Conflict & Justice

Mali detains child soldiers together with adults

An Amnesty International statement released Friday said Mali’s child soldiers are now being detained and tortured by Malian forces together with adult detainees.

In many cases, these children were forcefully recruited by armed groups to be used in the Tuareg rebellion, a conflict that began in northern Mali in January 2012, led by the National Movement for the Liberization of Azawad.

The detained children are as young as 13 and have been used to fight, man checkpoints and conduct patrols.

Mali-based Amnesty International researchers spoke with nine children between the ages of 13 and 17, who were being held with adults in camps in Bamako, Mali’s capital. The children in detention said they had not been interviewed in their own languages or identified before being detained. They face charges of “association with wrongdoers, rebellion, undermining international and external state security, and acts of terrorism.”

“Under international law, children should be detained separately from adults, and Malian law also prohibits detaining them with adults,” Gaëtan Mootoo, Mali researcher at Amnesty International, said in Friday’s statement. “The Malian authorities should give notice to UNICEF when arresting children suspected of association with armed groups so that their families can be identified and their cases handled by child protection professionals.”

Amnesty International also reported that other children arrested for purported links with armed groups—a number of which had been apprehended by Malian, French or Chadian armed forces following January’s military operation to take back northern Mali—were turned over to UNICEF through Mali’s police and French forces.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s 2012 Report of Children and Armed Conflict, released earlier this week, listed three armed groups as “responsible for extensive recruitment and use of children between the ages of 12 and 15”: the Mouvement national de liberation de l’Azawad (MUJAO), the Mouvement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The U.N. report explains that armed groups active in northern Mali have shifted over time, creating a fluid exchange of troops between groups. This, along with the fluctuating power between groups, has led some children to switch units, presenting a “challenge when attempting to establish command responsibility for the violations against children reported throughout 2012.”

Numerous incidents of violence against children were reported for 2012, including six for children who had been killed, and 22 for children who were “maimed by explosive remnants of war.”

Death and injuries were also caused by aerial bombardments during the French and Malian military campaign initiated in January, the U.N. report says. The report also says that some children were “used as shields by armed groups.”

Apart from reports of abduction and forced recruitment, some children joined armed forces for reasons of poverty or ethnic affiliation, being paid for their participation or promised Koranic education.

Reports of sexual violence have also been recorded. The U.N. Secretary-General’s document cited 211 cases of sexual violence by the armed forces since January 2012—including rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, sexual violence in places of detention, and gang rape.