphold their responsibility to protect.

From 2014-2015 Algeria served as a mediator in the conflict in Mali, helping to negotiate the June 2015 "Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali" (the "Bamako Agreement").

Operation Barkane, a 4,000-member French force, has led the international military response in Mali since January 2013. During July 2017 the G5 Sahel Force was established to combat border insecurity using troops from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. MINUSMA was authorized by the UN Security Council (UNSC) during April 2013 with a civilian protection mandate and currently has more than 15,000 personnel.

Following a referral by the interim government of Mali, the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an investigation into the situation in Mali in January 2013. During August 2017 former Ansar Dine leader Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi was sentenced for the war crime of partially destroying the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Timbuktu.

On 5 September 2017 the UNSC imposed targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on individuals obstructing the 2015 peace process or implicated in human rights violations, recruitment of child soldiers and attacks on UN personnel. On 23 January 2018 the UNSC created a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Mali between 2012–2018.

On 22-23 March 2019 the UNSC met with leaders in Bamako as part of a visiting mission to the Sahel region. During their visit the Council condemned the massacre in Ogossagou. On 27 March the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide issued a statement calling for Malians "to prevent and refrain from stigmatizing entire communities."

The government, MINUSMA and Operation Barkane must prioritize the protection of civilians. While countering violent extremism remains crucial for Mali and the Sahel region, additional measures must be undertaken to stem the flow of weapons and the proliferation of militias and armed self-defense groups. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts need to be focused on areas where atrocity risks are increasing.

The government of Mali, with the support of MINUSMA and OHCHR, should investigate the massacre in Ogossagou and hold all perpetrators accountable. The government should also work with traditional and religious leaders in the Mopti region to develop programs aimed at improving inter-communal relations and reducing recruitment into armed groups.

Last Updated: 15 May 2019